2022 Cleveland Guard Railing

Ford Frick's Asterisk

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The now vaunted Guardian offense, with 10 hitters batting .500+ in spring training, put up 12 runs on the Rangers yesterday. Unfortunately, the pitching staff allowed 25. Every pitcher who faced more than one batter allowed at least one earned run. The good news is that despite going to 10+ minor league games per year, I've never heard of most of these guys. Starter Logan Allen started things off by allowing four of the seven batters he faced to cross the plate. He probably shouldn't sign a long-term lease in Cleveland, but at least it was the bad left-handed Logan S. Allen (24-year-old former Red Sox prospect) and not the good left-handed Logan T. Allen (23-year-old top 10 organizational prospect).
 

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There are a couple of Cleveland prospects that have piqued my interest. I'm wondering what you think of George Valera and Bryan Lavastida. I see Robinson Cano thrown around as a swing comparison for Valera all the time, which doesn't really vibe with him not being higher in most prospect rankings. Lavastida doesn't seem to rank highly anywhere, but his numbers are so good, especially for a C his age.
 

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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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There are a couple of Cleveland prospects that have piqued my interest. I'm wondering what you think of George Valera and Bryan Lavastida. I see Robinson Cano thrown around as a swing comparison for Valera all the time, which doesn't really vibe with him not being higher in most prospect rankings. Lavastida doesn't seem to rank highly anywhere, but his numbers are so good, especially for a C his age.
Sorry, I meant to get back to this last week.

Since Sandy Leon couldn't win the second catching spot on the roster, despite having zero healthy candidates with MLB experience to compete with, Bryan Lavastida is going to open the season as Austin Hedges' backup. Once Luke Maile is healthy, Lavastida will be sent to AAA for more development, but a year ago no one would have thought he'd be in the conversation as anything more than the job in AA.

Lavastida has certainly been underrated and aside from his lack of experience and loss of the 2020 minor league season, I think there are two other reasons for it: (1) Cleveland has long prioritized defense ahead of offense behind the plate. They haven't really cared what the catcher can do at the plate since the end of the Victor Martinez era (see their trade of Francisco Mejia a few years ago). That Lavastida has won a spot on the opening day roster should be a vote of confidence the organization thinks he can handle duties behind the plate now and in the future, but he'll probably always be a bat-first type. (2) Until midseason 2021, Lavastida was behind Bo Naylor in the system and overshadowed by the 2018 first rounder. Naylor has been anointed the "Catcher of the Future" title for over three years as an athletic kid who can do everything behind the plate and also has raw power. The problem is, Naylor has yet to come close to matching the hype on the field. So Naylor has clearly moved over to the slow track and Lavastida steamrolled past him while Naylor was batting below the Mendoza line all last year in AA. However, when they were both on the same roster, Lavastida spent more time at DH.

Since Austin Hedges only has two more years of team control and is clearly never going to hit, Lavastida should have at least a one-year window to show he's Cleveland's long-term catcher.

Most of the games I go to are at AA Akron, but I get to Hi-A Lake County once or twice a year. When Jhonkensy Noel was promoted to Lake County last summer, I immediately purchased tickets for the following weekend so I could get my first look at both Noel and George Valera. A couple of days later, Valera was promoted to Akron, so I had to wait a couple more weeks before I got to see him play... I think I've seen both him and Lavastida three times. A number of the prospect lists now have him at #1 in the system, so he won't be flying under the radar anymore. I think it was the combination of injuries and lack of a track record that led to a more critical outlook of him in past years.

I've been hearing about him for a few years, but I wasn't sure how seriously to take the wishcasting until Cleveland carried him at the alternate site in 2020... obviously he wasn't going to get promoted to the MLB roster and a lot of it had to do with testing his health, but they thought he could develop scrimaging against veteran competition. He's not really a 5-tool prospect, but he's not bad at anything and should do well in right field. I loved his plate discipline for a 20-year-old and my hope is that production-wise he can develop into a power/patience threat like Carlos Santana with more athleticism (at this point, he's still a guy who can get fooled but still leg out an infield single). This will be an important season to see whether he can fast track his way into being a 2023 Rookie of the Year candidate or if he's a kid whose health will hold back his development arc and always be a concern (see Bradley Zimmer). He's certainly the most dynamic position prospect they've had since Francisco Lindor and I can't think of a better outfield prospect they've had since Grady Sizemore.

Valera has also taken a unique path to where he's at. He's from Queens and was playing high level travel ball as a kid until his family moved to the Dominican, where he basically start over and find his way through San Pedro de Marcoris baseball industry. It no doubt prepared him to adjust to professional baseball than other international amateurs or high school products. He's a smart kid and has always acted as a translator for his teammates.

I know I'd like to get to a few early season games at Akron just in case Valera starts out on fire and receives a quick promotion.
 
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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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I don't want to rehash the name change. It's a depressing time to be a Cleveland baseball fan, not only because Paul Dolan is happy to operate the team on MLB welfare, but because it's impossible to discuss baseball on any Guardians site or page due to all the proudly unwoke who are "done with this team" yet continue to ruin every possible baseball discussion with their constant complaining. However, for anyone still trying to get a grasp of what ties the new name to Cleveland, here's a good article that elaborates on the history of the Guardians of Traffic and the timeline of Cleveland ballparks:

Why Cleveland's Guardians of Traffic and Its Baseball Team Are Forever Linked

The fortunes of the bridge and the stadium — and its main occupants, the baseball team — have risen and fallen precipitously over the decades but followed similar arcs. And starting this spring, the bridge and the baseball team will be inextricably linked, as the team for the first time since 1915 will take the field with a new name: the Cleveland Guardians.

