The Guardians briefly added top catching prospect Bo Naylor to the big league roster as the 27th man in yesterday’s doubleheader, but he’s already been sent back to Triple-A Columbus and will continue to get regular playing time there, it seems. Cleveland’s offense is out to a dismal start to the 2023 season, and the catching corps, in particular, has been quite poor at the plate so far.
Naylor’s .257/.391/.507 slash in Triple-A Columbus is strong, but manager Terry Francona noted to Bill Ladson of MLB.com that Naylor’s throwing numbers in Columbus have been rough. He’s just 7-for-49 in cutting down base thieves this year (14.3%). Francona added that some of that could be due to minor league pitchers doing some experimenting of their own (perhaps at the cost of some quickness to the plate), it seems the organization would understandably still like to see some improvement in that aspect of his game. To his credit, Naylor had a much stronger 32% caught-stealing rate in the minors last year.
One other near-MLB-ready prospect who could come up this year in hopes of providing some offensive help will be sidelined for the second time this year. Outfielder George Valera, who missed the first seven weeks of the season due to hamate surgery, is heading back to the injured list after just five games, per Paul Hoynes of Cleveland.com. This time, the 22-year-old is dealing with a strained hamstring. It’s not yet clear how long he’s expected to miss.
Valera went 3-for-16 at the Triple-A level in his brief five-game activation between IL stints. Last year’s .221/.324/.448 output in Triple-A doesn’t immediately stand out, but that also came as a 21-year-old against much more advanced competition and was only across 179 plate appearances. Valera spent the majority of the season in Double-A Akron, where he posted a heartier .264/.367/.470 batting line. Between those two stops, he mashed 24 homers over the course of 132 games.
Valera ranked among the game’s top 100 prospects at MLB.com (No. 51) and Baseball America (No. 72) heading into the season, and the organization surely hoped he could hit his way into the big league mix before too long. Health hasn’t cooperated to this point, though the Guardians have at least avoided injuries to their position player corps at the big league level.
That’s not the case on the pitching side of things, where Cleveland has faced prolonged absences for both Triston McKenzie (teres major strain) and Aaron Civale (oblique strain). McKenzie embarked on a minor league rehab assignment over the weekend and will make at least one more outing before the team considers activating him, writes Hoynes, citing Francona. The Guards are aiming to build both righties up to around five innings and 80 to 90 pitches before reinstating either from the injured list.
McKenzie’s first rehab outing lasted three innings and 52 pitches; he can’t be activated until May 29 at the earliest, due to his status on the 60-day injured list. Civale also pitched three innings in a rehab game last week.
As it stands, the Guardians only have one clear opening in the rotation. Righty Hunter Gaddis is up from Columbus to make today’s start in place of the injured Peyton Battenfield. One of McKenzie or Civale could step into that spot, but Cleveland has Shane Bieber, Cal Quantrill and thriving rookies Tanner Bibee and Logan T. Allen also in the rotation currently. Situations such as this tend to work themselves out — injuries are inevitable on the pitching front — but at some point it’s possible the Guards will need to make the tough call to send one of Bibee or Allen back to Columbus. Speculatively speaking, Cleveland could also look into a six-man rotation or perhaps bump a more established starter like Quantrill or Civale to the bullpen, but however it shakes out there’ll be some decisions on the pitching front in the near future.