No. 4 prospect making most of opportunity

February 28th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mandy Bell’s Guardians Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday, the Guardians trailed the A's by 10 runs. It was one of those clunky Spring Training games filled with errors and rusty pitching. But with one swing of the bat, helped fans leave the ballpark with a smile on their face and optimism about the team's future.

After logging a single earlier in the game, DeLauter stepped into the batter’s box ready to attack. He unleashed the type of power that has rarely been seen in recent Guardians history, smacking a home run well over the pavilion that hangs above the right-field seats.

“That was my first, like, great ball of the spring, I’d say for me,” DeLauter said. “I’ve been working through some things. To get that one out of the way was nice, for sure.”

DeLauter is on the radar of every fan, front office member and big league coach. The team’s No. 4 prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, was selected in the first round of the 2022 MLB Draft, but left foot surgery delayed his professional debut until the middle of last season. He’s an outfielder with power, contact ability, speed, arm strength and above-average defense. The anticipation of his arrival was nearly bubbling over by the time he was able to suit up for High-A Lake County last June. In 42 games, he hit .366 with a .952 OPS for the Captains and also logged six games with Double-A Akron.

But DeLauter knew he had to make up for lost time. He decided to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .299 with five doubles, five homers, 27 RBIs and a .914 OPS in 23 games, setting himself up to enter Spring Training with plenty of confidence.

“Obviously there’s things to work on this offseason,” DeLauter said. “I met with a good bit of hitting guys, fielding guys and felt like we cleaned some stuff up and [are] ready to go.”

Things are a little bit different for the Guardians this spring. Usually, the team has its entire 40-man roster in camp, plus those who receive a non-roster invitation. When more bodies are needed to fill innings in games, especially during split squads, the big league team will ask for some Minor League players to come up and help out. But this year, the Guardians have also added a handful of guys to their “depth camp.” That means they’re technically not in big league camp, but they practice with the big leaguers each day and are getting consistent playing time in Cactus League games, rather than getting called on sporadically.

DeLauter was one of the few to be added to the depth camp.

“It’s always fun when you see guys in depth camp or getting called up for the day and you see them have some success,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “It’s really fun. So it’s good experience for them and it’s fun for us to get to see them play.”

DeLauter certainly had success on Tuesday with his 2-for-2 performance. He’s now 3-for-4 in Spring Training games and is looking to take advantage of each opportunity he gets to make a strong impression in front of the big league coaching staff, while also fending off any nerves that may bubble up.

“Everybody gets nervous as much as they say they don’t,” DeLauter said. “I think it’s just as much as you can deep take your deep breaths, as cliché as that sounds, take your deep breaths, get in there, remember you belong. It’s a game. I’ve done it my whole life.”

DeLauter won’t be up at the start of the season, but an end-of-year debut is not off the table for the rising prospect. But he knows how quickly things have been taken from him in the past. He’s not getting ahead of himself. As long as he keeps his plan simple, he knows he can trust that opportunities will come his way.

“[A successful 2024 would be] a healthy season, moving well and I think the rest will take care of itself,” DeLauter said. “For me, I’m not a numbers guy. Like, I’m not trying to hit a certain amount of homers or trying to hit the bat this well or make it whatever. It’s just be healthy, let my game do its game and we’ll see what happens.”