Cleveland Guardians' 2023 Opening Day lineup projection
The Guardians open the 2023 season with some late-night baseball. Their bid to return to the postseason begins with a 10:10 p.m. EDT first pitch Thursday night in Seattle against the Mariners. It'll be a late one for Northeast Ohio fans wanting to ring in the new baseball season.
Shane Bieber is set to take the mound for the Guardians Thursday night. The Mariners will counter with Luis Castillo, their blockbuster addition at last year's trade deadline as they pushed for their first trip to the playoffs since 2001.
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As for the lineup, the Guardians can keep many of the key pieces to the 2022 order in place while sliding in a few free agent additions that addressed the club's top two roster needs over the winter.
Guardians manager Terry Francona told reporters in Goodyear, Ariz., the team intends to get outfielder Will Brennan and utility man Gabriel Arias plenty of at-bats throughout the early part of the season. That has played into the team's plan to potentially take three catchers barring any late additions.
Brennan could make his way into the lineup on a semi-regular basis against right-handed pitchers. Arias can fill in anywhere, affording the Guardians the flexibility to carry three catchers in an effort to be cautious with Mike Zunino. Those two figure to play key roles off the bench.
As for the starting lineup, here's a projection of how it could look for the Guardians on Opening Day.
Steven Kwan, left field
Steven Kwan in the leadoff spot is an easy choice after his breakout rookie season. He hit .298 with a .373 on-base percentage and stole 19 bases. He also won a Gold Glove in left field, but that doesn't exactly play into the batting order as much. Although he doesn't hit for much power, he is at times one of the most difficult outs in the league.
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Amed Rosario, shortstop
Although Rosario doesn't draw walks at a high rate, he again was a productive hitter in the top third of the Guardians lineup in 2022, hitting .283 with a .715 OPS and a league-leading nine triples. He also stole 18 bases, as the Guardians ran often and could be on the move more in 2023 thanks to the larger bases and restrictive pick-off rules.
Jose Ramirez, third base
Jose Ramirez finished fourth in 2022 AL MVP voting, and he did it while playing much of the season through a thumb injury that required surgery this winter. He posted an .869 OPS, led the league with 44 doubles to go with 29 home runs and 129 RBIs and stole 20 bases. He's the heart of the lineup.
Josh Bell, DH
Ramirez also led the league with 20 intentional walks, as teams tried to avoid him as much as possible. The Guardians' hope is to either make it more difficult to give Ramirez a free base or make teams pay if they do. Enter Josh Bell, the team's key free agent addition this offseason. Bell, also a switch hitter, can slide into the cleanup spot to try to stop teams from being able to play the matchup game as much if they pitch away from Ramirez. Protecting Ramirez is something on which the Guardians are focused this season.
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Josh Naylor, first base
Josh Naylor was a part of many of the team's biggest moments in 2022, and he did so while returning from an extensive ankle injury suffered in a gruesome collision that ended his 2021 season. Naylor hit 20 home runs, drove in 79 runs and posted a .771 OPS. He noted in January he was glad to again be able to work out his upper body after spending a year only being able to focus on rehabbing his ankle.
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Oscar Gonzalez, right field
Another rookie who gave the Guardians a strong season, Gonzalez is an aggressive hitter who rarely draws a walk, but the team would rather him lean into his style than try to change who he is at the plate. The man who made SpongeBob SquarePants the theme song of the Guardians' playoff run will be in right field to start the season. If he can maintain a level of production with his aggressive approach, he'll remain there.
Andres Gimenez, second base
It's not often the sixth-place finisher in MVP voting returns the next season to hit seventh in the lineup, but it's also not often to have a defender the caliber of Gimenez at second base. But even at the plate, Gimenez would likely be hitting higher up on many clubs, but going Naylor-Gonzalez-Gimenez gives the Guardians a lefty-righty-lefty setup after the duo of switch-hitters in Ramirez and Bell. Last year, Gimenez posted an .837 OPS and stole 20 bases.
Mike Zunino, catcher
Mike Zunino has a 30-homer season under his belt, but he's coming off thoracic outlet syndrome surgery that ended his 2022 season. The Guardians signed him to a one-year deal, partially for his defensive abilities that also come with the potential for some power. Cleveland has been near the bottom of the league in offensive production from the catcher position the last several years. They'll also potentially carry three catchers to open the year in an effort to not run Zunino into the ground early in the season.
Myles Straw, center field
The Guardians love Straw's Gold Glove-level defense in center field. The question is which Straw shows up in 2023 on the offensive side — the one who struggled mightily for most of 2022 en route to dropping to the bottom of the order, or the one who hit .308 with a .729 OPS over the final month of the season. It'll likely be somewhere in the middle, but Straw can remain in the lineup on most days based on his defense and speed alone. If he does struggle, Brennan could find his way into the starting lineup a bit more often.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read more about the Guardians at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/cleveland-guardians. Follow him on Twitter at @ByRyanLewis.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Cleveland Guardians' 2023 Opening Day lineup projection