The Guardians need power, and Manzardo -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as Tampa Bay's No. 4 prospect and the No. 37 prospect in baseball -- has the potential to help fill that void. The left-handed-hitting slugger split the 2022 season between the Rays' High-A and Double-A affiliates, hitting .327 with a 1.043 OPS, 22 homers and 26 doubles in 93 games.
“Not only we, but the industry holds Kyle in high regard,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “We think he can develop into really good offensive player. … Those guys are not easy to acquire, so we made the choice in this case as we surveyed the landscape that this was the right path forward for us.”
This season, Manzardo’s numbers don’t look quite as strong; the 23-year-old has hit .238 with a .784 OPS, at least in part because the organization wanted him to see plenty of at-bats against lefty pitching to avoid setting him up to strictly be a platoon player. Against righties, Manzardo has seen plenty of success, hitting .282 with a .906 OPS and 10 homers in 70 games. Versus southpaws, he has hit .148 with a .535 OPS and just one homer in 49 games.
“[Manzardo’s] really well regarded not only by us but the industry,” Antonetti said. “[He] recently was selected for the 2023 Futures Game, he’s appeared in multiple Top 100 lists. I think that speaks to what his future potential might be.”
Defensively, Manzardo has made strides at first base, but below-average arm strength will probably limit his versatility if the Guardians are hoping to use him elsewhere. But if he’s able to deliver offensively, a lack of defensive flexibility won’t be a detriment to his value. Here’s what MLB Pipeline experts had to say about Manzardo's bat coming into the season:
Manzardo might grow into a hitting coach’s dream. Utilizing a relatively quiet setup at the plate, he often sees the ball out of the pitcher's hand well and makes impressive swing decisions, thus cutting down on strikeouts while maintaining healthy walk rates. His hitting performance was remarkably consistent following his first jump to the upper Minors, strengthening the belief that he could threaten for multiple Major League seasons around (or exceeding) a .300 average. Unlike many at his position, Manzardo is hit over power, with exit velocities that don’t typically pop off the page, but his ability to find the barrel has helped drive his slugging ability to this point.
Manzardo is currently on the Minor League injured list with a strain in his non-throwing shoulder. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out, but because he still needs to ramp back up and get back into Triple-A games, it’s unlikely he reaches the Majors before 2024.
“He’s starting to play catch and hit off the tee,” Antonetti said. “We do expect him back in Minor League games before the end of the season.”
The Guardians have started to make strides toward boosting their offense -- but what happens next to their rotation?
Civale was the last remaining member of the original starting five from Opening Day. Zach Plesac was designated for assignment earlier this year and is struggling in Triple-A Columbus. Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill are all on the injured list. The Guardians indicated that Quantrill may begin a rehab assignment in the near future, but the team now has just three rookies -- all of whom are quickly approaching their career highs in innings pitched -- plus Noah Syndergaard, who struggled all year with the Dodgers and is making his Guardians debut on Monday.
The decision to make this deal didn't come easily for the Guardians. The club will need Quantrill to get back in the mix to help eat up as many innings as possible, considering Civale did so flawlessly in July, when he posted a 1.45 ERA across 37 1/3 innings and six starts. Antonetti mentioned names like Peyton Battenfield, Hunter Gaddis, Joey Cantillo and Hunter Gaddis being options to fill in. He also indicated that more help could come externally.
“We do believe we will be able to address that void both through our internal options and potentially maybe even with some external acquisitions here that we’ve either made with the acquisition of Noah Syndergaard or what might transpire between now and the end of the day tomorrow,” Antonetti said.