The ideas for a municipal stadium and the bridge date back decades before their actual construction. Voters passed an $8 million bond issue in 1927 for bridge construction and a $2.5 million bond issue the following year for the stadium.

But the fact is neither was particularly well-received, at least initially. Traffic remained mostly unchanged across the Detroit-Superior span, and the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge was referred to in print as a white elephant, as it was prone to bottlenecks — specifically on the West Side — until it was widened years later.

And Cleveland Stadium didn’t make fiscal sense for the Indians. In the throes of the Depression, many thought it made more sense for them to play in the stadium they owned — League Park — than the one they had to lease, and they quickly returned to East 66th and Lexington. Ironically, when Cleveland Stadium hosted the 1935 All-Star Game, it was the only major league game at the stadium that year.
 

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Cleveland will have three players on the opening day roster who will also be making their MLB debuts. We've already discussed catcher Bryan Lavastida. Last year at Akron he had the opportunity to catch Konnor Pilkington after the pitcher was acquired from the White Sox at the trade deadline for Cesar Hernandez. With the expanded rosters, Pilkington, who generally ranks between #20-30 in the system, will spend April as Cleveland's long-man out of the pen. I'm a bigger fan of Peyton Battenfield, who Cleveland acquired the same week in a Jordan Luplow trade. They're at similar points in their development, but Pilkington needed to be added to the 40-man roster, so he's going to get the opportunities in Cleveland for now. He's a broad-shouldered lefty with the conventional 4-pitch repertoire and a back-of-the-rotation outlook, although Cleveland has a better track record than anyone at coaching those guys up to another level.

The most interesting rookie on the roster is left fielder Steven Kwan. As a fan who's had my fill of fourth outfielders and players with platoon role upside the past decade, I admit I've never been enthusiastic about Kwan. However, he's also the sort of player you can't help but root for. He's what they like to refer to in sports as "diminutive" and is never going to acquire plus power. However, he has Astudillo-like plate coverage and retooled his swing last year to the tune of 12 home runs in 77 games between AA/AAA. Kwan has been a center fielder, but will play left since Miles Straw in center is the only established outfield role on the team. He'll presumably be a good defender, but unless he becomes a more aggressive base runner (20 SB in 217 pro games), I don't see how a left fielder whose only plus is a 10.5% K-rate is going to survive long at all in the majors. The team believes in him enough that they resisted bringing in any cheap free agents or veteran waiver-wire candidates. However, with 11 of the team's 40 roster spots locked up by prospects without MLB experience they have no choice but to be aggressive in giving the kids opportunities.
 

Hendu for Kutch

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Thanks for the insight, I really appreciate it.

I end up doing a lot of research on minor league players for fantasy baseball and every year come across some players that have an excellent stat profile but nobody is talking about or ranking anywhere. Then I feel like I "discovered" them and they become some of my favorite non-Sox players. Lava is definitely going to be one of those guys. Hopefully he'll be a Will Smith and not a Jake Bauer!
 

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Cleveland's opening day outfield of Amed Rosario - Myles Straw - Steven Kwan has a combined 48 career home runs in 2,791 at-bats, or 1 every 58 at-bats.
 

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This deal was a no-brainer for the Guardians. They have a lot of problems in their lineup, but Straw isn't one of them. I think he's proven to be valuable enough in center field and on the basepaths that he is at minimum a worthy starter on a rebuilding team. His performance was a bit up and down after he was acquired last year, but he put up a 1.8 bWAR over his 60 games with Cleveland. I'm not entirely sure what that's worth for from a player still a year away from arbitration, but $5M/year until free agency + 2 team-friendly options seems like a bargain.

If he proves that he's actually a worthy leadoff hitter on a good team in a couple of years, it's a steal. If he washes out, even Paul Dolan can work his way around a sunk cost of $25M. Straw said he watched teammates in Houston stress out and press to put up numbers to maximize their next contract and he didn't want to live like that, and that knowing Jose Ramirez believed in the organization and was working out a deal influenced his own decisions. He also had already purchased a home in the Cleveland area during the off-season.

I do hope Straw will be even more aggressive on the basepaths this year. 30 steals should be a minimum and if the base and rule changes really do influence the running game, I'm hoping for 50+.

The entire team needs to be more aggressive on the bases since it's the one advantage they have over almost all their opponents. However, they did get a little slower this week with the trade of Bradley Zimmer. I've held out hope that Zimmer would eventually stay healthy and put it all together, but it's highly unlikely at this point. It seems even more unlikely as Toronto's fifth outfielder, where his only path to playing time would appear to be pinch-running and late-inning defense. I'm not sure how he's even going to stick once rosters are cut back since he's out of options and they already traded for Tapia. Maybe he would have been something if he hadn't lost so much development time to injuries and the AAA-MLB shuttle, but Cleveland still has another backup outfielder out of options in Oscar Mercado and Josh Naylor is coming off the IL later this month. I don't know if Anthony Castro is worth anything himself, but there's always a use for a bullpen arm who has both experience and options.

