Guardians facing dilemma with Rule 5 pick De Los Santos

March 11th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In just two weeks, the Guardians will play their last Cactus League game. At that point, they should have a pretty clear picture of who will be traveling to Oakland just a few days later for Opening Day. Somehow in these two short weeks, the team has a bunch of decisions to make.

At the top of that list is . Not only is he simply competing for a spot on the roster, but because he was a Rule 5 Draft pick this offseason, if he doesn’t make the team (and stay on the active roster all year), he has to be offered back to the D-backs.

The Guardians went through this a few years ago with Trevor Stephan, but that decision was a little easier. You can never have enough bullpen arms and he was ready to make his Major League debut.

De Los Santos plays first and third (both positions currently occupied by a regular who will handle most of the playing time), is only 20 years old and has never played above Double-A. In any other circumstance, he’d absolutely need more time in the Minors to develop before making his debut. The problem is, if the Guardians want him and the power potential that’s in his bat, they don’t have that option.

So far this spring, De Los Santos has gone 7-for-28 with five strikeouts and no walks. Two of those hits -- including his first home run of Spring Training -- were picked up in Monday’s 5-1 victory over the Dodgers at Goodyear Ballpark.

“I think he’s going to continue to get the regular playing time that he has,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said prior to the game. “I think he’s got 20-something plate appearances, so it’s hard to really make any concrete decisions on 20 plate appearances.”

So, how do you make this decision in such a limited window? Step one is to not base your opinions on results.

“In games, seeing if he can follow a game plan. Number one,” Guardians hitting coach Chris Valaika said. “As far as his work goes, can he make adjustments? Is he sticking with the adjustments that he made with Arizona and carrying that into what he’s doing right now? Those are really the things that we can control.”

The Guardians’ coaching staff had limited knowledge about De Los Santos. He wasn’t in their organization before December, so they had to use the two months leading up to Spring Training to study him as much as they could in order to be able to answer those questions.

We’re more than halfway through camp and the Guardians will absolutely need each of these last two weeks to determine if De Los Santos’ potential is worth a spot on the active roster for the entire 2024 season.

“I think the impact potential that he brings, and if we give him favorable matchups to start, I definitely could see him impacting our team,” Valaika said. “Right now, he’s on our team. It’s an irreversible decision if we do have to send him back. But right now, we’re coaching him like he’s one of our guys.”

Williams down with elbow discomfort

It’s easier said than done given the recent history of this rotation, but don’t press the panic button just yet. Gavin Williams made an awkward throw during his weighted ball workout this week, and felt discomfort in his right elbow. Vogt explained that was the reason he didn’t make Sunday’s regularly-scheduled start.

Yes, it’s easy to immediately have flashbacks of last spring when Triston McKenzie found out he’d be down with a right teres major strain for months. This doesn’t seem to be in that type of category.

“We’re just acting out of an abundance of caution right now,” Vogt said. “He should be right back to throwing again here in the next few days. … It shouldn’t be too big of a setback.”

For now, no reason to hold your breath, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.

Leftwich leaving a good impression

As much as Spring Training’s purpose is to figure out who should be carried on the Opening Day roster, it doubles as a preview for the future. And so far, righty Jack Leftwich has taken advantage of each opportunity he’s gotten to dazzle the big league coaching staff, tossing 3 1/3 innings with one walk and two strikeouts.

“He works quick, he attacks the zone,” Vogt said after his scoreless outing on Sunday. “Jack’s really left a good impression so far, and I’m excited to watch him pitch more.”