Cleveland Guardians 2024 MLB Season Preview

The Guardians are coming off a down-year, but enter 2024 with a young roster and plenty of optimism to compete in a wide-open AL Central.

Jose Ramirez
CLEVELAND, OH - JULY 16: Cleveland Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez (11) is congratulated by Cleveland Guardians second baseman Andres Gimenez (0) after hitting his second home run of the game during the second inning of the the Major League Baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Guardians on July 16, 2022, at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Cleveland Guardians have a core of young players that believe they have what it takes to compete in a competitive American League Central.

Last season ended in disappointing fashion for the Cleveland Guardians. It was the curtain-call season for legendary manager Terry Francona, and the team failed to reach the post-season in his final season.

One of the youngest teams in all of baseball, the Guardians biggest strength was their starting rotation. As a team, Cleveland finished 2023 in the top 10 in ERA (9th with 3.97), runs allowed (8th with 697), and home runs allowed (tied for first with only 173 allowed).

On the other hand, their lineup ranked towards the bottom of nearly every hitting statistic as a team. Jose Ramirez received some votes in the AL MVP race, but even he has seen his OPS drop since the 2020 season.

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He remains by far the best offensive player in a struggling young lineup that lacks power. Ramirez was the only player to hit 20-plus homers and only four other players hit double-digit home runs in 2023 (Josh Naylor 17, Andrés Giménez 15, Bo Naylor 11, and Gabriel Arias with 10).

While more power could be desired, power hitting isn’t necessarily the identity of this team. This is a young team that plays with speed and will steal a ton of bases.

In 2023, the Guardians finished fifth in the league in stolen bases with 151. Considering the fact that this is a team that was 23rd in on-base percentage, that is pretty impressive to say the least.

New-Look Guardians Team

One key change in the 2023 off-season in Cleveland was bringing in new manager Stephen Vogt. Replacing a Hall of Famer is never an easy feat, but Vogt is bringing a new energy to the team that is open to seeing this young team grow.

When asked by MLB Network at their 30 clubs in 15 days Spring Training interview about his approach working with Bo Naylor specifically and a group of young players, here’s what Vogt had to say.

A lot times young players just get a ton thrown on them and then they gotta figure it out. That’s not going to be the case with Bo. We’re going to help and he will make mistakes, but we all learn from our mistakes. That’s what I’ve been preaching to our group as a whole. We’re the youngest team in baseball. I want them to make new mistakes everyday, because that’s how we learn.

Stephen Vogt to MLB Network

It was a fairly quiet off-season in Cleveland. The team made minor additions in free agency, adding Ben Lively and brought back a defensive specialist catcher in Austin Hedges.

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Key moves included the Guardians trading for Scott Barlow. The former Kansas City Royals closer pitched very well with the San Diego Padres, striking out 32 batters in 29.1 innings.

Cleveland also traded Cal Quantrill to the Rockies, which was a bit of a surprising move. Aside from those moves, the Guardians brought in pitchers Jaime Barria, Tyler Beede, and Carlos Carrasco to minor league deals.

Guardians Projected Lineups

As a team, the Guardians will need to focus on what they do best — which is play with speed. Get on base, steal bases, move the runners over, those kinds of things. On paper, there likely isn’t a ton of guys that are capable of hitting 20-plus home runs, but to improve from last season, there is no reason they couldn’t see five or more players steal 20 or more bases.

This is their identity. I think of old school teams like the 64′ St. Louis Cardinals. Now this team likely won’t win the World Series or even the AL Central, but they could compete if the lineup produces.

Projected Lineup

  1. Steven Kwan, LF
  2. Andrés Giménez, 2B
  3. José Ramírez, 3B
  4. Josh Naylor, 1B
  5. Bo Naylor, C
  6. Ramón Laureano, RF
  7. Kyle Manzardo, DH
  8. Brayan Rocchio, SS
  9. Myles Straw, CF

To take the positivity hat off for a minute though, the offense still remains quite a concern. I look at this lineup and I wonder who will get better?

Perhaps an increase of playing time will provide the Naylor brothers with the tools they need to put up better numbers. Unfortunately, a lot of stock is being put on young prospects that are on their way in Will Brennan, Kyle Manzardo and Chase DeLauter. There is room for improvement for nearly every player in the lineup (except for Ramirez).

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One player I am expecting a big season from is Steven Kwan. Not only has he become one of the most well-rounded players on the team, he continues to improve his approach at the plate.

As one of the best leadoff hitters in the division, he could improve even more in 2024. If he can get on base more this season, he will lead the charge in stolen bases as well, which plays into the team’s hands perfectly.

Guardians Projected Bench

As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of young players waiting for their shot to showcase their skills. Hedges was brought in this past offseason to serve as Bo Naylor’s backup catcher.