Speaking of guys who are out of options, I don't know why they've allowed Yu Chang to hold a roster spot on both the MLB and 40-man roster hostage for the last year plus. I'm pretty sure play-by-play guy Matt Underwood is contractually obligated to mention at least twice per game that Chang hit .280 over his last 40 games last year. I'm guessing/hoping Gabriel Arias replaces Chang sometime in early May. It's impossible Chang is a player they ever regret giving up on.
 

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Daniel Espino, the Guardians top pitching prospect, struck out 14 batters in 5 innings tonight (only 66 pitches) in his start at AA Akron. I saw him pitch last year at Lake County, but he struggled early in that one, settled in, but had already blown up his pitch count so he wasn't able to stick around long. His control seems to be constantly improving since the middle of last season (74% strikes tonight). His only problem this year has been that half of the 6 hits he's allowed have landed in the bleachers. Through 13.2 innings, he's allowed 6 hits, walked 3 and struck out 30. Let me break that down to a simple stat – he's struck out 60% of the batters he's faced over his first 3 games of the season!

Rated the top fastball of the 2019 draft, Espino came out of high school hitting triple-digits and gets swings and misses at a slider he throws between the mid-to-upper 80s with different break. If Akron sticks with the 6-man rotation they've been using for another week, I'll see him pitch next Saturday when I get to my first minor league game of the season.
 

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Through 17 games the Jekyll & Hyde offense ranks 5th in the league in scoring, but has actually been held to 2 or fewer runs in 59% of their games. They have only one game in which they've scored 3-5 runs. Franmil's .161/.200/.258 in the cleanup spot is killing them. The Legend of Kwan has been reduced to .172/.242/.276 over the last 9 games (with 6 strikeouts).

The Guardians average age is 9 months younger than other MLB team and they've already had 7 players make their MLB debut this season. That's a little misleading since Tanner Tully and Kirk McCarty are nothing but AAA filler who were called up for a weekend due to COVID roster moves. However, backup catcher Luke Maile (who hasn't actually appeared in a game yet) is the only position player in his thirties, and *rookie* pitcher Anthony Gose is their second oldest pitcher behind Bryan Shaw – every other player who has worn that godawful flying G on his sleeve this year has been in his twenties. One player making his debut last week was Richie Palacios, who did so with a two-hit game. He profiles similarly to Kwan. He's doesn't quite have Kwan's contact skills, but he's spent most of his career at second base, can potentially play anywhere but 1B/C, and will compete with Ernie Clement as jack-of-all-trades utility guy.

Andres Gimenez has looked a lot better so far this season at second base after crumbling last year under the pressure of being Lindor's heir-apparent, acquired directly for Lindor. He still needs to improve on a 11:1 K/BB ratio, but the results are there: .286/.297/.486. Since "Mr. April" Owen Miller is off to another hot start (he batted over .500 in AAA most of last April), he's getting playing time at first base and Bobby Bradley has been the odd man out. It's highly unlikely Bradley has any success without playing every day, and so far the results support that (2-for-16 with 8K).

Unfortunately, Cleveland has a history of wasting options on these guys while the guy ahead of them never figures it out. When Bradley should have been getting major league at-bats early last year, he was stuck in AAA because Jake Bauers was out of options while flailing at MLB pitches. Now both Bradley and Yu Chang are out of options, although they've been able to hide Chang on the IL so far. I really can't believe they've wasted a roster spot for a year plus now on Chang. He's a utility player who might step into one from time to time. Bring up Gabriel Arias (part of their yield from the lopsided Mike Clevinger trade). I still hold out some hope for Bradley, who has undeniable MLB power and could be another Jesus Aguilar, running out of options in Cleveland without getting a fair shot… but the contact problems will always be a big hurdle for him.

*Note to my previous post – I talked about Daniel Espino's last AA outing before the game summary was published and didn't realize he actually struck out the first 11 batters he faced (1 short of the MiLB record). I have tickets for Friday's game when he should make his next start.
 

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Revisiting the Mike Clevinger trade…

I'm sure I made comments here at the time Cleveland traded Mike Clevinger to San Diego of my disappointment they chose quantity over quality. It turns out I was wrong and Cleveland got both. Clevinger should rejoin the Padres in the next week or two following Tommy John surgery and a knee sprain with the possibility that his long-awaited return comes in a rare Padres visit to Cleveland. So this seems like a good time see how the deal has played out:

August 31, 2020: Traded by the Cleveland Indians with a player to be named later and Greg Allen to the San Diego Padres for Joey Cantillo (minors), Gabriel Arias, Austin Hedges, Owen Miller, Josh Naylor and Cal Quantrill. The Cleveland Indians sent Matt Waldron (minors) (November 9, 2020) to the San Diego Padres to complete the trade.

The Padres' haul amounted to just Clevinger – Allen played one game for San Diego before he was traded for a minor leaguer who appears to have been released and Waldron is barely hanging on as organizational depth in AA. Clevinger pitched well for San Diego in the COVID-shortened 2020 stretch run, going 2-1, 2.84. He then started the team's first playoff game in 14 years, but walked 3 batters in the first inning before exiting with a torn UCL. As bad luck would have it, San Diego hasn't received any value from the trade since. Clevinger is now 31 and making $8M in his final year before free agency. Even before the injury, the odds were against him landing him landing a big free agent deal due his age (he didn't pitch as much in high school as most draftees and it took him until his mid-20s to reach the majors because of control issues). That was actually why the trade mildly surprised me, since I figured he might be one pitcher Cleveland could always afford.

Cal Quantrill seemed to be on Cleveland's radar as one those pitching projects they could take to the next level. After a few injuries to the starting rotation last year, Cleveland moved Quantrill into a starting role where he went 8-2, 3.12. In his first 3 starts of 2022, he's had some mixed luck with an unsustainably low .220 BAip against offsetting what's also an unsustainably low 3.4 K/9. In 180.1 career innings with Cleveland, he's accumulated 4.2 bWAR, which is the same as Clevinger provided in his last full season in Cleveland. Including this year, Quantrill is under team controll for four more seasons and would have made this a good trade for Cleveland if no one else was even involved.

Austin Hedges has been as advertised – he calls an excellent game, has an above average arm, and makes Roberto Perez look like a beast at the plate. I don't really know or trust the valuation of catching stats, so I just assume Hedges has been a wash or a bit below replacement level. Basically, he saved the Guardians $1M for a season by not resigning Perez and hopefully bridging the gap to Bryan Lavastida and a Maile-like veteran backup next year.

Within the next couple of years, prospect Bo Naylor might be in the discussion of Cleveland catchers. In the meantime, the Guardians are trying to figure out what they have in his older brother. It feels like Josh Naylor has been around forever, but he has just over 600 MLB at-bats now and is a couple months away from his 25th birthday. He wasn't a part of this deal I was interested in and I'm still not sure he's more than an part-time RF/1B and left-handed pinch-hitter. Cleveland has been overloaded with platoon players at the corners for most of the past decade. Naylor missed the second half of 2021 with a gruesome fractured and dislocated ankle injury, but has returned sooner than expected this year. He's also about the only Guardian who has been hitting this past week (.884 OPS in 8 games) after it looked like any future might be in doubt last year. I still don't know what to make of him. He'll get playing time in right field, but they have better athletes there. He's short and if he wasn't plodding before, he likely will be now, but Cleveland turned Carlos Santana into a pretty good first baseman and he was short and just as wide. More importantly, unless Owen Miller runs away with his current opportunity to be the first baseman, there's not much competition there for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of Miller… dude can roll out of bed and hit line drives. He got off to an abysmal start when he was promoted in 2021 and it snowballed, but he's currently batting .432 and leading the league with 7 doubles. I'm not sure he can really hit enough to be what you want at first base… he sort of wound up there by default after spending most of his pro career as a middle infielder. He has higher ceiling prospects coming up behind him, so he's not getting written onto the lineup card in ink for the next few years, but he might be one of those guys who gets an opportunity and doesn't let go.

One of those guys with a higher ceiling is Gabriel Arias, who's a consensus top 5 prospect in the system and posted an .802 OPS as a 21-year-old shortstop at AAA last year. His power is still developing, but he's not a slap-hitting scrappy middle infielder at 6'1", 217 lb, and projects as a 25+ HR hitter. He has the arm strength and agility to stay at shortstop long-term, which is good since they shouldn't need a third baseman for a while. The problem is his 55% swing rate suggests a below average OBP guy even if he's otherwise successful. It's going to be interesting to see how things shake out with all the middle infield prospects the Guardians have coming up. Arias is the odds on favorite for shortstop, while Gimenez has the first crack at second, but will have to hold off Tyler Freeman and then Brayan Rocchio and Jose Tena (and all those guys can play both positions)... and there's still Owen Miller.

Joey Cantillo is the longest shot from this trade to contribute in Cleveland. Fangraphs has him at #40 in the system. He missed most of last season to a non-arm injury, but is still a 22-year-old trying to establish himself in the AA rotation. He's soft-throwing changeup guy who profiles similar to Eli Morgan.
 

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Amazing, thanks for that. Preller really seems to be flashy but terrible.
 

Ford Frick's Asterisk

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Cleveland now has a 7 game losing streak while averaging 2 runs per game. The Guardians last 5 series have been sweeps (all but the season opener, in which they lost 2 then won 2).

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I don't expect it to happen until Cleveland places Bobby Bradley on waivers, but it might be time to give Oscar Gonzalez a chance. Gonzalez, who was just named their AAA Player of the Month, could provide Cleveland with the home run hitting corner outfielder they lack… if he can put the ball in play often enough. He's similar to Bradley, probably not quite as much raw power, but slightly more athletic and can pass as a right fielder. He has a serious lack of patience – a career walk rate of 4% – but continues to hit. He was left off the 40-man roster last winter despite being Rule 5 eligible, even reaching minor league free agency, but immediately resigned with the organization. He isn't even listed on Fangraph's Top 48 Guardian prospects list. However, he's earned an opportunity and would give Cleveland a different look than their current crop of gap hitting outfielders.

Gonzalez has always flown under the radar, but he was a big player (6'4", 240 lb) putting up fair numbers despite disappointing home run totals until 2021. He had a breakout season last year with 31 home runs between AA/AAA while also hitting .293. He slumped initially after his promotion to AAA, but rebounded and hit well at both levels. He might be a AAAA player, but he's only 24 and hitting .303/.329/.605 with 5 HR through 18 games at Columbus this year.
 

