2. How will the Guardians fill out their bullpen?
Welcome to another installment of the Guardians Newsletter. I’m Mandy Bell and I’m entering my fifth season covering Cleveland. Let’s get into the good stuff:
Step aside, Super Bowl, it’s baseball season.
Players will start reporting to camp on Monday, meaning the start of the 2023 season is just around the corner. What are the most pressing topics for the Guardians heading into Spring Training?
Let’s take a look at three storylines to keep an eye on:
1. Who will be the backup catcher?
It seems odd to think the biggest position battle for this spring will be the backup catcher, but that’s the reality for Cleveland this year.
The Guardians’ goal is to start Bo Naylor in Triple-A. He’s had just 66 games in Columbus in his Minor League career and Cleveland wants him to get more consistent reps under his belt before he moves up to the big leagues, which would mean more sporadic playing time, serving as a backup to Mike Zunino.
That’s the goal. If Zunino isn’t healthy, this gets trickier. Both Zunino and the Guardians seemed confident that he’d be ready for Opening Day when the team announced his signing in December. He underwent surgery on his non-throwing arm last July due to thoracic outlet syndrome. If Zunino is not bouncing back the way he thought he would, Naylor would need to get thrown into the fire and handle the bulk of the innings at the beginning of the season.
Assuming Zunino is healthy (which is the expectation), Naylor should begin the year in Triple-A, leaving Bryan Lavastida, David Fry, Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria and newly-acquired Zack Collins to battle for the backup position. Lavastida is the only player of this group who is already on the 40-man roster.
Most of the bullpen should be easy to predict. Emmanuel Clase
, James Karinchak
and Trevor Stephan
are locks. Sam Hentges
and (assuming he’s healthy) Nick Sandlin
should be in the ‘pen. The way Eli Morgan
and Enyel De Los Santos
pitched at times in ’22 makes it easy to give them another chance right out of the gate in ’23. But if Cleveland carries eight relievers, who gets the last spot?
was the answer at the end of last season, but if the Guardians want to have him as a starting option if they need to turn to their depth at some point in the year, it’d be hard to limit him to just a few innings out of the bullpen to start the season. Guys like Konnor Pilkington
, Peyton Battenfield
, Touki Toussaint
and Joey Cantillo
fall into this same category.
There are a handful of Minor League non-roster invitee relievers to keep an eye on during camp, but the two that stick out early are Nick Mikolajchak
and Andrew Misiaszek
. Could one of them crack the Opening Day roster? It might be difficult, but it’s far from impossible.
3. Which young guys will stand out?
Because so much of their roster is figured out, it’s time to start planning for depth. We know who will start in the outfield. We know all of the starting infielders. Assuming no trades or injuries occur, the starting five seems to be set. So, how can the Guardians grow their depth to be prepared for the grueling 162-game season?
This is a fun time to learn about their young players. Brayan Rocchio
can showcase why he’d deserve a bench spot. Jhonkensy Noel
can give everyone a taste of the power he displayed in his 32-homer season in the Minors last year. Logan Allen
(yes, the new one) can give the big league coaching staff confidence that he could be called upon if the team needs another starter during the season.
It’s unknown now, but there will undoubtedly be a handful of up-and-coming players who thrive this spring.
On Thursday, it became clearer why Cleveland traded Will Benson to the Reds on Wednesday
in exchange for a 2022 second-round Draft pick. The club needed a 40-man spot for righty Jason Bilous
, whom they claimed off waivers from the White Sox.
Trading Benson seemed to catch many by surprise -- at least based on Twitter reactions. Benson provided power potential and was a former first-round pick. But his plate discipline was questionable, and suddenly outfielders like Steven Kwan
, Oscar Gonzalez
and Will Brennan
started to move ahead of him in the pecking order. And with Myles Straw
already in center, it would have been difficult to find him playing time.
Instead of burying Benson in Triple-A, the Guardians decided to move him to the Reds to bring back outfielder Justin Boyd
, who was drafted last year out of a school Kwan is very familiar with, Oregon State University. Boyd led the Pac-12 with a .373 average and 24 steals last season, and he had been ranked as the Reds’ 16th overall prospect by MLB Pipeline. His arrival to the Majors is much further into the future than Benson’s, which allows Cleveland to see more of its current big league ready outfielders while still bolstering its depth.