With two weeks of spring training left, there are still a couple of 26-man roster spots open on the Cleveland Guardians. While this might be a reason for Terry Francona to push for a trade for Bryan Shaw from the White Sox, let’s predict what the roster will be on Opening Day given the players currently in camp.
Catchers: Mike Zunino and Cam Gallagher
Mike Zunino is obviously the starter, and Cam Gallagher has been getting plenty of reps with the pitchers who will be on the Opening Day roster, so it seems pretty clear that this decision is made. I hope Meibrys Viloria and his interesting upside end up in Columbus, but Zunino and Gallagher should provide a solid duo for Guardians’ pitchers to rely on for solid defense and hopefully at least a slight improvement over what Austin Hedges and Luke Maile were able to provide in 2022.
Depending on what goes on with the bullpen, I think the Guardians may DFA Bryan Lavastida to get Gallagher on the roster. I didn’t think this was at all a likely or preferable option at the beginning of camp, but the team has somewhat buried Lavastida in the spring training depth charts, which seems to indicate to me that they’ve soured on his value.
First base and designated hitter: Josh Naylor and Josh Bell
The two Joshs will split time between first base and designated hitter, especially against right-handed pitching. Most Guardians fans are fervently hoping that Gabriel Arias will see some reps at first base or in right field (with Oscar Gonzalez at DH) against left-handers, but I suspect Josh Naylor will receive some early season opportunities to show whether or not he has a pulse against southpaws. The good news is that both Naylor and Bell have swung the bat fairly well in spring training, so here’s hoping that carries over as the regular season begins.
Second base: Andrés Giménez
While we enjoy watching our beloved Andrés Giménez flash the leather at shortstop for Venezuela in the WBC, we know that when the season begins his cannon of an arm and tremendous range will make him the best defensive second baseman in the game. Let’s hope he will be starting with a nice little extension, also.
Shortstop: Amed Rosario
Say whatever you want about Amed Rosario, I think it’s important to note that two defensive metrics (UZR and DRS) saw him making immense improvements in his defensive game and he led the league in competitive runs to first base. This is why he’ll play short and bat second whether it’s ideal or not (it’s not) — because the Guardians and Tito know they’re getting a consistently valuable, everyday player in Rosario every time he’s in the lineup.
Third base: José Ramírez
Guess who. He’s batting well over .400 this spring, also.
Left field: Steven Kwan
Hopefully, he’ll be playing with a nice little extension signed.
Center field: Myles Straw
While I wrote that I’d like to see Myles Straw moved to a Jarrod Dyson-type role, eventually, I’m in support of giving him more run to see if he can hit enough to justify an everyday role in center field. His defense is good enough that it really wouldn’t take much with the bat to make him a 3-win player out there.
Right field: Oscar Gonzalez
I am excited to see how Oscar Gonzalez follows up on his exciting debut season in 2022. I really want him to thread the Tim Anderson/Luis Robert needle of barely ever walking and being a free swinger yet still finding a way to be a great hitter. There’s a lot of risk in the hitting profile, yes, but after his heroics in the postseason, he deserves to get everyday at-bats to begin the season. Gonzalez made me a believer in 2022 that he will find a way to repay the Guardians’ trust in him.
Gabriel Arias, utility infield/outfield
Gabriel Arias has been a highlight of Guardians’ camp, just as he was last spring. He has been getting plenty of reps with the starting squad with Giménez in the WBC and the team seems confident of his ability to play anywhere. I would enjoy seeing him get a start each week at second, short, third (with Ramírez DH’ing), and in one of the corner outfield spots. I’m not sure exactly what kind of player the Guardians have in Arias but I’m intrigued to find out in 2023.
Will Brennan, utility outfield
Will Brennan has also been hitting the ball extremely well in spring training, just as he did when he was promoted in late September for the Guardians. I’ve heard from several folks close to the team that the Guardians really like Brennan. He can play any outfield position and I think he should start at least two games a week and get in a lot of games as a pinch-hitter and a sometimes defensive replacement for Gonzalez.
Richie Palacios, utility infield/outfield
Richie Palacios is returning to camp from spending some time with the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. I was confident that Palacios would not break camp with the team, but I prefer Palacios to the team rostering Roman Quinn. There’s far more upside in Palacios’ bat than Quinn’s and Palacios has shown baserunning acumen in the minors. The Guardians hitters include six right-handed hitters, four left-handed hitters, and two switch-hitters to this point, so I suspect that the final bench position will be filled by a left-handed hitter if it’s a close call between a few players. Given that Palacios is on the 40-man roster, I think this gives him the edge over players like Quinn and David Fry, for better or worse.
Starting pitchers: Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill, Aaron Civale, and Zach Plesac
We may all be tired of Zach Plesac, but I see no signs of the team moving him to the bullpen as I initially hoped might be the case after he spent time there last fall after returning from injury. Otherwise, the rotation includes solid-to-great pitchers, and they are all backed up by some great minor-league depth in Konnor Pilkington, Hunter Gaddis, and Xzavion Curry — then Joey Cantillo, Tanner Bibee, Gavin Williams, and hopefully Cody Morris and Daniel Espino when healthy.
Bullpen: Michael Kelly, Tim Herrin, Eli Morgan, Nick Sandlin, Enyel De Los Santos, Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak, Emmanuel Clase
I continue to think one of the non-roster invite arms makes the roster. In this scenario, it would require the Guardians to DFA Jason Bilous, who has looked solid in his spring training outings, for whatever that is worth. Michael Kelly’s velocity has looked good and he seems to get earlier reps in games, usually an indication the team wants to see him against good competition. I considered putting Konnor Pilkington on the roster over Tim Herrin simply because I could see the team wanting a piggyback starter to begin the season. The rest of the bullpen seems straightforward enough and it’s been good to see Nick Sandlin and Enyel De Los Santos pitching in spring training games coming off of their respective injuries.
Aside from Pilkington, I wouldn’t be especially surprised to see Bilous, Philip Diehl (an interesting left-hander), Hunter Gaddis, or Xzavion Curry make the roster.
There’s at least a little bit of intrigue left for Guardians fans following the team until these games count.