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The Guardians have been rewarded so far for their patience last year with Trevor Stephan. The Rule 5 reliever from the Yankees struggled through bouts of wildness and a completely absurd home run rate in 2021 despite not really having issues with either during his minor league days. This year he hasn't allowed a walk or home run – or earned run – through his first 10 games. With Clase struggling to this point and Karinchak injured, Stephan has been the star of their bullpen.

The bigger surprise to me though has been the big lefty Sam Hentges, who is finally showing for the first time in his professional career why the organization has always been so high on him. I used to hate going to Akron games and discovering he was the starter – no one could melt down quicker at the first sign of trouble than Hentges. I still don't actually trust him. Despite not walking a batter through his first 9 innings this year, he's still tied for the league lead with 3 wild pitches. I haven't heard any talk of transitioning him back to the rotation, so his future seems to be out of the pen. To this point, the lefties been harder on right-handers, but last season his splits were more conventional, so it remains to be seen how he'll best be utilized.

With their ability to develop young arms like Karinchak, Hentges and Sandlin, and/or find them through different avenues like Clase, Stephan and Gose (the last one being not so young), I don't really worry about Cleveland's bullpen. Next in line is Nick Mikolajchak at AAA, who has a 1.7 BB/9, 12.6 K/9 rate in his 2+ years in the minors. The 24-year-old righty still needs to find a more effective way to get lefties out, but he throws at least 4 pitches, so there's hope there. His fastball sits 94-97 with a slider that he can throw mid-80s (and sometimes gets categorized as a cutter) or upper-70s (and gets called a curve), plus the occasional changeup. He's not on the 40-man roster yet, so I don't expect him up until sometime in the second half.
 

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Cleveland made a few significant moves this week, starting with pairing down both their MLB and 40-man-roster by DFA'ing Bobby Bradley and The Bad Logan Allen. I'd be surprised if someone doesn't claim Bradley, who's only 25 and can put on a helluva show in batting practice. With all the bad pitching around the league, I also won't be surprised if some team wants to use Allen to sop up some innings. If Adam Plutko could compile almost 300 MLB innings, there's no reason Allen can't.

I assume Yu Chang will be soon to follow and that the only thing that's kept him around this long is his last few days of eligibility on the IL. He's already on a rehab stint though, so they'll need to make a decision soon. He and Owen Miller both came up as shortstops who are better suited as second basemen and have played first base out of necessity. Both are also right-handed. The only difference is that Yu Chang doesn't have an ounce of Owen Miller's talent, so I don't see any way he survives May in Cleveland.

The 40-man roster is still full, but aside from Chang's final fate, top prospect Gabriel Arias fractured his hand in a AAA game and might end up on the 60-day IL. This could free up a couple of roster spots and lead to opportunities for someone like Oscar Gonzalez (see previous post) or 27-year-old Anthony Alford, the busted former prospect they picked after he opted out of his minor league deal with Pittsburgh.

Although Steven Kwan has cooled off since his first week in the majors (.229/.310/.314 in his last 11 games of April), he was named AL Rookie of the Month and got his first walk-off hit in the 10th inning on Wednesday. Jose Ramirez was named AL Player of the Month.
 

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I came across an online T-shirt vendor that makes Cleveland sports shirts within 24 hours of something happening (they already have a T-shirt commemorating Naylor's grand slam). Some of the ones from last year haven't aged well.

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A little more than a month into the season, the Guardians are where I expected them to be, flirting with .500 (16-17), but they've gotten there in completely unexpected style. The offense is 3rd in the league in scoring, while the pitching staff is 14th in ERA.

The biggest problem with the pitching has been Aaron Civale and his 9.85 ERA through 6 starts. He has shown improvement in his past two starts, settling down after a rough first inning in each, but then falling apart again around 80 pitches. Francona admitted he left him in too long in the first of those two starts, and then Carl Willis made the mistake as acting manager in his last start. Willis seems old school in style was trying to let his starter get out of his own mess… except Civale didn't (after retiring 11 in a row), and then Bryan Shaw was called on to try to get them out of Civale's jam and instead threw a Molotov cocktail on it (because aside from being physically capable of throwing every day, Shaw brings absolutely nothing to the table).

Civale still has a good curve, but he's lost almost 2 mph off his fastball and all his mistakes are getting hammered. It seems his spin rates aren't down as much as I expected, but I suspected him to suffer most on the Cleveland staff from the crackdown on spider tack last year. He sprained a finger last year right around the time the change was made, so he missed 2½ months, but since returning to the mound last September he's made 12 starts with a 7.71 ERA. If he doesn't figure things out quickly, he'll need to move to the pen in favor of guys like Connor Pilkington or Peyton Battenfield.

Just because the offense has played above expectations doesn't mean they've fixed their holes. The outfield is still one of the worst in the game. The Legend of Kwan ended after his 5 games. Those first 5 were so insane that they're still propping up his season stats to a 132 OPS+, but he's hit .210/.278/.296 in the 22 games since. In Oscar Mercado's attempt to save his career in Cleveland, he's completely sold out for launch angle (up 4-5% from previous years) and become a guy who hits for some power, but the rest of his game seems to be gone. I'm not sure Myles Straw is ever going to make enough hard contact to be what you want out of a lead-off hitter, but he draws enough walks and steals enough bases to start, while also playing a strong center field.

