3 questions the Guardians face to open season

March 16th, 2023

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — For many teams, this is crunch time. There are two weeks remaining until Opening Day, meaning just 14 days to set rosters, figure out who’s healthy and learn as much about the players left in camp as possible.

For the Guardians, crunch time might not start until March 30.

Maybe “crunch time” is a little too strong of a phrase to use when a club has 162 games to tool with what is and isn’t working, Most of the Guardians’ Opening Day roster was determined before Spring Training got underway, but a few uncertainties remain to make sure they build upon the strong foundation they set in ’22. These are the three big questions for Cleveland to figure out once the regular season begins.

1. Can Zach Plesac earn his spot?Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill should do the heavy lifting for the rotation. Aaron Civale and Plesac will need to get back into the grooves they have had in the past, especially Plesac. The 28-year-old righty was frustrated in ’22 and knows he needs to have a stronger mental game this season to see better results. But if he doesn’t see much of a difference this year than last, how long will his leash be before the Guardians decide to make a change? Their farm system is loaded with starters, and highly regarded prospects Gavin Williams and Tanner Bibee will eventually be ready for their first callups. Plesac will have to earn his spot.

2. Will Myles Straw contribute offensively?Straw is well aware of how disappointing his 2022 season was, and he’s determined to make sure he’ll be a different version of himself for ’23. Guardians manager Terry Francona wants to get Straw more at-bats during these last spring games to get him more reps at the plate with his new approach after he made some mechanical adjustments to his swing over the winter. Having an on-base threat at the bottom of Cleveland’s order will be huge for guys like Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario and even Jos? Ram?rez to have more RBI opportunities at the top of the order.

But what happens if Straw doesn’t hit? How long will Cleveland stick with him as he tries to find his rhythm? Would Will Brennan get more time in center field and try to prove that he should be getting more at-bats than Straw? If the club’s No. 3 prospect, George Valera, isn’t sidelined with right wrist soreness for too long, will he get into Cleveland’s picture earlier in the season?

The Guardians will need that offensive production. And if it’s not coming from Straw, they’ll have a handful of options to choose from.

3. How much time does Bo Naylor need?Naylor will be a mainstay in the Guardians’ clubhouse eventually. The question is how long will it take for that to be his reality?

Francona raved about Naylor’s arm strength this spring. His defense seems to be solid, and his offense took a major step forward in ’22. He’s ranked as Cleveland’s No. 4 prospect, and fans have made it clear that they’re ready for the Bo Naylor era to begin. But the 23-year-old backstop has just 66 games with Triple-A Columbus under his belt. He’s still in the heart of his development, and throwing him into the fire as the starting catcher at the start of the season is not something the Guardians want to do. The team also didn’t find it beneficial for him to be sitting on the bench, playing sporadically as a backup. So, he was optioned to Triple-A on March 10.

How long will he need to be there? The Guardians have not had an offensive threat from their catching position for a while. The club will hope starter Mike Zunino can change that a bit, but Naylor could be the answer to that problem. He hit 21 homers with 26 doubles and four triples between Double-A and Triple-A last year and even added 20 stolen bases.

If he can get off to a strong start in the Minors, seeing Naylor sooner rather than later wouldn’t be surprising.