Here are 3 storylines to watch in Guardians camp

February 11th, 2023

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.

Step aside, Super Bowl, it’s baseball season.

Players will start reporting to camp on Monday, meaning the start of the 2023 season is just around the corner. What are the most pressing topics for the Guardians heading into Spring Training?

Let’s take a look at three storylines to keep an eye on:

1. Who will be the backup catcher?

It seems odd to think the biggest position battle for this spring will be the backup catcher, but that’s the reality for Cleveland this year.

The Guardians’ goal is to start Bo Naylor in Triple-A. He’s had just 66 games in Columbus in his Minor League career and Cleveland wants him to get more consistent reps under his belt before he moves up to the big leagues, which would mean more sporadic playing time, serving as a backup to Mike Zunino.

That’s the goal. If Zunino isn’t healthy, this gets trickier. Both Zunino and the Guardians seemed confident that he’d be ready for Opening Day when the team announced his signing in December. He underwent surgery on his non-throwing arm last July due to thoracic outlet syndrome. If Zunino is not bouncing back the way he thought he would, Naylor would need to get thrown into the fire and handle the bulk of the innings at the beginning of the season.

Assuming Zunino is healthy (which is the expectation), Naylor should begin the year in Triple-A, leaving Bryan Lavastida, David Fry, Cam Gallagher, Meibrys Viloria and newly-acquired Zack Collins to battle for the backup position. Lavastida is the only player of this group who is already on the 40-man roster.

2. How will the Guardians fill out their bullpen?

Most of the bullpen should be easy to predict. Emmanuel Clase, James Karinchak and Trevor Stephan are locks. Sam Hentges and (assuming he’s healthy) Nick Sandlin should be in the ‘pen. The way Eli Morgan and Enyel De Los Santos pitched at times in ’22 makes it easy to give them another chance right out of the gate in ’23. But if Cleveland carries eight relievers, who gets the last spot?  

Cody Morris was the answer at the end of last season, but if the Guardians want to have him as a starting option if they need to turn to their depth at some point in the year, it’d be hard to limit him to just a few innings out of the bullpen to start the season. Guys like Konnor Pilkington, Peyton Battenfield, Touki Toussaint and Joey Cantillo fall into this same category.  

There are a handful of Minor League non-roster invitee relievers to keep an eye on during camp, but the two that stick out early are Nick Mikolajchak and Andrew Misiaszek. Could one of them crack the Opening Day roster? It might be difficult, but it’s far from impossible.

3. Which young guys will stand out?

Because so much of their roster is figured out, it’s time to start planning for depth. We know who will start in the outfield. We know all of the starting infielders. Assuming no trades or injuries occur, the starting five seems to be set. So, how can the Guardians grow their depth to be prepared for the grueling 162-game season?  

This is a fun time to learn about their young players. Brayan Rocchio can showcase why he’d deserve a bench spot. Jhonkensy Noel can give everyone a taste of the power he displayed in his 32-homer season in the Minors last year. Logan Allen (yes, the new one) can give the big league coaching staff confidence that he could be called upon if the team needs another starter during the season.  

It’s unknown now, but there will undoubtedly be a handful of up-and-coming players who thrive this spring.