The first step should be to replace Kwan or Oscar with the other Oscar. Kwan could probably benefit from a trip to AAA, but Mercado is out of options and Oscar Gonzalez would need a spot on the 40-man roster. Gonzalez may not have any plate discipline, but he has a good contact rate for a big slugger and is currently outperforming his numbers from last year's breakout season (currently at .315/.340/.575 in AAA).

This is the the time work out the kinks during a comically easy stretch in the schedule, with 22 of their next 25 games against losing teams. By the time they head to the West Coast in mid-June, they should know if this is a year to go for it against a soft AL Central or continue rebuilding.

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Finally, the Yu Chang era is over and the Oscar Gonzalez era can begin.

It was surprising that Cleveland held on to Chang all through last season after he was out of options, but it was completely perplexing as to why he survived more than a month of this season, or even the final cuts of spring training for that matter. He appeared in 3 games, striking out in 5 of 7 at-bats, then went on the COVID list. He became the only COVID player I'm aware of who exhausted every last minute of a rehab assignment possible (note: I never heard anything reported about him actually feeling sick). During that time, Owen Miller did everything Chang was supposed to be capable of, except he's done it much better. Then they proceeded to bring Chang back for all of one game over the course of a week (in which he struck out 2 more times in 3 at-bats). Peculiarly, his return happened to be just in time to represent the Guardians along with Steven Kwan at Cleveland's Asian Fest. Today they finally DFA'd him. I'll be crossing my fingers in the hopes some team claims him.

Oscar Gonzalez made his debut tonight, showed good discipline and hit a wicked liner into center on a 3-1 count in his first at-bat.

In other news, Bobby Bradley is 3-for-39 with 0 home runs and 17 strikeouts since being DFA'd and returning to AAA. I think he knows his journey in this organization is over and needs a change of scenery to have any chance again.

EDIT: At 113 mph, Gonzalez's single in his first at-bat was the hardest hit ball by a Guardian this season.
 
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Ford Frick's Asterisk

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Guardians once again unload their junk on the Pirates, so I no longer need to worry about a return of Yu Chang! Cash considerations was an overpayment.
 

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A couple of random and unrelated things I've noticed over the past few weeks were touched on during today's broadcast…

Eli Morgan has gone from seldom used swing man to bullpen ace. As he was coming up through the system, I always assumed he'd end up in the bullpen – as a small pitcher who sets up other pitches with a killer changeup, it seemed logical he'd be at his best in shorter outings. Last year he made all 18 of his appearances in the rotation and did so respectably in the second half (his MLB debut was as a sacrificial lamb for an overworked staff in typhoon-like conditions and he gave up 6 runs in 2.2 innings of a game that should have never been played). However, he was never going to make the rotation without multiple injuries freeing up a spot.

He's now made six appearances over the past two weeks, entering anywhere between the 6th to 8th inning, facing anywhere between 1-10 batters, and racking up 9 shutout innings. To this point, it seems to have made Anthony Gose the forgotten man in the bullpen, but Bryan Shaw had better start pitching more effectively, because it's his role that Morgan has seized. James Karinchak (shoulder) is now on rehab assignment at AAA, so room will soon need to be made. Since Enyel De Los Santos has also been surprisingly great, the first man out is probably Nick Sandlin, who needs a low pressure environment to desperately rediscover the strike zone. Activating Karinchak will also require a 40-man roster move, but that's easy enough with a couple AAA pitchers currently being carried only for emergency depth.

Last month catching prospect Bo Naylor was moved to the leadoff spot at AA Akron. After a disastrous 2021 season (.189/.280/.332), the organization challenged Naylor to become a more patient and disciplined hitter as he repeated the level. They feel like having him a table-setting role where the priority is to get on base instead of driving in runs, will help him focus and see more pitches. I remember them moving Francisco Gutierrez to the leadoff spot at Akron 17 years ago (wow, that makes me feel old) for similar reasons… I thought with Gutierrez there was a train of thought he'd also see more fastballs there, but I'm not sure about the logic of that or how good my memory is (I thought the 2nd spot, hitting behind a speedy leadoff hitter, was associated more with the theory of an increased fastball diet, but in today's style of play that's probably an archaic notion).

Anyway, Naylor has responded – he's currently just six walks shy of his career high, with 37 in 41 games. Even as he's gone into a 4-for-31 hitting slump that's dropped his average from .287 to .254, he's still drawn 15 walks during that same 10 game stretch. He's also lowered his strikeout rate from last year's 31.5% to 21.6% while maintaining his career ISO. I wouldn't be surprised to see him promoted to AAA by the end of June, but then he'll battling for time behind the plate with Bryan Lavastida, who passed him in the system last year. However, Lavastida is now the one who's off to a slow start. When on the same roster, Naylor has been given preference to catch, but Lavastida is the one on the 40-man roster and in need of more experience behind the dish (he was converted from third base as a professional).
 

jon abbey

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@Ford Frick's Asterisk , reading your old mentions of him and I probably know your answer, but NY picked up Jake Bauers as a AAA project this week. Any potential there at all, you think?
 

