Looking Through The Guardians’ Outfield Possibilities

The Guardians stunned most onlookers by sprinting to an AL Central title final season, pulling away from the Twins and White Sox with a superb September. Cleveland shortly dispatched the Rays within the Wild Card collection earlier than shedding a carefully contested Division Series in opposition to the Yankees.

There have been myriad causes for the Guardians’ success. Recurring themes have been plus protection across the diamond and a basic willingness to belief younger place gamers to run with their alternatives. That was additionally the case within the outfield, a unit that was common general however had a pair standout gamers.

Cleveland appears largely content material operating issues again with the identical group. The Guardians have added at catcher and first base, bringing in Mike Zunino and Josh Bell through free company. They’ve not gone exterior the group for an outfielder so far. One might argue for including a veteran bat contemplating a lot of the in-house candidates have restricted MLB monitor information, and maybe Cleveland ultimately provides a lower-cost depth sort like Chad Pinder p Robbie Grossman. There’s in all probability not an affect participant coming, although, so it is value wanting by way of the quite a few in-house choices who might dwell for taking part in time on the Progressive Field grass.

Kwan is probably the most established of the Cleveland outfielders after a stellar rookie season. He hadn’t been a top-tier prospect early in his skilled profession however continued excellence as a minor leaguer earned him a spot on FanGraphs’ prime 100 going into final season. Kwan even exceeded these expectations, hitting .298/.373/.400 with extra walks than strikeouts over his first 638 MLB plate appearances. He paired that with elite defensive marks in left subject, incomes a Gold Glove and a third-place end in Rookie of the Year voting within the course of. Kwan has below-average energy however does every little thing else so effectively he appears like an ideal top-of-the-lineup choice for supervisor Terry Francona. As lengthy as he is wholesome, the Oregon State product is the Guardians left fielder.

Straw appears prone to get one other crack in middle subject, at the least initially. Acquired from the Astros on the 2021 commerce deadline, Straw stepped in as Cleveland’s major middle fielder from there ahead. He’s an elite defender and baserunner and appeared to have taken a step ahead offensively that season, combining for a .271/.349/.348 slash between the 2 groups. The Guardians rewarded him final spring with a $25MM contract extension that runs at the least by way of the 2026 marketing campaign.

The 28-year-old’s first full season in Cleveland was blended. He continued to play wonderful protection, with Statcast crediting him for 13 outs above common for his work in middle subject. Like Kwan, Straw secured his first Gold Glove. The offensive output plummeted although. He hit solely .221/.273/.291 throughout 596 plate appearances. By measure of wRC+, solely Jonathan Schoop and Geraldo Perdomo have been much less efficient hitters (minimal 500 PA’s).

Straw posted a number of the league’s worst batted ball metrics and did not join on a single dwelling run. His protection and baserunning means he does not have to hit a lot to be a worthwhile on a regular basis participant, however the Cleveland entrance workplace is definitely hoping for a little bit extra output on the plate. Straw does not appear in imminent hazard of shedding his job, however posting one other sub-.600 OPS by way of the All-Star Break could lead on the entrance workplace to contemplate deadline potentialities so as to add a little bit extra offensive firepower in middle subject.

Gonzalez, who turns 25 at the moment, was yet one more success story in a loaded Cleveland rookie class. The right-handed hitter posted a .282/.308/.506 line by way of 41 video games at Triple-A Columbus to earn his first MLB name in late May. He caught within the majors from then on and instantly hit the bottom operating. Over 382 journeys to the plate, Gonzalez hit .296/.327/.461 with 11 dwelling runs and 27 doubles. He had a pair heroic moments within the playoffs as effectively, connecting on the walk-off dwelling run to eradicate Tampa Bay and a game-winning two-run single in opposition to the Yankees. Those clutch hits overshadowed a mediocre .226/.250/.323 general batting line in 32 postseason plate appearances.

It was a robust sufficient season to place himself on the map as a possible long-term piece within the Cleveland outfield, and he is the almost certainly participant to open the yr proper. Yet there is a good bit much less certainty in Gonzalez sustaining his wonderful rookie type than there will be in Kwan’s case. Gonzalez has by no means been a favourite of most prospect evaluators due to questions on his aggressive method and below-average nook outfield protection. Cleveland left him unprotected prematurely of the Rule 5 draft as just lately because the 2021-22 offseason because of this.

