5 Guardians who have stood out this spring

March 20th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Guardians’ days in Arizona are numbered. With 10 days remaining until Opening Day, let’s take a look at who has made the best impressions in Spring Training.

As we’ve gotten deeper into the spring, the quality of contact Naylor is making at the plate has grown exponentially. He launched a grand slam onto the concourse in right field at Goodyear Ballpark on Thursday, continued to scorch base hits into the outfield, then added another monster blast in Cleveland's 5-5 tie with Texas on Monday at Surprise Stadium.

“When he doesn’t try to do that, that’s when he does it,” manager Terry Francona said. “And when he keeps his sights set in the middle, he becomes so dangerous."

Last spring, Naylor had to be hyper-focused on his recovery after missing most of the prior season due to the lower right leg injury he sustained in a collision in the outfield. Most of his offseason was spent rehabbing his leg, making sure he could run by the time camp got underway. This past winter, he was able to focus on baseball-related workouts and activities once again, and the results are paying off.

Arias has put together a stellar spring, despite moving all around the field to try to prove he can find any way onto this roster. The 23-year-old has consistently gotten on base, has made quality contact and has played sound defense. He was able to get more regular playing time when second baseman Andrés Giménez left to join Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. If there was any question whether Arias would make the Opening Day roster this year, he’s all but squashed the doubt.

“He’s played great defensively kind of at multiple spots across the diamond,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “All of our coaching group and Tito [are] really encouraged by the progress he’s made [offensively].”

Brennan went from being an intriguing prospect who was called up at the end of last season to a lock to make the Opening Day roster this spring. He entered camp fighting for a spot on Cleveland’s bench, potentially serving as a fourth outfielder. His consistent at-bats and quality defense has made it impossible to imagine him starting the year in the Minors.

Brennan will at least be on the Guardians’ bench to open the year, but now the question becomes whether he’ll see even more time in right field. Oscar Gonzalez’s slow start this spring may or may not be an indication of some sophomore struggles. But because his track record was being ultra-aggressive at the plate in the Minors, it may be difficult for him to sustain the success he had last season, opening the door for Brennan.

Pries may have made the biggest impression of anyone in Guardians camp this spring. The first baseman/outfielder isn’t on MLB Pipeline’s Top 30 prospects list for Cleveland. He knows the outside attention largely goes to other young players in the system. So when he came into camp this year, Pries told Francona he knew he was flying under the radar. Francona stopped him in his tracks and reassured him that within their organization, he’s valued equally to every other prospect in the system. Clearly, there are plenty of reasons why.

In his first 17 Cactus League games, Pries smacked two homers, recorded three doubles and even logged a triple. He’s played a solid first base and will continue to get looks in the corner outfield spots.

Whoever’s radar he wasn’t on prior to camp, he’s on it now.

Let’s put this under the “As expected” category. New year, same Bieber.

Last spring, Bieber was coming off right shoulder problems that plagued him throughout the 2021 season. His velocity was alarmingly low, and some concern grew from the outside about his condition. Even though he never truly felt like himself on the rubber until the end of last year, Bieber proved he could grind through and be just as reliable as he’s been his entire career. This time around, he’s finally feeling comfortable again, and it shows.

Bieber has made four spring starts and has given up three runs in 16 2/3 innings. Teams rarely put stock in Cactus League stats -- especially for hurlers, considering guys can be working on different things in each trip to the mound -- but when the results are as good as Bieber’s (a 1.62 ERA), it certainly doesn’t hurt.