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I'd have sooner guessed he'd be picked up by the Long Island Ducks. I had to look it up and it's certainly not encouraging he was hitting .135 for Louisville. It is surprising he's still only 26. To paraphrase Casey Stengel, in ten years he has a chance to be 36. I can't believe how many opportunities he was given, and while it's doubtful Bobby Bradley would have ever made enough contact to be good, it still angers me that the first half of his option years were wasted because Bauers was flailing away in Cleveland with no options.

He came to Cleveland in a complicated trade (I loved getting Carlos Santana back and dealing away Edwin Encarnacion), but Cleveland fans will always remember it as Bauers for Yandy Diaz. That was a disaster. I do take the slightest bit of consolation though that while Diaz has been a pretty good hitter, he is what Cleveland already knew him to be – an on-base machine who won't change his flat swing plane and is indifferent to defense. Unfortunately, Bauers was nothing Cleveland believed him to be.
 

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Yep, that's what I figured, thanks!!

On a CLE-related note, it's kind of crazy how many fewer games they have played than the Twins, not sure I remember that before from divisional rivals. 4 1/2 back and only 1 back in the loss column, MIN plays the Yankees and Rays this week.
 

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Last I heard, they were up to 7 postponed games so far with 5 double-headers now on the remaining schedule. They would have had a road-heavy schedule to this point anyway, but thanks to the weather, they've only played 19 home games vs. 30 away.
 

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42 games in 41 days for CLE starting today, 3 off days, 4 doubleheaders, and a short West Coast trip. That’s gonna test depth.
 

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I'm not so concerned about the number of games in so many days or the team wearing down… at least the bad weather has been in Cleveland (and they've had to play an inordinate number of road games to this point), so a lot of the schedule is at home… but you're certainly right about the depth. When you need to start Kirk McCarty just to keep your rotation on regular rest and not burn out the pen, you're simply forfeiting games regardless of the opponent.
 

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The Big OG is killing it. Oscar Gonzalez was left unprotected in the Rule 5 draft the past two years. He was a minor league free agent last winter. He did not make Fangraph's Top 48 Guardians Prospects list. Everyone said he'd never hit major league pitching with his lack of plate discipline. He doesn't care. He just hits the damn ball... hard.

Gonzalez now has hits in 12 of his first 13 major league games, 7 multi-hit games, 6 doubles. He's batting .392 at the moment. He's shown improvement every year of his career. His power had been a bit disappointing for a big guy, but starting out as a 17-year-old and otherwise hitting well enough each year to keep climbing the ladder, he was still only 23 in AA last year when he found his power stroke and hit 31 home runs combined between AA & AAA. What everyone criticizing his discipline was missing is that for a guy who's 6'4", 240 lbs., he has really good bat-to-ball skills. This year in AAA, he had struck out in only 14.3% of his at-bats, and since arriving in Cleveland he's even cut that to 11.5% so far.

He's not a great outfielder, but he's mobile enough to be competent in right. He's still looking for his first MLB home run, but compared to the rest of the Cleveland outfield, he's Babe Ruth. I nervously await whatever adjustments the league makes to him, but he's the most fun story in Cleveland this season (he's already lasted more than twice as long as Kwanmania). Oh yeah, he also uses the Sponge Bob Square Pants theme song as his walk-up music, so he's an immediate hit with kids of all ages.
 

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MIN division lead down to 3 now, all in the win column. MIN has three against TB this weekend and CLE has three more against OAK, so odds are it will be even tighter after that.
 

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By the time they head to the West Coast in mid-June, they should know if this is a year to go for it against a soft AL Central or continue rebuilding.

View attachment 51648
My prediction that a weak 25-game stretch of the schedule would help determine the fate of this team proved mostly false. Cleveland started that portion of the season with a miserable 2-6 record against the Reds, Tigers and Astros, but have since won four series in a row. They finished it 13-10 and now have a winning record, but there was zero movement in the standings where they're still 3 games behind the Twins (although they went from a 2nd place tie with the White Sox to a 3-game lead there). I hesitated to include the next series against the Rockies in that stretch since Colorado was still managing a .500 record a month ago and mile high games seem unpredictable. However, the Rockies are now a last place team, losing 23 of their last 33, including a 5-11 record over their last two home stands, so I expect a series win there before they get to Chavez Ravine.

Jose Ramirez has continued to carry the heavy load for the offense. Owen Miller has batted just .202/.252/.298 in 33 games since the end of April. Steven Kwan's OPS is just .603 after the first week of the season, but he has been keeping the ball on the ground lately and has a nice 9 game stretch of .379/.424/.414 since the start of June. Andres Gimenez has picked up some of the slack with a .303/.339/.523 line, which should earn some consideration for the AL All-Star team bench if he keeps it up. Aside from running less (4 SB), Gimenez has already surpassed most of his numbers from a disappointing debut in Cleveland last year. Oscar Gonzalez has chipped in as the first Cleveland rookie to get hits in 13 of his first 14 games since Roger Maris.

Over the past month, the pitching staff has posted a 2.94 ERA. Aaron Civale has spent most of that on the IL (sore glute), but was showing signs of turning his season around before that. He consecutive optimistic starts that turned bad before they could get the bullpen ready and then allowed one run in 6.1 innings against an admittedly anemic Tigers offense when he was injured. Zach Plesac has now strung together a few good starts as well (18 IP, 3.00 ERA).

