Cleveland Guardians first base prospect Kyle Manzardo is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, making waves as a Fall-Star and AFL home run derby participant.
The scouting reports coming out about Manzardo from the AFL are solid as well, if not occasionally glowing. Most promising is the fact that some are starting to see the 23-year-old as a true run producer, a player that could easily fit into the middle of a lineup. As of right now, Manzardo is slashing .238/.319/.524 with five home runs, seven doubles, and 15 RBI in just 94 plate appearances, so the reports of a growth in power for him seem justified.
And that's exactly why the Guardians need to open the 2024 season with Manzardo on the Opening Day roster.
Kyle Manzardo Has the Potential to Transform the Cleveland Guardians Offense
Manzardo essentially fell into Cleveland's lap at the trade deadline this past summer, when the Guardians shipped Aaron Civale to Tampa Bay for the first baseman. He's about as promising a pure hitter as there is in the minors, evidenced by some promising Steamer projections over at FanGraphs, which peg Manzardo to have a 113 wRC+.
With his maturation at the plate this fall, and the team's well-documented struggles on offense, it would be criminal for the Guardians to hamstring themselves going into 2024 by keeping Manzardo in Triple-A.
And for those of you who think the Guardians are incapable of such a move, keep in mind that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rewards teams for opening the season with top prospects that win the Rookie of the Year (or finish in the top three of the MVP and Cy Young voting), known as the Prospect Promotion Incentive. And even though he's yet to play a single inning in the majors, there's no reason to believe Manzardo couldn't ultimately find himself in the AL Rookie of the Year conversation. And, should he win, it would net the Guardians an additional draft pick.
It's worth a shot, right?
There's a very real possibility the Guardians won't be all that active this offseason, at least not when it comes to any blockbuster moves. But Cleveland can mitigate that and do itself a favor by opening the season with a highly touted prospect who looks ready for the majors.
What About Josh Naylor?
Yes, Naylor is currently the team's first baseman - and a very good one at that (he ranked third among first basemen with five Outs Above Average last season). No matter what, he'll still get his time at first base and, hey, if the team really wants to get wild, Naylor could even occasionally show up in right field.
And look, the Guardians can figure this out. Having two first basemen is not the worst problem in the world to have. And the ability to keep Naylor in the lineup at DH while also keeping him fresh over the course of a long season is ideal, too.
It doesn't matter how it happens or who it might affect - Manzardo needs to be on that Opening Day 26-man roster.