Breaking News
More () »

A look at the Cleveland Guardians' 2022 Opening Day roster

The team will be allowed to have 28 players for the first month of the season due to the shortened spring training caused by the MLB lockout.

CLEVELAND — A new era is about to begin in Cleveland.

On Thursday, the city's Major League Baseball team will officially take the field as the Guardians for the first time. Opening Day 2022 will take place in Kansas City against the division-rival Royals, and as first pitch approaches, we now have a clear view of who will be in uniform when the teams line up along the foul lines during the pregame ceremonies.

The Guardians' initial 28-man roster is set, with the club carrying 14 position players and 14 pitchers to begin the regular season. Due to the shortened spring training caused by the winter lockout, active rosters across MLB won't shrink to the normal 26 until May, and at that point a limit of 13 pitchers will also be imposed.

With a projected payroll of less than $50 million and several young players making their debuts, Cleveland's lineup will look... a little different (although Mitchell Friedman is nowhere to be found). The potential for success is there, but a lot of unknowns are on the horizon.

Let's break down the Guardians' Opening Day roster:

Starting pitchers (5)

  • Shane Bieber
  • Aaron Civale
  • Zach Plesac
  • Cal Quantrill
  • Triston McKenzie

It's been the club's strength for a decade, and they'll need to be great again for the Guardians to have any chance of competing. We all witnessed the nightmare scenario last season, when all three top starters missed significant time with various injuries.

The former Cy Young winner Bieber anchors the rotation, hoping to bounce back after a shoulder strain limited him to just 16 starts in 2021. Civale appeared to be on an All-Star pace before being sidelined by a bad finger, while Plesac struggled at times and posted a mediocre 4.67 ERA. All now appear to be healthy, and their experience in big-time starts will go a long way.

Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP
Cleveland Guardians starting pitcher Shane Bieber throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz.

One silver lining to last year's injury issues was it gave other pitchers a chance to get some much-needed reps, and that was certainly the case with Quantrill (8-3, 2.89 ERA) and McKenzie (3.65 ERA over last 10 starts). Both are now firmly entrenched in the starting five, although manager Terry Francona has said McKenzie will start as a long reliever for the first week.

Relief pitchers (9)

  • Emmanuel Clase
  • Bryan Shaw
  • Trevor Stephan
  • Nick Sandlin
  • Anthony Gose
  • Logan Allen
  • Sam Hentges
  • Eli Morgan
  • Konnor Pilkington

Allen, Hentges, and Morgan all saw time in the rotation last season, and could provide some much-needed depth if injuries again become an issue. This could be the last chance for Allen to prove he belongs in Cleveland, as the former top 100 prospect is out of minor league options and has a 5.89 career ERA.

The Guardians showed their faith in Clase as their relief ace by signing him to a five-year extension (could be as long as seven), and brought the veteran workhorse Shaw back in one of their few free agency moves. Sandlin struck out 12.8 batters per nine innings as a rookie in 2021, and the former outfielder Gose impressed in just six appearances with his mid-90s fastball. Pilkington, who was acquired for former Gold Glover Cesar Hernandez at last year's deadline, will make his big league debut despite never seeing time in Triple-A.

Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP
Cleveland Guardians baseball player Emmanuel Clase flips the ball in the air as he poses for a photograph during Guardians photo day Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Goodyear, Ariz.

James Karinchak will begin the season on the injured list. His promising 2021 campaign fell apart in the second half, causing the one-time closer to be sent to the minors for a month.

Catchers (2)

  • Austin Hedges
  • Bryan Lavastida

With Roberto Pérez gone after eight seasons, Hedges now becomes the majority starter, with his glove (12 defensive runs saved) doing its best to make up for his woeful bat (43 OPS+). Cleveland had signed Luke Maile to back him up, but he will not see the field in April due to a hamstring injury.

Credit: Charlie Riedel/AP
Cleveland Guardians' Luke Maile (12) is helped off the field after getting injured during the second inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, March 23, 2022, in Glendale, Ariz.

Enter Lavastida, a former 15th-round pick from Florida. The 23-year-old hit .289 in the minors last year (3 for 19 in Triple-A) with nine homers, but only threw out 22% of would-be base-stealers and is just 1 for 17 this spring, although his on-base percentage is a respectable .304.

Infielders (7)

  • José Ramírez
  • Amed Rosario
  • Bobby Bradley
  • Yu Chang
  • Ernie Clement
  • Andrés Giménez
  • Owen Miller

This offense runs though Ramírez, one of the best players in all of baseball. The team made a big move in the days before Opening Day when it signed him to a $124 million contract extension through 2028.

Credit: Darryl Webb/AP
Cleveland Guardians' Jose Ramirez waits for a pitch during a spring training baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds Friday, March 18, 2022, in Goodyear, Ariz.

Beyond that, it's a hodge-podge of mostly unproven talent. Rosario hit .282 last year, but struggled defensively and could be moving to the outfield. Giménez had five defensive runs saved at shortstop and appears primed to start either there or at second after a good spring (1.100 OPS).

Should Rosario leave the infield, second base could be occupied by either Chang or Miller. Both have hit over .300 in Cactus League play and the former hit .280 over his last 41 games a year ago.

Bradley finally got an extended chance at the top level and delivered with 16 homers. Unfortunately, he also struck out in 35% of his plate appearances, and has yet to go yard in an exhibition game.

Outfielders (5)

  • Franmil Reyes
  • Myles Straw
  • Oscar Mercado
  • Bradley Zimmer
  • Steven Kwan

Reyes has developed into a legitimate power threat (30 home runs, .522 slugging in 2021), but is really an outfielder in name only, and his fielding limitations will keep him at DH most of the time. Straw has center field locked up with his own defense (2.64 range factor per nine innings) as well as his speed (30 stolen bases).

Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP
Cleveland Guardians' Myles Straw runs to third base against the Milwaukee Brewers during the first inning of a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 29, 2022, in Goodyear, Ariz.

The rest doesn't exactly look pretty. Zimmer and Mercado have always shown flashes, but combined to hit only .226 last year, and are on particularly thin ice to see if they can ever live up to their potential. Their poor spring showings are why Rosario is liable to see some time in left.

The biggest wild card is Kwan, a former fifth-round pick out of Oregon State. The 24-year-old slashed .328/.407/.527 with 12 homers and 65 runs scored across Double and Triple-A a season ago, and is poised to make his MLB debut as the starting right fielder. He could potentially be the first of several talented bats making their way from the minors over the next couple of years.

Josh Naylor could also provide a boost either at one of the corner spots or at first base. He will begin the season on the IL after suffering a horrific ankle injury last July, but went 4 for 9 in brief exhibition action and could be back up in Cleveland by the end of April.


Before You Leave, Check This Out