The Cleveland Guardians opted to sell high on pitcher Aaron Civale and his career year, trading him to the Tampa Bay Rays for first base prospect Kyle Manzardo before the trade deadline this week.
Manzardo, 23, is a top 100 MLB prospect by just about every outlet, though it's a wide range where he ultimately falls on the list. Still, the Guardians have seemingly found their potential first baseman of the future, and all it took was giving up an oft-injured pitcher who has never made more than 21 starts in a season and, really, might have gotten squeezed out of a rotation role by next season if everyone else stayed healthy.
Manzardo is currently coming back from a shoulder injury and has had a bumpy road in acclimating to Triple-A, hitting .238/.342/.442 with 11 home runs, 38 RBI, and 19 doubles in 313 plate appearances with the Durham Bulls. So even with the accompanying Josh Bell trade, it's highly unlikely he makes an appearance with Cleveland in 2023, especially since there is plenty of time to add Manzardo to the 40-man roster, as he is not Rule 5 eligible this offseason.
But all bets are off for 2024, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see him on the Opening Day roster given his pedigree. Clearly, the team is viewing him as their potential first baseman of the future.
What's the Scouting Report on Kyle Manzardo?
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Guardians now have a hitting prospect with elite bat-to-ball skills, which should translate to a high batting average in the majors at the expense of prolific power numbers.
Manzardo was a second-round pick by the Rays in 2021 out of Washington State University, quickly moving up through the minor-league system. He hit a combined .327/.426/.617 with 22 home runs, 26 doubles, and 81 RBI between High-A and Double-A in 2022, nearly walking as much as he struck out (59 vs. 65).
Baseball America, who ranked Manzardo as the top prospect dealt at this year's deadline, has this to say about his skill set:
"Manzardo is a pure left-handed hitter who rarely swings out of the strike zone and drives the ball to all fields. His power is light for a first baseman and he’s limited athletically, but his ability to hit and control the strike zone give him a chance to be an everyday first baseman who gets to just enough power. "- Kyle Glaser | Baseball America
"Power... light for a first baseman" might make Guardians' fans want to throw something through a window. But Manzardo does actually have some pop - 35 homers in 760 minor-league plate appearances isn't too shabby - and boy does he know how to get on base, evidenced by a delicious .392 on-base percentage in his three minor-league seasons.
So essentially, Cleveland got the exact type of offensive player the organization has been stockpiling for years. The Guardians are still searching for more home-run power inside and outside the organization, but if Manzardo becomes a guy capable of hitting .300 with 40 doubles, that'll work just fine. The team doesn't have much in the way of corner infield prospects, and Manzardo could immediately change that as soon as next season.