Gonzalez’s nice yr quiets these considerations to some extent, however they are not utterly answered. He swung at practically half the pitches exterior the strike zone he noticed as a rookie, putting him close to the highest of the league in that regard. His 3.9% stroll proportion was among the many lowest within the recreation. Perhaps Gonzalez has particular sufficient hand-eye coordination and energy that it will not matter. He’ll have to show it in a second prolonged run in opposition to MLB arms.

If Kwan, Straw and Gonzalez is Cleveland’s Opening Day outfield, Brennan appears the participant almost certainly to interrupt into the combo off the bench. The left-handed hitter matches the Guardians’ mould of high-contact bats, having by no means struck out at even a 17% clip at any minor league cease. He went down on strikes simply 12.2% of the time at Triple-A final season, hitting .316/.367/.471 with 9 dwelling runs and 15 steals throughout 433 plate appearances. He earned a late-season MLB look and performed effectively in his first 11 video games.

Baseball America ranked Brennan the #10 prospect in a deep Cleveland farm system this offseason. The outlet praises his contact expertise, athleticism and arm power however questions his energy potential. Brennan can play middle subject however BA suggests he is in all probability a stronger defensive match within the nook outfield. It’s straightforward to level to some similarities between him and Kwan, though the latter’s minor league monitor file was a little bit higher. Brennan’s seemingly a greater hitter than Straw proper now and may very well be a candidate to take elevated middle subject reps if Straw continues to battle offensively — significantly since Straw can come off the bench later in video games when the Guardians are in search of their finest defensive unit to guard a lead

A bat-first utility choice, Palacios additionally made his MLB debut in 2022. He did not break in in addition to a lot of the different Cleveland rookies, hitting .232/.293/.286 with out a longball in his first 123 journeys to the dish It wasn’t an ideal first look however Palacios had a high quality .279/.371/.458 line with higher than common strikeout and stroll marks by way of 45 video games at Triple-A. He can play the nook outfield spots and supply some depth on the appropriate facet of the infield.

Valera, 22, is extra seemingly a midseason risk than a candidate to interrupt camp. He’s on the 40-man roster however solely has 42 video games of Triple-A expertise. After a robust Double-A displaying, he hit .221/.324/.448 with 9 homers in 179 plate appearances on the prime minor league degree, strolling at a high quality 12.3% clip in opposition to a 25.1% strikeout charge. Valera is the #4 prospect within the group at BA and considered a possible high-OBP nook outfielder at his peak; whether or not he’ll be able to contribute to a win-now Cleveland membership at any level in 2023 is determined by how effectively he exhibits in his first full season at Triple-A.

A former first-round draftee, Benson is a high-risk upside play behind the 40-man roster. His minor league monitor file has been wildly inconsistent. He’s coming off an ideal 2022 displaying in Triple-A, the place he mashed at a .278/.426/.522 clip with 17 homers and 16 steals by way of 401 plate appearances. He earned a quick MLB look however sputtered to a .168/.252/.200 line over 28 video games. The left-handed hitter has at all times intrigued with huge energy potential in a 6’5″ body and a really discerning eye on the plate. That’s been paired with big strikeout tallies at instances all through his minor league profession, though he solely fanned in a roughly common 22.7% of his journeys in Columbus final yr.

That’s seven gamers, all of whom are on the 40-man roster and controllable for an extended whereas. Cleveland’s significantly deep in left-handed choices (solely Straw and Gonzalez hit from the appropriate facet). There was sufficient depth in that regard the Guardians felt snug sending Nolan Jones — one other lefty bat who profiled as a nook outfielder with Jose Ramirez entrenched at third base in Cleveland — to Colorado for infield prospect Juan Brito.

While there’s an abundance of fascinating controllable outfield choices in Cleveland, none has an extended monitor file of massive league productiveness. Kwan appears just like the most secure wager after his unbelievable rookie yr. Everyone else comes with query marks of various levels.

Straw and Gonzalez appear prone to get the primary crack at jobs alongside Kwan once more, though they’re going to have some intriguing younger gamers available as contingency plans. Supplementing the group with a veteran righty bat may very well be a pleasant luxurious addition for president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and his employees earlier than the season will get underway. Any pickup would determine to be a low-cost complement to Cleveland’s numerous in-house younger gamers, who’ll once more be entrusted with important roles as they appear to repeat as division champs.

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