Valaika dishes on bounceback, breakout candidates for Guardians

February 18th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Guardians have become known for having a contact-first offensive approach. They don’t swing and miss. They don’t strike out. They put the ball in play. And yet, they struggle to score runs.

Now, it’s time to add impact.

“We have the bodies to be able to do more than we’ve shown,” Guardians hitting coach Chris Valaika said. “We have to break that mold because the hallmark of the organization has been drafting good decision makers, high-contact bats -- so we have to add to more of that impact potential that we have.”

To do that, they’ll need to rely on more than just one guy. Here’s what Valaika had to say about how a handful of hitters entered camp this week:

The player:
The skinny: Over the last two years, Straw hit .229 with a .580 OPS (67 OPS+) and one home run. To reclaim his job in center, he’s going to have to prove these struggles are behind him.
The quote: “He came in more physical -- he’s heavier, he’s stronger, he’s continued the adjustments that we made over the offseason. … He knows that he’s going to have to compete for his job, and come in and show us something and [be] the player we all know he can be. … I think he’s more confident because of that body composition that he has. He’s seeing the results, he’s seeing how the ball is coming off of his bat. I think that we’re going to see a better, more intentful version of Myles this year.”

The player:
The skinny: Arias is the favorite to win the shortstop job, but there’s concern about his bat, considering he went 9-for-108 (.083) against lefties last year.
The quote: “He just needed reps. I think for a lot of those young guys, they fall into a trap sometimes of chasing results, trying to force their way into playing the next day, not having a result. It’s the elephant in the room, the lack of success he had against left-handed pitching. I think that just compounds. ... Him going to winter ball and playing was good.”

The player: Andrés Giménez
The skinny: Giménez was the MVP of Cleveland’s 2022 season and earned himself an offseason extension, but when 2023 rolled around, he couldn’t find his rhythm offensively until the final month of the season.
The quote: “As tough as it was on him, kudos to him that he fought through that year. I think there was a lot of pressure and a lot of expectations coming off the year he had previously, getting the contract. … We got the player we all know he could be later in the year, and he’s made some really good adjustments this winter, so hopefully [we’re going] to see that carry over from the last month into the season this year.”

The player:
The skinny: The Rule 5 Draft pick is the perfect fit when it comes to Cleveland’s new impact-first approach. The problem is he’s only 20 years old and has never played above Double-A. In order to keep him in the organization without offering him back to Arizona, the Guardians need to keep him on the active roster for the entire season.
The quote: “I think there’s definitely some obstacles. ... But the way he’s carried himself here, [José Ramírez has] really embraced him and kind of put his arm around him. There’s not a better guy in the game to mentor you. I think how [manager Stephen Vogt] decides to deploy him if he is with us, I think it’s just gonna be a lot around the messaging that, ‘You’re here for a reason, you have a lot of impact potential that we can live with some of the swing and misses, and some of the growing pains that you might go through jumping Triple-A.’”

The player:
The skinny: Manzardo has the potential to be a difference maker for the Guardians this year. But he’ll have to fight for a spot on the Opening Day roster, likely with De Los Santos. He’ll need a strong offensive showing this spring to prove he can make the transition on Day 1.
The quote: “He looks like Wade Boggs to me. He’s been awesome in the box. … Haven’t seen him a ton in camp with just all the moving pieces, so I’m gonna try to lock in on him a little bit more.”