Deyvison De Los Santos provides the team with a utility player that can float through both the infield and the outfield. He may end up being the most important bench player on the team. Last season, he hit 20 home runs in Double-A, and for a team that needs any power they can get, he could get some time at DH.

Estevan Florial has been hitting cleanup for most of Spring Training and playing some left field, which will be Kwan’s position when the regular season begins, but Florial could be a key name the Guardians rely on in a floater outfielder position and DH spot. He hasn’t had the greatest spring, so he likely falls down the list, but could get a lot of opportunities this season as well.

Guardians Projected Starting Rotation

Emmanuel Clase has been one of the best closers in all of baseball for years now. Last season he finished with 44 saves — the most in the league. Another rising star in the Guardians’ pitching staff was the emergence of Tanner Bibee. Bibee led the team in wins, posting a 10-4 record, and he led the team in strikeouts with 141.

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In his recent interview with our own Peter Appel and Aram Leighton from The Just Baseball Show, Bibee mentioned his goal is to win as many of my games as possible in 2024 and make every start. It will be exciting to see how the 25-year-old follows his exceptional 2023 campaign.

Projected Rotation

1. Shane Bieber, RHP
2. Tanner Bibee, RHP
3. Triston McKenzie, RHP
4. Logan Allen, LHP
5. Gavin Williams, RHP*

One of the keys to this season’s success with the starters will be getting a healthy McKenzie. In 2023, he was limited to only four starts due to shoulder problems, which was followed by elbow problems. If he can get back to his 2022 self and provide a healthy season, it’ll help the balance of the rotation significantly. Somewhat like what we saw in June when he returned.

Shane Bieber enters the 2024 season still a member of the Guardians, but may not be come the trade deadline. His name has been swirling around in trade rumors for quite some time.

Whether his future is in Cleveland or not, Bieber has to find the velocity on his fastball once again. It only has been a few seasons since his Cy Young Award winning 2020 season. The good news is, he has been working on finding his velocity again.

If McKenzie can remain relatively healthy in 2024, and Bieber can find his velocity, the Guardians have themselves a quality 1,2,3 punch along with Bibee.

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The only left-handed pitcher amongst Cleveland’s starters is Logan Allen. He finished 2023 second in nearly every pitching stat on the team including both wins and strikeouts. He also gave up the most hits and home runs on the team though with 127 hits and 16 home runs against him.

Gavin Williams pitched well in his first season in the majors, but he is dealing with some elbow trouble this spring. The Guardians will hope he makes a quick return to action, because it would be nice to see what he can do with more MLB time on his resume. Carlos Carrasco is a candidate to make some spot starts until Williams is back on the mound.

Projected Bullpen

Closer: Emmanuel Clase, RHP

Setup: Sam Hentges, LHP; Scott Barlow, RHP

Middle: Eli Morgan, RHP; Nick Sandlin, RHP; Tim Herrin, LHP; James Karinchak, RHP*

Long Man: Ben Lively, RHP

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The Guards’ bullpen last season ranked ninth in the majors in relief ERA and 10th in bullpen FIP. While for the most part Clase was great, guys like Trevor Stephan stepped up on many occasions as well. Stephan tied for second on the team in wins last season with his 7-7 record. Unfortunately, Stephan will miss the 2024 season recovering from UCL surgery.

That means the Guardians will need some help at the back end of the bullpen, so it’s a good thing they brought in Barlow.

They will also look for James Karinchak to get back on track. He demonstrated great stuff on the mound early in his career, causing trouble for opposing hitters. Then, halfway through the 2021 season, he lost it. He looked strong again in 2022 but struggled in 2023. He’s currently dealing with a shoulder injury that could keep him out for the first few weeks of the season.

Prospects To Keep An Eye On

With all of the talk surrounding DeLauter, Manzardo, and Rocchio, there are so many more names to keep an eye on for this upcoming season.

There will also be a ton of eyes on the progression of guys like left-handed pitcher Joey Cantillo, catcher/first baseman Ralphy Velazquez, shortstop José Tena, and infielder Juan Brito.

There will be a ton of prospects that we may see get some time as relievers in the big leagues, simply because there are still a few spots that are open. Good thing for Cleveland, they have a plethora of pitchers as mentioned above that can provide them so additional quality innings.

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Brito is a player that has the ability to hit for some power and for a team that will need all it can get in that category, he may receive some opportunities this season. George Valara is another player that possesses some power on the left side of the plate, but has seen a slight dip in his power in 2023 compared to 2022 due to missing some time.

As a young team, there will be many opportunities provided for many prospects to shine. That’s what this season is all about.

Which young players will rise to the occasion provided and prove themselves worth being part of a fun, young team that will be fighting for an AL Central division. At the very least, watching these young players grow with each other will be compelling enough under a first year manager in Vogt.