The Cleveland Guardians are Building Something…Fast

The Cleveland Guardians’ 2022 offseason was headlined by José Ramírez trade rumors. I am personally guilty of entertaining these trade ideas, as seen in my previous Rays’ Offseason Plan post. Nonetheless, the Guardians have gotten off to a 15-15 start but have hit the ball really well in spurts. They rank in the top seven among all teams in wRC+, wOBA, and runs scored. Despite the impressive start offensively, what stands out the most to me is how this roster was built.

In 2021, Cleveland ranked near the top half of the league in average Sprint Speed. Early into this year, that ranking has surpassed the rest. The Guardians rank first among all 30 clubs in average Sprint Speed (27.43 ft/sec). When looking at their top eight qualified runners, that average shoots up to 28.9 ft/sec. They currently have seven players ranked in the top 60 Sprint Speeds with Steven Kwan rounding out the 65th spot. Of the top eight CLE qualifiers for 2022, they come out to an average Sprint Speed in the 89th percentile.

As of 5/11

The Guardian lineup is filled with high-end speed and athleticism from top to bottom. They’ve only stolen a modest 15 bases in 30 games, but that number is bound to increase with guys like Myles Straw, Amed Rosario, and José Ramírez in the lineup.

Here is a clip of Myles Straw leading off a game during their opening series against the Royals.

Clip courtesy of Baseball Savant

Straw stole second two pitches later, Steven Kwan and José Ramírez walked, then Franmil Reyes grounded into a double play, scoring Straw. Although a rather unordinary way of driving in the leadoff man, elite speed got them into this situation in the first place. Straw was able to beat out a weak dribbler to the pitcher and get himself into scoring position with CLE’s two hitter in a favorable count (2-0), José Ramírez on deck, and no outs. Kwan’s elite plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills in the two-hole along with thumpers like José Ramírez and Franmil Reyes to follow should bode well for future success in these situations. The trend continues throughout the lineup, giving the Guardians countless opportunities to generate positive outcomes using speed to their advantage. Just as easily as Straw got on base and moved himself into scoring position in the 1st, Andrés Giménez or Oscar Mercado could do the very same thing the next inning.

Dynamic speed can be a game changing advantage. Even the mere presence and thought of speed on the bases makes the opposing defense work harder and can ultimately lead to careless mistakes. The threat of Myles Straw or Andrés Giménez stealing 2nd could cause the pitcher to lose their command or leave a pitch over the plate for José Ramírez or Owen Miller to barrel. An infielder may rush a routine throw to first knowing there’s elite speed running down the line. A Guardian going first to third on a base hit could be the difference between scoring a run on a sac fly and getting stranded on second or third. Plus speed and athleticism creates so many different advantageous opportunities for an offense.

How did all this speed get to Cleveland and where is the team headed moving forward?

José Ramírez was signed as an international free agent in 2009 for $50,000. He was proclaimed as vastly undersized and didn’t look like a ballplayer, but he could run well.

Steven Kwan was drafted by the Guardians in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB Draft. He was heralded for his plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills but had good speed and athleticism to go along with it.

Amed Rosario and Andrés Giménez were the main pieces acquired from the Mets in the Francisco Lindor trade. Rosario was one of the top prospects in baseball before making his MLB debut in 2017. He hadn’t quite panned out like the Mets had hoped, but had still maintained elite Sprint Speed in the majors with the promise of his previous prospect expectations. Giménez was another highly touted prospect with plus Sprint Speed and athleticism. Isaiah Greene was a smaller part of the deal but had scouts raving over his raw athleticism and premium speed.

Myles Straw was acquired for Phil Maton at the 2021 trade deadline. Straw was the Astros’ starting centerfielder and was prized for his strong ability to change the game on defense and on the bases. His Sprint Speed was also near the top of the league.

Owen Miller was acquired as a minor piece in the Mike Clevinger trade. He wasn’t necessarily recognized as a plus runner at the time of the trade, but has since posted Sprint Speeds hovering around the 90th percentile of the league. Gabriel Arias was also acquired in this deal and was recently called up to the majors. His speed tool is seen to be above-average as well.

The Guardians also recently traded away outfielders Bradley Zimmer and Harold Ramirez. Ramirez ranked in the 88th percentile in Sprint Speed for 2021 and Bradley Zimmer currently ranks in the 98th percentile to start the 2022 season.

Cleveland has surrounded their big league team and minor league organizations with dynamic speed through and through.

Infielders Tyler Freeman and Brayan Rocchio are a part of that next wave of prospects set to bring high-end Sprint Speed to the big league club. Gabriel Arias and Richie Palacios were just called up to the big league club and each have an above-average run tool as well.

In the MLB draft, the Guardians have targeted young, athletic position players with good speed tools. In 2020, they drafted Carson Tucker and Petey Halpin, both of which were fast, high school position players. 2021 was extremely pitcher heavy, but their 3rd round pick Jake Fox was another prep talent that fit the mold.

Their international signings have followed a similar trend.

The Guardians have built a fast lineup to supplement their young, developing pitching staff.

Cleveland’s pitching staff is filled with young, controllable arms. Daniel Espino is not far off from joining that group. He’s been dominant in Double A so far and is showing promise to anchor down the Guardian’s rotation for years to come.

The organization has been recognized for their pitching development and recent college draftees Gavin Williams, Doug Nikhazy, and Rodney Boone could make strong contributions to the big league club as early as these next few years.

José Ramírez, Emmanuel Clase, and Myles Straw have all recently been extended and will be around at least through 2026. Shane Bieber has two more years of arbitration left. The rest of the pitching rotation is pre-arb.

I like the direction that Cleveland is going. We’ll see if the pitching staff can catch up to the offense.

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