These pitchers could factor into the Guardians' bullpen soon

March 9th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The bullpen is one of the pieces of this roster that has yet to be put together.

James Karinchak (shoulder fatigue) and Trevor Stephan (right elbow bruise) having to miss some time this spring certainly threw unexpected wrenches in any of the Guardians’ plans entering camp. It seems safe to assume at least three spots are up for grabs. Guys like Carlos Carrasco, Xzavion Curry and Ben Lively will certainly be in the hunt, but there are a handful of others who aren’t far behind.

There are a group of younger relief candidates who are just one step away from proving they’re Major League ready.

“It just comes down to them pounding the zone,” manager Stephen Vogt said. “We see it when they’re getting behind, they have to give in. That’s when they’re getting hit or they’re walk, walk, hit. But when pitchers with that kind of stuff get ahead, they put themselves in a position to succeed.”

Let’s take a look at three hurlers who fall in this category and could soon be joining the big league bullpen.

Tim Herrin
has been in the Majors before, and is the most likely of this group to get there first again. With the extra openings likely to be available, Herrin could find himself with an Opening Day roster spot. But as Vogt alluded to, he’ll have to continue to show throughout the final weeks of camp that he’s able to get ahead in counts.

Herrin’s 23 big league appearances in ‘23 resulted in a 5.53 ERA with 12 walks and 32 strikeouts in 27 2/3 frames. In Triple-A Columbus, he owned a 3.38 ERA in 37 1/3 innings. He’s given the club a taste of what another left-handed arm could look like in this ‘pen, but he needs to take the next step to win the job.

Entering Saturday’s 5-4 loss to the Angels at Goodyear Ballpark, Herrin had allowed two runs (each on solo homers) in five innings. He allowed one more run against Los Angeles in two frames. Overall, he has walked one batter and hit another, but he’s also recorded seven strikeouts in seven innings. He has just over three weeks left to keep showing that he can pound the strike zone.

Cade Smith
The fact that is already on the 40-man roster is helpful for the Guardians, who may want to avoid designating players for assignment to fill out this bullpen. But he still has a little more to show before he earns that final promotion.

Smith was great in Double-A Akron last year, owning a 2.86 ERA with 13 saves, nine walks and 29 strikeouts in 17 appearances (22 innings). He struggled a little more in Triple-A Columbus with a 4.65 ERA, but still struck out 66 batters in 40 2/3 innings.

He’s been impressive in big league camp, entering Saturday with one run allowed in 3 1/3 innings with no walks and four strikeouts. Against the Angels, he picked up two strikeouts and allowed a single in a scoreless inning.

Franco Aleman
is the lone non-roster invitee on this list. A 23-year-old righty selected in the 10th round of the 2021 Draft, Aleman’s stuff continues to get better as he settles into a full-time reliever role. Once he was promoted to Double-A Akron in July last year, he didn’t allow an earned run in 24 innings. His fastball averaged 96 mph for the year, but reached as high as 101 mph on the radar gun.

But he didn’t have the same success in High-A prior to this, so the Guardians will need a little time to see that he can be consistent. So far this spring, he’s giving that indication, with three scoreless innings and six strikeouts. His best performance may have been in the ninth inning of a 2-1 win on Friday afternoon against the White Sox. In a save situation, he closed out the game with back-to-back strikeouts, a hit batter and one more punchout.

“I mean, that was fun. Holy cow,” Vogt said of the outing. “The fastball is real. The breaking ball is real. The presence. There’s a lot to be excited about with Franco. [Friday] was really cool. You could tell when he was coming in that he was closing the game. It wasn’t just 'Oh, I’m going to have to go throw an inning in a Spring Training game.' He took it very seriously. You could see that from his demeanor and it was really fun.”