Before the end of the month, the Guardians could be back at full strength. Franmil Reyes (hamstring) will start his rehab assignment at AAA-Columbus on Tuesday, where Civale and James Karinchak (shoulder), may only cross paths with him briefly. Civale should be activated this week. Karinchak has been wild as he's basically going through spring training now, but has been a little more effective every time out.

Cleveland doesn't do rentals. The only cases I can think of them acquiring someone on an expiring contract the past several years were when they were packaged with a controllable talent or picked up before the now defunct waiver trade deadline. They regularly mix buying with selling in late July and they seem stocked to make those types of deals again. I know trades for pre-arb established major leaguers aren't all that common anymore, but if the Guardians are ever going to pay up in talent to trade for a young outfielder, this would be the year to do it.

I'd like to see Kwan and Myles Straw battling for playing time with the one coming out on top starting in center and the other serving as the 4th outfielder. Let Oscar Gonzalez start in right until he proves his critics right. Former top prospect Nolan Jones is looking good so far in his first 5 games at AAA following off-season ankle surgery. He might be alternative to Gonzalez by the end of the year, but I'm not sure they can handle the defensive limitations of an outfield that includes both. Acquiring corner without all the question marks of the present group could really shore up the offense and give them outfield where only those who are performing start. By the summer of 2023, George Valera can be added to the competition.

The Guardians need to find a trading partner in need of present or future middle infielders. Like last year, Amed Rosario is hitting well after a rough start, but since he's never really adjusted to the outfield, he's a man without a position. Gimenez should be playing shortstop with Miller then slotting in as the second baseman. Cleveland's organizational depth is up the middle – Tyler Freeman and Gabriel Arias could both be pushing for promotions to Cleveland by the end of the summer – as well as rotation depth in the upper levels.
 

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CLE holds on in 10 at LAD, 2-1, impressive win.

CLE has won 14 of 17, just 1 back of MIN now.
 

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I haven't seen any updates but they should also be just days away from getting their cleanup hitter (Franmil Reyes) and top setup man (James Karinchak) back.
 

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The Last Straw
Myle Straw's epic slump – .140/.234/.169 over the past 37 games – finally bumped him out of the lead-off spot for the first time last night. He's now batting 9th with Steven Kwan moving to the top spot in the order. Kwan has recovered from his own slump by keeping the ball on the ground again and has hit .390/.419/.390 over the past 11 games. Yes, that's still 11 games without an extra-base hit, but he's reached base 11 more times than Straw in those 11 games. I still think Straw will make enough big plays in center and steal enough bases to be worth his contract, but I'm not convinced he'll ever hit at the top of the lineup for a winning ball club.

The Last Oscar
Cleveland opened the season with a massive problem on their roster – Bobby Bradley, Yu Chang and Oscar Mercado were all position players without options and had yet to show evidence they could play at the MLB level (excepting perhaps Mercado's rookie year, which is now 3 years ago). None of the three worked out but at least the Guardians can move on with a clean slate. Bradley cleared waivers and is still playing (badly) in AAA. Chang is now a glut on Pittsburgh's roster. Yesterday Cleveland finally gave up on Mercado, who had a nice 2019 season, but hasn't hit since. He's sure to get selected off waivers, but after batting .314/.360/.477 in his first 39 MLB games, Mercado has hit .217/.271/.369 in 699 at-bats. He also tried to turn his two year slump around by selling out for launch angle this year, which worked, somewhat, for the first week or so of the season, but not much since.

This could be a good reminder not to get overly excited about Oscar Gonzalez's first month in the majors. The Big OG has, inevitably, cooled off from his blistering start. He's been seeing a steady diet of breaking stuff away, but after a 1-for-16 stretch, he's at least getting a hit per game this week. He's still striking out in less than 21% of his at-bats. Richie Palacios get the immediate opportunities with Mercado gone. Palacios will split time with Straw and Kwan, but will get the fewest at-bats of the three. He's also a player in their same mold – he's not going to rack up many extra-base hits, but he has a good eye and can swipe a base here and there. He also offers a bit more flexibility with plenty of minor league experience in the middle of the infield.

It seems that's the one type of hitter Cleveland can manufacture, and they have another one on the radar at AAA in Will Brennan. Like Kwan and Gonzalez, Brennan has always been a non-prospect, but just keeps hitting and keeps getting promoted. He's a 24-year-old who has hit .321 between AA & AAA this season, with 20 doubles and 9 stolen bases in 58 games and a 12.6% strikeout rate. Barring multiple injuries though, he's unlikely to make the 40-man roster this season.

…"The Walking Man" Nick Sandlin has finally been sent to Columbus to see if can locate a strike zone. He walked 18 batters in 18.2 innings out of the bullpen this season. I'm surprised James Karinchak wasn't activated from the IL to replace him, but it's surely coming this weekend.

…I spent Monday evening listening to 88-year-old former AAGPBL catcher Lois Youngen speak for nearly two hours about the league, the movie based on it and a little bit about herself. I could have sat there for another two hours to listen to her. I need to find the time to write about it.
 

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…I spent Monday evening listening to 88-year-old former AAGPBL catcher Lois Youngen speak for nearly two hours about the league, the movie based on it and a little bit about herself. I could have sat there for another two hours to listen to her. I need to find the time to write about it.
Let me know when you do, I'm interested in your thoughts