Cleveland Guardians Offense: Is It Good Enough?

Cleveland Guardians Offense: Is It Good Enough?
(Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

GOODYEAR, AZ. — Fans at the ballpark here each day always ask: Is the Cleveland Guardians‘ offense good enough to contend in 2023?

They leave wondering the same thing after a spring game that featured the good, the bad and the who the heck were they?

Embed from Getty Images
So far, the good: veterans Jose Ramirez (.322), Steven Kwan (.344), Amed Rosario (.265 despite a four-game “slump”), Josh Naylor (.286), Myles Straw (.350), and rookies Gabriel Arias (.351), Will Brennan (.273), Micah Pries (.333) and David Fry (.300) have swung the bat well. So has all-star second baseman Andres Gimenez. He’s hit .294 while playing in the World Baseball Classic and will be welcomed back soon.

The, um, not-so-good: Oscar Gonzalez (.133), Josh Bell (.194), Mike Zunino (.100), Cam Gallagher (.125), Roman Quinn (.192 despite a two-day, three-homer outburst three weeks ago), and Tyler Freeman (.179) have not hit well.

Most confusing have been the raw prospects performing at wildly varying degrees of success when they replace the familiar names. For every line-drive single by a guy getting his first chance with the big-league club, the next batter follows with an embarrassing strikeout on a pitch two feet off the plate. That really is nothing new.

Always Watching, Evaluating

Guardians gurus see the same thing. From president Chris Antonetti to general manager Mike Chernoff, manager Terry Francona and every other set of baseball-experienced eyes in the organization, they are seeking to build a team capable of repeating as American League Central Division champions and hopefully accomplishing more. A total of 64 players have received at least one at-bat as the team plans for this year and the future.

They know the 2023 club needs more offense now to support what should be a strong pitching staff. That’s why they spent big bucks on Bell in free agency. There’s no question the 6-foot-4, 260-pound first baseman / designated hitter must deliver in the middle of the order if the Guardians are to improve.

Embed from Getty Images
The switch-hitting slugger has only one homer and been less than stellar around the first-base bag this spring. In 2019, he hit .277 with 37 homers and 116 RBI for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Splitting last season between the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres, he hit .266 with 17 homers, 71 RBI, and really struggled in 53 games after the trade to San Diego: .192, 3 HR, 14 RBI.

Right now, playing for the last-place Pirates appears to have been easier than trying to perform in the pressure of trying to help the Padres to the playoffs.

The 30-year-old has to prove otherwise. He was signed to hit behind the sometimes sensational, usually reliable Ramirez.

J-Ram Charges Offense

This could be the best year ever for the all-star third baseman if he stays healthy. A year ago, J-Ram, affectionately called “Hosey” missed time with and played through a thumb injury that required off-season surgery. He still hit .280 with 29 homers, AL-best 44 doubles, 126 RBI and 20 steals.

Embed from Getty Images
Those numbers could improve now that he does not have to face a defensive shift each time up and other new rules that could make managers more willing to put runners in motion.

That’s just fine with Francona. A year ago, Cleveland ranked second in the American League with 119 stolen bases and was caught only 21 times.

To combat other teams running while seeking an upgrade in run production, Zunino replaces the departed Austin Hedges as the starting catcher. Hedges supplied top-notch defense and pop-gun offense the past two years.

Zunino has always been considered a good catcher with a very strong arm and 20-homer power. He did not play after June 9th last year for the Tampa Bay Rays due to thoracic outlet syndrome in his left arm. After crashing a career-high 33 homers with 62 RBI yet only a .216 average, in 2021, he managed to hit only .192 with three homers and 14 RBI. He has a 10-year career average of .200 and is batting .100 this spring.

Forward or Backward?

Embed from Getty Images
A year ago, 17 rookies helped Cleveland gain surprising success. Fans will expect every one of them to be even better. Baseball is not like that. Somebody is going to decline. Who that is, nobody knows.

It happened to Ramirez. After a decent rookie season, he batted .219 the next year and was sent back to the minors. He didn’t sulk, worked on his game, came back to hit .312 and .318 the next two years, and has been a great offensive player for Cleveland.

Joe Charboneau went from 1980 AL rookie of the year to obscurity in two years. A back injury played a part but there have been many players through the years who have had a nice debut and were seldom heard from again.

Straw had a nice rookie season split between Cleveland and the Houston Astros in 2021, batting .281 with 30 steals and 48 RBI. He got a nice long-term contract out of it and may have felt the pressure to prove he was deserving. He slumped to .221 with zero homers and 32 RBI though he did go 21 for 22 on steal attempts and played Gold Glove defense in 2022.

Straw started very slowly this spring but several multi-hit games of late have hiked his average to .273. That’s plenty good when combined with his stellar defense and base running.

One Up, One Down

It doesn’t look like Kwan is going to allow a backslide. He came out of nowhere last year to hit .298 with six homers 52 RBI and 19 steals. Thus far this spring the little lefty is showing there should be more to come.

The same cannot be said for Gonzalez, who won the hearts of everyone with a strong rookie debut capped by a sensational hitting spree in the playoffs. Always prone to swing at every pitch he sees and putting up very undesirable walk-to-strikeout ratios, he has worked to cut the Ks.

He has fanned only five times yet hit only four singles all spring. One scout said he is extremely concerned about Gonzalez’s tentative approach at the plate and failure to fully extend through the zone.

Added Utilities

Arias has come on strong and figures to claim the utility infield spot vacated by Owen Miller now with the Milwaukee Brewers. Should any of the infielders go down with an injury, he should be a pleasant option. He has the overall skill set to be an eventual all-star.

Embed from Getty Images
Brennan has looked good at all three outfield spots and at the plate. He appears to have won the fourth outfielder role. He can do a little bit of everything and seems to progress every season

Pries, Fry or Richie Palacios, who also went off to the WBC, may claim a final position player spot. Palacios likely has the best chance due to his versatility in the field. Pries and Fry have hit well but may be sent back to AAA along with Freeman.

Francona always says that it takes the entire 40-man roster to have a successful season. Some guys sent back in April, may play a key role in August. That’s the Guardians’ way.

Rally Rocks Rockies

Embed from Getty Images
Shane Bieber gave up one run and four hits over seven innings and Cleveland’s offense mustered a three-run bottom of the seventh Sunday to defeat the Colorado Rockies, 3-1.

The Guardians (8-13) tied it when Quinn was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Palacios (.308) followed with a two-run single. The Colorado Rockies dropped to 9-14.

Afterwards, catcher Bryan Lavastida was optioned to AAA Columbus and RHP Dusten Knight along with LHP’s Phillip Diehl and Caleb Baragar reassigned to the minor-league camp. The big-league camp still has 39 players. The roster must be at 26 for the season opener March 30 in Seattle.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images

Share "Cleveland Guardians Offense: Is It Good Enough?" on social media:
More Cleveland Guardians News
Chuck Murr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *