At long last! We are just under 20 days before Guardians pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Arizona for Spring Training. The long and rigorous days of the MLB offseason are ever-so-slightly coming to a close. That being said, Spring Training is the perfect time for the Guardians fandom to jog its memory about the team, or for beginner fans to start learning about the game. Whatever stage you may be at in terms of baseball fandom, there is always something to look for during Spring Training. So, whether you are a new fan or a grizzled vet who doesn’t know what to look for during Cactus League baseball, don’t worry because I can get you on track.
As Spring Training rolls around every season, questions about the team are bound to arise come the time. And with questions come some very intriguing storylines. This year I expect the inquiries to be plentiful, as an inactive offseason from the Guardians brass has left a great deal of open spots in their lineup with plenty of candidates to fill them. Spring Training is also contract extension season for the Guardians. The team always engages in extension talks just before the regular season starts, so there could be some fan-favorites that get their awaited payday and stay Guardians for years to come. Aside from that, though, other narratives regarding specific players or prospects may prove to be very thought-provoking for you. With that being said, I would like to go into depth about these stories to inform you about what may be of interest to you this spring.
Lingering Questions About the Middle-Infield
If you’ve read my article from a couple weeks ago, you’ll remember that I said that the team is still looking for a double play partner for one of their most recent extension recipients in Andres Gimenez. This has been a burning question for the Guardians ever since the all-time great middle infield duo of Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor departed from the team in 2019 and 2020. However, it seems like the team is mere inches away from finding that answer. The team has four very strong league ready (or almost league ready) middle infield prospects in Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio, Tyler Freeman and Juan Brito. Three out of these four are very familiar faces if you’ve watched the team in recent years; everyone besides Brito has spent a very healthy amount of time in the bigs since the beginning of the 2022 season. In that time as well, those same three players have been included in MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects (Freeman was included in 2020 and 2021 as well). As for Brito, Pipeline just made him the league’s 8th-ranked second base propsect, so by just looking at what baseball scouts have to say about our prospects, I think it is easily understandable that our middle infield situation will more than likely be secure for the future. Now, this job is up for grabs and Spring Training performances can be very telling as to which prospect the Guardians will give a real chance to take it.
The Guardians’ situation in the outfield has gotten a lot more curious during the offseason. When I say this, I mean that the Guardians did not do what many thought they would, and that is acquire good outfield talent. What Antonetti and the rest of his ilk did though is take the same approach for this as they did for the middle infield. They acquired a couple of lottery ticket prospects in the 26-year-old former top prospect for the Yankees - Estevan Florial (was traded for Cody Morris) and the 20-year-old Rule 5 Draft pick from the Diamondbacks - Deyvison De Los Santos (he is primarily a corner infielder, but he will most likely need to move to the outfield or designated hitter). These two add onto the decent list of outfield prospects they have in store as well. George Valera is nearly ready for the bigs, but there are some question marks around him about whether he can bounce back from his 2023 season that was tainted by injuries. He should definitely be one of the guys to pay close attention to as Spring Training progresses. Johnathan Rodriguez also took a huge leap in his development last year. The righty slugger led the Guardians’ farm system with 29 homers, 59 total extra base hits and 88 runs batted in across AA and AAA ball. How he performs this spring could be indicative of when he will get the call and how he well he might do whenever he eventually does. Jhonkensy Noel has been a lingering prospect who also was one of the system’s best power hitters. He is very similar to the aforementioned Deyvison De Los Santos, but is two years older. Being someone who has been largely relegated from serious consideration, Noel has a lot to prove in Goodyear. Expect him to have a chip on his shoulder and possibly look out for him to make a bit of a splash.
Possible Contract Extensions?
Many have been asking the question of whether the ongoing feud over MLB broadcasting rights with Diamond Sports Group will affect the team’s spending. And, I think it’s safe to say that it definitely did. The Guardians did not spend much money during free agency, and most of their acquisitions came by way of trade. However, there is still hope that the Guards front office can ink one of their mainstays to a healthy contract extension as Spring Training rolls around. One specific name of interest that has been on everybody’s mind is the widely-beloved first baseman, Josh Naylor. Naylor is fresh off the heels of a career year, where he put up a slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/on-base plus slugging percentage) of .308/.354/.489 with a 128 weighted runs created plus (wRC+). He is under contract through 2025 and was arguably the most consistent and productive hitter for the Guards last season. I’d expect him and Antonetti to get in touch about a potential deal at some point this Spring. Righty reliever Scott Barlow’s contract ends after this year too, so if the team wanted him to stick around, then I’d assume that he’ll get an extension offer too. Besides those two, though, there are really not any other contract extension candidates that need to happen this year. But just to name a few, I would point towards Josh’s brother Bo or maybe Steven Kwan to get theirs as well.
(Little Sidenote: Feel free to note any other storylines that you are looking forward to seeing play out in the comments! I’ll make sure to read them)
How to Prepare Yourself for the Upcoming Season
The preseason for so many sports - including baseball - acts more as a refresher for the average fan. You get to see the new team, consisting of familiar faces and fresh, new ones. You also get to witness some high-pedigree prospects of the team fight for the remaining spots on the active roster. The question at the center of all that though is how the team’s roster is going to stack up against the other teams in the MLB. Each of the storylines heading into any team’s Spring Training period does its best to answer that question.
So, how do you actually prepare for the season through Spring Training? Well, I’d say that it’s totally up to you. If you like following a certain player, or you are keeping your eyes on a certain narrative that will play out during the coming two months, it is your power to pay attention to those as closely as you’d like. If you just haven’t watched baseball in so long and am looking to get your fix for the first time in months, enjoy watching the games to your own pleasure. This could apply to anyone, as well; it doesn’t matter what stage of the fandom you are in. Spring Training is meant to introduce to you who may make up the current roster and hint at what it may be further down the line. Not only that, but it introduces us to the new season. It’s overall a great way to get you excited for the upcoming months of baseball!