CLEVELAND, Ohio — When the Guardians added 11 players to the 40-man roster in November, it raised questions.
When they did virtually nothing on the free agent or trade market over the winter to improve a team that finished 80-82 in 2021, the questions turned to concern.
When they said that after failing to acquire a specific group of players through free agency or trades, that they were going to “create opportunities for our younger players,” eyes rolled from Mentor to Seven Hills. Instead of signing the latest versions of Eddie Rosario and Cesar Hernandez, they were going to dip into the farm system.
This was a dog-and-pony show we’d seen before. It was going to be another bargain-basement team on a bargain-basement payroll. The only difference was that they’d be called the Guardians instead of the Indians.
“People thought we were crazy,” said Chris Antonetti, president of baseball operations.
After Friday’s 3-2 walk-off win over the A’s at Progressive Field, the Guardians are 28-26, three games behind the Twins in the AL Central. It’s much too early to think wild card, but if you did check those standings, the Guardians are trailing Boston by a half-game for the third spot.
As for the opportunities they’ve created for their young players — many of whom were added to the 40-man roster for the first time in November — they have become MLB’s version of the Statue of Liberty. Everyone is welcomed.
Eight players have already made their big-league debuts this year. Most are still on the 26-man roster. Other first- and second-year players are close to becoming fixtures in the lineup and bullpen.
Names to remember:
* 2B Andres Gimenez: He’s hitting .303 (46-for-152) with seven homers, 31 RBI and a .861 OPS. Whether it’s at second or short, it looks like he’s going to be playing in the middle of the G’s diamond for a long time.
* 1B-2B Owen Miller: He’s cooled after hitting .400 (20-for-50) in April, but he’s become a solid presence in the cleanup spot.
* OF Steven Kwan: Like Miller, Kwan had a great April, hitting .354 (17-for-48) followed by a poor May (.173). He’s hitting well again in June and went into Saturday’s game against the A’s hitting .270 (40-for-148) with 22 runs and a .366 on-base percentage.
* UT Ernie Clement: Usually the utility man on a team has a little more experience than Clement, but manager Terry Francona has confidence that he can play almost anywhere on the diamond with good results.
* RF Oscar Gonzalez: This was a player the Guardians didn’t add to the 40-man roster. In fact, they let him become a minor-league free agent last year after he hit 31 homers in the minors. The Guardians caught a break when he re-signed with them and the Rule 5 Draft was canceled because of the lockout.
He almost surely would have been drafted by another team and he wouldn’t be hitting .393 (22-for-56) with six RBI and a .922 OPS for Cleveland as he is today.
* OF Richie Palacios: He’s hitting .291 (16-for-55) and has done a nice job in a pinch-hitting role.
* RHP Eli Morgan: The converted starter is 2-1 with a 1.95 ERA in 16 games as a reliever. He’s struck out 34 and walked four in 27 2/3 innings.
* RHP Emmanuel Clase: Sure Clase saved 24 games last year, but he’s still only 24. This year he has a 1.93 ERA and has converted 10 saves in 12 chances.
* LHP Sam Hentges: Like Morgan, Hentges made his big-league debut last year. He also seems to have found a home in the pen. He’s posted an 0.96 ERA in 18 games with 22 strikeouts and four walks. The opposition is hitting .129.
* RHP Trevor Stephan: Last year’s Rule 5 pick from the Yankees has become a solid part of the bullpen. He did not allow a run in April, but got knocked around in May. He has not allowed a run in three June appearances.
* RHP Nick Sandlin: He’s 4-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 16 games. He made his big-league debut last year. The opposition is hitting .172, but Sandlin has walked 16 and struck out 10.
The Guardians rank fourth in batting average and sixth in runs in the American League. They have scored more runs than Tampa Bay, Seattle, Houston and the White Sox. One of the reasons is that they’ve struck out the fewest times in the AL.
“We have a lot of guys who constantly have great at-bats,” said catcher Luke Maile, who drove in the winning run Friday with a sacrifice fly. “When you have to face that type of a lineup three, four and sometimes five times, eventually it’s going to catch up to you.”
The bulllpen has gone 14-7 with the third-best ERA in the AL at 2.83. They lead the league with a .192 batting average against.
The one missing piece is the thing that has carried Cleveland for the last several years — the starting rotation. The starters are 14-19 with a 4.11 ERA. They’ve been better of late, going 4-2 with a 3.81 ERA in June, but it’s still a work in progress.
Seldom does a team have all three elements — offense, rotation and bullpen — pulling in the same direction at one time. For now, the young Guardians will take two out of three.
Guardians merchandise for sale: Here’s where you can order new Cleveland Guardians gear, including T-shirts, hats, jerseys, hoodies, and much more.
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