3 major Guardians storylines to follow this spring

February 24th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cue up the Bryan Adams music, grab a hot dog at the concession stand and take a seat in the hot desert sun, because Guardians baseball is back on Saturday afternoon with none other than fan favorite Carlos Carrasco on the mound for the Cactus League opener.

The long days of drills on the backfields and hitting in cages can finally be a thing of the past. Manager Stephen Vogt can start evaluating his players in competitive settings and practice his own in-game decision-making.

The time has come, so what should we be paying attention to? Here are three things to keep an eye on as Cactus League play gets underway at 3:05 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Who’s at shortstop?

The starting job competition is coming down to and . That doesn’t mean that guys like , Angel Martínez and José Tena won’t also see time there, but expect the majority of the innings to be filled by Arias and Rocchio. The Guardians need to figure out if Arias’ struggles against left-handed pitching were a one-year fluke. In 108 at-bats against southpaws last year, Arias recorded just nine hits (.083 average). But at the same time, the organization knows his defense is elite, and if he can hit the way he did in the Minors, he could be an asset to the club.

“It’s hard to judge somebody off 100 at-bats,” Vogt said. “But at the same time, it’s understanding why. Maybe there’s something there with the swing, with the mechanics. But a lot of times it’s timing and pitch selection. So [the hitting team is] diving into a lot of those things.”

And then there’s Rocchio, who’s currently Cleveland’s No. 1 prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline. Last year, the Guardians were concerned about the young shortstop making routine plays consistently in the field. His bat didn’t immediately demand attention in his short stint in the big leagues, but he had his best overall season in Triple-A. He went on to perform well in winter ball in Venezuela and has had a different level of confidence about him coming into camp.

The two will use these exhibition games to showcase who is better for the starting shortstop job.

Freeman in the outfield

With Arias and Rocchio as the leading candidates for shortstop, that means the other middle infielders will need to see some time elsewhere. That’s what led Freeman to practice all three outfield spots this offseason.

The Guardians were open in their communication with him heading into the winter, expressing interest in seeing him get comfortable in the grass. Freeman said it took some time to get used to seeing the ball out there as opposed to the infield, but with more and more repetitions, he’s starting to feel more comfortable in left, center and right field.

“I mean, I’m doing it at the highest level, so it’s not going to be easy,” Freeman said. “But I’m ready for any challenge given to me, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”

Freeman will be put to the test this spring, finally getting time in the outfield in game action. He’ll still see innings at shortstop, but proving he can make this transition will be key in assuring his spot on the bench for the Guardians.

Does Brennan have the bat?

is in a competition to reclaim his spot in right field. Not only is Freeman now in the outfield mix, but the team has Myles Straw, Ramón Laureano, Estevan Florial, Brennan, George Valera, Johnathan Rodriguez and Jhonkensy Noel to look at this spring for only two starting roles: center and right.

So Brennan will need to earn his spot after having a rockier time in the big leagues last year than he did in his short stint in '22. So far in camp, he’s been one of the standouts in hitting drills. If he can continue that success in games, he may prove that he does, in fact, belong in the starting lineup.

“He’s made some adjustments swing-wise from last year,” Vogt said of Brennan. “He’s been impacting the ball really well, whether it be in BP, his cage work, his machine work, but even his live [at-bats], he’s been barreling up some balls.

“Will’s got an opportunity to play a huge role for us this year, and I’m really excited to watch him progress over the course of the spring and ramp up.”