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Cleveland Guardians 2024 outlook: Can their young talent prove they can produce at the big league level?

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Since 2016, the Cleveland Guardians have finished first or second in the AL Central in all but one season. That season was 2023, when they finished in third place with a 76-86 record. Last year also happened to be manager Terry Francona’s final year with the club, and he leaves as the winningest manager in franchise history with a career record of 921-757, good for a .549 winning percentage. That comes out to averaging an 89-win season every year for eleven seasons.

While Francona came to Cleveland with a proven track record and two World Series titles under his belt, the Guardians’ new manager, Stephen Vogt, will be managing for the first time when Opening Day arrives. Vogt has been a catcher at numerous stops, including with the Oakland A’s, Tampa Rays, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, and Milwaukee Brewers. He retired in 2022, homering in his final at-bat. While he doesn’t have the track record that Francona brought with him, Vogt has a lot of potential to excel in this role.

Some baseball fans may remember his referee impression on Intentional Talk nearly a decade ago. He’s going to keep the clubhouse loose, but he’s also a great teacher of the game. He is undoubtedly the right hire for this role.

The question for 2024 now becomes whether or not the Guardians can make up ground on both the Minnesota Twins, who won the Central, and the Detroit Tigers, who finished ahead of the Guardians last year. Let’s take a look at some of the moves Cleveland has made, how that sets them up for 2024, and give you one player to keep an eye on for the upcoming season.

Cleveland Guardians additions and subtractions

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When you group the players that won’t suit up for the Cleveland Guardians in 2024 by the WAR they provided last season, there aren’t many names that really stand out as big departures. Sure, Lucas Giolito has signed with the Red Sox, but he also held an ERA over 7.00 in his six starts with Cleveland. Reynaldo López didn’t allow a run in 11 innings, but he was another late-season addition.

The biggest losses in terms of WAR are Cal Quantrill (0.7 wins) and Enyel De Los Santos (0.7). Quantrill was traded to the Colorado Rockies this winter, and De Los Santos was moved to San Diego in exchange for Scott Barlow. Ironically, Barlow’s projected WAR for 2024 is the same output that the Guardians received from De Los Santos last year.

One intriguing addition this offseason has been outfielder Estevan Florial from the New York Yankees. The 26-year-old was the Yankees’ top prospect in 2019, according to MLB Pipeline, but in the brief looks he’s received in New York, he hasn’t been the same player that he’s shown in the minor leagues. Florial comes to Cleveland out of minor league options, so he will need to make the Opening Day roster or be placed on waivers. He has talent, and the Guardians are hoping they can unlock it.

The rest of the additions are modest, though some have some upside. Austin Hedges (0.9 projected WAR), is back after a year away, and starter Carlos Carrasco (0.6) is back on a minor-league deal. They also brought in relievers Jaime Barria (-0.1), Barlow (0.7), and Ben Lively (0.6).

Florial’s projected 1.9 wins leads the way, but the club also brought in an interesting bat with their Rule 5 pick in Deyvisson De Los Santos (0.5). He’s 20 years old, hasn’t played above Double-A, but he did have some of the most raw power in the minor leagues. Tapping into that power is going to be the tricky part as he potentially adjusts to big-league pitching if he makes the team.

If you take the WAR of the players the Guardians will be without from last season, and compare that against what the newcomers are projected to provide, Cleveland should be a bit better in 2024 with +6.4 WAR added to the roster. It should also be noted that the players they’re losing combined for -1.3 wins last season.

Cleveland Guardians 2024 outlook

Cleveland Guardians
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Last week we took a look at the Minnesota Twins, the reining AL Central champs, and while they’re still projected to finish atop the division in 2024, they have lost a lot of talent from their 2023 squad. Most notably in Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray, who posted 5.3 WAR last season. The Cleveland Guardians have added +6.4 in projected WAR while the Twins are sitting at -12, even with the recent addition of Manuel Margot.

This division could end up being a lot closer than people think, and both Cleveland and Detroit should be in the mix.

For Cleveland, where they end up in the division could be up to what kinds of contributions they receive from their younger players. Bo Naylor, 24, played in 67 games last season and held a 124 wRC+ (100 is league average) while putting up 2.4 WAR. If he can keep up that pace for a full season, that’s a five-win player. Kyle Manzardo, 23, may not be with the club on Opening Day, but he has the potential to be an impact addition to the offense. He has a little pop, has a nice hit tool, and can get on base.

They also have 23-year-old Brayan Rocchio, the team’s top prospect, who has been a solid bat in the minors and his glove is his best tool at shortstop. The youth on this team is going to determine where exactly the Guardians finish in 2024. With Stephen Vogt at the helm, they may surprise some people.

Cleveland Guardians player to watch in 2024

Cleveland Guardians
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While the youth in Cleveland will be exciting to watch develop and will have an impact on how the team finishes, there are two more players that offer intrigue for 2024.

The first player is Andrés Giménez, 25, who put up a 142 wRC+ in his first full season in 2022, batting .297 with a .371 OBP and 17 home runs. Last season he hit 15 dingers, but his BABIP dropped from .353 to .289 and his production at the dish suffered accordingly. The second baseman put up a 97 wRC+, going from 42% above league average to slightly below. If the Guardians are going to score runs, it would help if Giménez was at least somewhere in between those two seasons this coming year.

The other player that offers intrigue is Ramón Laureano. The outfielder, now 29, figures to be in the Cleveland Guardians’ outfield mix, which would provide the team with one of the best defensive outfields in baseball. When Laureano first came up with the Oakland A’s, he was a lightning bolt for the offense. He could spark a rally at the drop of a hat. Since 2020, he hasn’t played in more than 105 games and has become more of a league average bat over the past two seasons.

Laureano is intriguing because he was teammates with his new manager back in Oakland in 2022, and if there is one guy that can get him back to his old ways, it may very well be Vogt. Laureano is with a new team, he has a fresh start, and if he can stay healthy, then we may see the player that took the league by storm just a few years ago.

Both of these players have the potential to not only bounce back in 2024, but be big pieces of the offense this season. While the Twins are projected for more wins, the Guardians have a ton of talent on their own roster. They just need to prove that they can produce at the big league level.

Jason Burke covers MLB for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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