Guardians’ flamethrowing prospect could be a fast riser

May 5th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CLEVELAND — Andrew Walters had never pitched in a professional game, and yet, everyone was lining up to see him at the inaugural Spring Breakout game in March.

The whispers had circulated throughout the Guardians’ organization. Walters, Cleveland’s No. 25 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was dominant as a reliever in college. In his final two seasons at the University of Miami, he struck out a combined 134 batters in 77 1/3 innings, with more saves (26) than earned runs allowed (12).

His velocity was off the charts, and his command was above average. What more could the Guardians — who selected him with the No. 62 pick in the 2023 MLB Draft — ask for?

So, different members of Cleveland’s front office filled their suite at Goodyear Ballpark to get a glimpse of the future. As the 23-year-old right-hander toed the rubber in the final frame, here’s what everyone saw:

Pitch 1: 98 mphPitch 2: 98 mphPitch 3: 99 mph, strikeoutPitch 4: 89 mph (breaking ball)Pitch 5: 90 mph (breaking ball)Pitch 6: 100 mph, strikeoutPitch 7: 99 mphPitch 8: 90 mph (breaking ball)Pitch 9: 99 mphPitch 10: 99 mphPitch 11: 98 mph, walkPitch 12: 99 mphPitch 13: 90 mph (breaking ball)Pitch 14: 99 mph, strikeout

The radar gun got everyone talking. Walters’ command was almost immaculate; he just missed tossing an immaculate inning. Any opinion the Guardians had about him was affirmed by his first, true professional outing. At that time, they knew they had someone with the potential to fly through their Minor League system.

“We don’t necessarily push pitchers really early in their career,” Guardians assistant general manager James Harris said this spring. “But he’s a mature guy, pitched in a good conference last year, so we’re gonna give him an opportunity probably a little bit higher than we typically have done in the past and see what he can do.”

The Guardians assigned Walters to Double-A Akron to begin the season, and so far, it’s clear that it hasn’t been too much for him to handle. Through 12 1/3 innings, he’s given up one earned run (0.73 ERA) with 26 strikeouts, five walks and a .178 opponents’ batting average.

“[Over the offseason, I worked on] the secondary pitches,” Walters said this spring. “Always primarily worked with the fastball, so I’ve been working on that the past six or seven months, trying to hone that in and give myself some better chances.”

He did exactly that. He already had an electric heater and a decent slider, but he’s also incorporated a new splitter this year that’s only added to his success.

His rise to Triple-A Columbus is inevitable. And somehow, after just being drafted in July, there’s a chance that he sees the Majors by the end of 2024 if his dominance continues.

Here are some additional highlights from around the Guardians’ farm system:

Triple-A Columbus: Is there anyone other than No. 2 prospect Kyle Manzardo that we could highlight here? The first baseman is off to an unbelievable start for Columbus this year. He’s hit nine home runs this season, including eight in his last 14 games — most recently a solo shot on Saturday. It seems safe to assume that his callup to the big leagues is imminent.

High-A Lake County: As long as we’re talking about last year’s Draft class, let’s put the spotlight on C.J. Kayfus, who was selected in the third round in 2023. Through his first 18 games, he’s hitting .357 with a 1.018 OPS, six doubles, one triple, three homers and a team-leading 20 RBIs. Maybe his path to the big leagues won’t be as quick as Walters’ could be, but Kayfus has made quite a strong first impression.

Single-A Lynchburg: There’s a reason Angel Genao is ranked No. 11 on Cleveland’s Top 30 prospects list. In 22 games, the shortstop has hit .319 with a .911 OPS, eight doubles, four homers, 21 RBIs, nine walks and just 13 strikeouts.