Inbox: Who is Guardians’ most surprising player of 2022?

2:28 PM UTC

There’s been a lot to digest when it comes to the first month of the Guardians’ season.

The offense has been better than expected, while the starting pitching is still working through some kinks. The team has already hit five grand slams, but went a stretch of six consecutive series either sweeping its opponent or getting swept.

There’s still plenty to learn over the next four-plus months, but let’s see what we can answer so far in the 2022 season:

Who is the most surprising player of 2022 so far?
— @ItsPzuh

There are so many names that can be listed here. No one thought Steven Kwan would have made this much of an impact so quickly in his young career. It would’ve been hard to predict that a handful of hitters would get off to scorching hot starts through the first month of play. But I think my answer still has to be Trevor Stephan.

Stephan is in the process of writing an unbelievable underdog story, going from Rule 5 Draft pick in 2020 to being one of the most trusted relievers in Cleveland’s bullpen. He’s worked his way into being a go-to guy in high-leverage situations and has posted a 1.20 ERA in 14 appearances.

“He certainly has matured,” Guardians pitching coach Carl Willis said. “He’s growing into this and just seems much more under control. And that’s translated over into his delivery, his strike throwing. … There’s going to be some bumps in the road, but right now, he certainly looks the part of a guy you trust. And we do trust him in crucial situations.”

Which Guardians breakout guy (Andr?s Gim?nez, Josh Naylor, Owen Miller, Steven Kwan) do you think is the most sustainable?
— @stevenkwanshat

Any of those answers would have convincing arguments, but I’m going to go with Gim?nez. There’s a reason the Guardians’ front office was so adamant about having Gim?nez as the centerpiece of the Francisco Lindor trade in 2021. The ceiling for him has been sky high since he was MLB Pipeline’s No. 2 prospect in the Mets organization in 2019. He’s excellent on defense (at both short and second), and he has delivered in nearly every clutch situation he’s faced so far this season. It’s only a small sample size, but Gim?nez has certainly given fans a reason to be excited.

Should we expect any velocity boost from Shane Bieber as the year progresses or is this just his new normal?
— @enjoymoreradio

I would say it’s still too soon to define this as his new normal. Even this last outing in Minnesota on Saturday saw his heater velocity tick up a little more than it had all season. It’s not quite increasing at the pace any of us imagined it would entering the season, but a mix of the shortened Spring Training and him bouncing back from a shoulder injury may just be causing this to take longer than expected. As of now, I would guess his velocity will get back to that 92-94 mph range that we’re used to.

With the rest of the infield presumably taking shape with Gim?nez (SS), Miller (2B) and Naylor (1B), does Tito and the coaching staff plan on giving Amed Rosario more of a look in left field, or have they given up on that plan?
— @AndyMees216

This was setting up to be the plan for the immediate future until Naylor was placed on the COVID IL earlier this week. Guardians manager Terry Francona said he prefers Naylor at first base not only to improve the outfield, but also to help limit the amount of movement he has as he continues to bounce back from that nasty lower leg injury last year. With Naylor at first, Miller then moves to second, Gim?nez shifts to short and Rosario will need to go to left field if they want to keep his bat in the lineup. When Naylor returns, expect this to be the plan.

How is James Karinchak progressing?
— @melabroohaha

Karinchak’s recovery (right shoulder strain) is taking longer than originally expected. He’s been out in Arizona since the Guardians broke camp and has yet to face live hitters. The plan was to bring him to Cleveland this week to allow the big league coaching staff to evaluate him while he faces hitters for the first time. But the current COVID-19 breakout that’s happening in the clubhouse caused them to switch gears. Karinchak will remain in Arizona and is slated to have his first live batting-practice session on Friday. He’ll have a few more at the team’s Spring Training complex before joining one of its Minor League affiliates to continue his rehab program.

What has happened to Nolan Jones? Feels like he has been a top five prospect in the last five years and like three of those years he has been No. 1. It seems everyone around him has had an opportunity besides him. Just was wondering when do you think he gets called up?
— @deholt2021

The reason Jones hasn’t had an opportunity yet is because he still hasn’t gotten into any game action this year. Jones opened the season on the injured list as he worked his way back from left ankle surgery over the offseason and was dealing with lower back troubles during Spring Training. Although he was said to be symptom-free at the end of April, he has yet to join Triple-A Columbus. He’ll need some time there before he gets the callup to the big league team, but I’d fully expect him to still make his debut at some point this season.

Oscar Gonzalez is tearing the cover off the ball in Triple-A. With the power he displays, why isn’t he considered a top prospect?
— @TomBarlow

There’s no denying Gonzalez’s power or offensive potential. In his first 34 games this year, he hit .315 with a .915 OPS, seven doubles, two triple, nine homers and 33 RBIs — all numbers that certainly will catch the Guardians’ eyes. But there’s one clear-cut reason that he hasn’t been considered one of the club’s top prospects: strikeouts.

Over his Minor League career, Gonzalez hasn’t been able to control the strike zone in every level of the system:

2021: 112 strikeouts, 121 games
2019: 83 strikeouts, 125 games
2018: 107 strikeouts, 114 games
2017: 61 strikeouts, 55 games
2016: 58 strikeouts, 41 games
2015: 65 strikeouts, 70 games

That has hindered his ability to move quicker through the farm system and has created a difficult reputation to overcome. In order to get on the fast track to the big leagues, Gonzalez will need to show that he can be a little more patient at the plate and improve his swing selection to really get on the Guardians’ radar. So far, he may be moving slightly in that direction, having 20 strikeouts in 34 contests, but he’ll need to continue to show more before getting a callup.

Will Mustard ever win a race?! Defeated on the season with an 0-12 record …
— @CleHotDogs

I think the law of averages leads us to believe that over 81 home games, Mustard should eventually get at least one victory. But let’s see if he can defy the odds.