What to expect from Guardians No. 2 prospect Manzardo in bigs

2:49 PM UTC

What does a team do when it loses the American League’s leading hitter to a hamstring injury? Fortunately for the Guardians, they can turn to one of the top performers in Triple-A.

With Steven Kwan and his AL-best .353 batting average headed to the injured list with a strained left hamstring, Cleveland is promoting Kyle Manzardo for his big league debut. He won’t directly replace Kwan in left field and his power contrasts with Kwan’s contact approach, but Manzardo will get at-bats as first base and DH as the AL Central-leading Guardians shuffle their lineup around.

Manzardo’s rise to No. 52 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 and second among first-base prospects has been swift. Lightly recruited and scouted as an Idaho high schooler, he attended Washington State and became the Cougars’ first All-American position player since John Olerud 33 years earlier when he batted .366/.437/.640 in 2021.

After the Rays drafted him in the second round that June, Manzardo hit .327/.426/.617 while advancing to Double-A in his first full pro season, ranking second in the Minors in OPS (1.043) and third in slugging. His 2023 season didn’t go nearly as smoothly.

Manzardo hit well in the first two months in Triple-A before slumping in June, then hurt his left shoulder when a runner fell on him during a pickoff play in early July. While he was on the injured list, Tampa Bay traded him for Aaron Civale. He played well during the final month in Triple-A, then finished third in the Arizona Fall League with six homers (not including another in the Fall Stars Game and two in the playoff semifinal).

The lefty-hitting Manzardo tries to keep things uncomplicated at the plate. He recognizes pitches well, makes good swing decisions and has a natural ability to drive balls in the air. He has gotten more aggressive in the last two years, which has allowed him to tap into more of his power, which plays to all fields.

“The idea is to keep it as simple as possible,” Manzardo said during his AFL stint. “It’s pretty much all about trying to put myself in position to be on time to as many pitches as possible, as often as possible. Not necessarily about trying to hit the ball as hard as I possibly can, but hit the ball pretty hard a lot.”

Mission accomplished thus far in 2024. In terms of barrels (balls hit with exit velocity and launch angle that lead to an expected .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage), Manzardo ranks second among Triple-A hitters with 100 trips to the plate in barrels/plate appearance (15 percent) and third in barrels/batted ball (20 percent). He has homered in four of his last seven games and is batting .303/.375/.642 with nine blasts in 29 games.

Manzardo doesn’t provide much value beyond his bat because he’s a well below-average athlete with speed to match. Though he has worked to enhance his agility and conditioning since turning pro, he’s still just a decent defender with a fringy arm at first base. He doesn’t move well enough to play anywhere else in the field.

Josh Naylor has led Cleveland in slugging in each of the last two seasons, so his spot in the lineup is safe. But Manzardo could push Naylor to DH or take over there himself if Estevan Florial doesn’t step up his production and David Fry cools off.

For now, Manzardo will get some at-bats against right-handers while the Guardians hope Kwan’s absence is short-lived. With his combination of pure hitting ability, bat speed, strength and approach, Manzardo has the upside of a .280-.300 hitter with 25 homers per season in his prime.