2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers & Busts: Cleveland Guardians

The Guardians to target and to avoid this draft season.

It must have been pretty frustrating to be Cleveland Guardians, given that if the team had just held onto their assets instead of selling despite weak competition, they probably could’ve made the playoffs or at least been a more serious contender for it. But now, the reality is that the teams that were previously bottom of the barrel have used them to make some fine whiskey and now seem to be making moves behind a young base to contend, whereas the Guardians, despite their excellent minors pitching development machine, just don’t seem to be very exciting around a steady but perhaps slowly declining José Ramírez.

Still, precisely this kind of ho-hum team situation can be an area of opportunity in fantasy. So let’s see which Guardians will be angels and which ones will trap you like the temple guards from the Legend of the Hidden Temple. They still give me nightmares. Anyway, onto our sleepers and busts!


Josh Naylor, 1B (ADP: 130)

Naylor’s rough surface numbers made him quite a buy-low early on, but luck dragons made the rise of Naylor swift. Well with his on-field antics, he is somewhat of an anti-hero. On the year, he hit an impressive .308/.354/.489 with 17 HR and 10 SB, with 97 RBI in 495 PA, though all things considered, perhaps we’re not talking enough about how he only scored 52 runs. Those numbers give the impression that he’s a high-average, a kind of Yandy Díaz type without the great OBP but a handful of SB, but I think that still may be selling him short. No, that has nothing to do with the slugger being 5 foot 11.

For one, he really does seem like we’re not giving enough credit to his batting average skills. While it may seem like cherry-picking, it’s worth noting that if you just take out April, his batting average for the season would have been .330 (and .340 for the first half). And he was pretty consistent with it, hitting no lower than .293 any other month. But how? While his contact abilities are good but not elite (81% Contact), thanks to his aggressive approach and refusal to take most strikes (78% Z-Swing%), he rocked an excellent 21% CSW%, 5th best in the majors. That’s just below Corey Seager and just above Kyle Tucker, Freddie Freeman, and Ronald Acuña Jr. Looking at his comps, I notice a similar player, position aside:

O-Swing% Z-Swing% O-Contact% O-Contact% CSW% GB% Barrel% HardHit%
Player A (Naylor) 43% 78% 72% 91% 21% 42% 8% 41%
Player B 41% 78% 69% 91% 23% 46% 10% 45%

Sure, this chart is skewed towards plate discipline metrics over power metrics, and Player B is admittedly a decent bit better at the latter. You probably assumed Player B is a highly valued player since if I told you Player B was Estevan Florial, I’d be pretty terrible at making a persuasive sleeper argument. So Player B is really Player BB, as it’s Bo Bichette, who currently has a December ADP of 40 vs Naylor’s ADP of 130.

Sure you can argue that Bichette is more durable, a year younger, and has more stolen base upside, but Naylor also had a better K%, better BB%, a higher WRC+, a higher maxEV (114 mph). Not only that, he had twice as many stolen bases (ten to five) and a much better SB success rate (77% to 63%). While Statcast may mislead to point to Bichette having a notably better sprint speed, Naylor has a much better time to first base of 4.66 seconds (85th in MLB) to Bichette’s 4.52 (196th in MLB), which is notable even with Naylor being a lefty.

I’m not saying Naylor is better than Bichette (though I may be saying I’d recommend fading Bichette), but pointing out how Naylor really isn’t getting the credit due at his modest ADP, and if he had a homer total that eclipsed Bichette’s 20 (which if not for the injury, could well have happened), he wouldn’t be labelled a “low power” first baseman. Although there’s the valid concern of a weak supporting lineup outside of J-Ram, the lack of a supporting cast also increases the odds he plays against all hitters. I believe concerns about his platoon risk are very overblown, as he hit a still impressive .299 with a 127 wRC+ against them (129 vs righties), despite a BABIP of .308 (.335 vs righties) that suggests that he might’ve even deserved better.

Long story short, I see a player who is putting together all of the pieces, becoming an elite contact hitter while continuously improving his launch angle and tapping into his significant raw power. I’m not sure I expect him to rise much up draft boards given the lack of excitement in Cleveland, but I think he’s a great bargain I’ll target again and again at this ADP, and even if he climbs closer to pick 100 I’d still take a stab at it. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

Steven Kwan, OF (ADP: 204)

After impressing in his rookie season with a line of .298/.373/.400 with six HR and 19 SB, he had a humdrum sophomore campaign with a .268/.340/.370 with five HR and 21 SB. That may not seem so much worse, until you consider that batting average was supposed to be his main area of value, and his stolen base total, while higher, was less valuable in this post-Nabflation era. Granted, his value didn’t plummet, as his ADP of 199 isn’t so far from his pre-2023 draft which was in the mid-150s, but perhaps it still deserves to be higher.

Let’s get the problems out of the way first and point out that Kwan is one of the most punchless hitters in the game, and the sample size is large enough that that’s unlikely to change. His 1.1% Barrel% in 2023 was worse than his 1.4% in 2023, and Nick doesn’t like using percentage points, but when it’s 1%, I have no choice! The 105 mph MaxEV and 19% HardHit% are also declines from 2022 (107 mph and 20% HardHit%), and overall the worst in baseball, Only teammate Myles Straw has a lower barrel rate, only Luis Arraez has a lower MaxEV, and no one else is worse than Kwan at HardHit%.

However, Kwan is pretty close in contact ability to Arraez, as extreme as a player as Arraez is. In avoiding whiffs, Kwan’s 4% SwStr% was second in the MLB behind Arraez’s 3%, and his Z-Contact% of 96% was the best in baseball (Arraez was second at 95%). One area where they differ is CSW%, where Kwan’s 26% CSW% ranked just 51st, whereas Arraez’s 20% CSW% comes in third. Why is Kwan so much worse here? Long story short, he doesn’t swing enough, which is why, with a 22% Called Strike%, his passivity is his worst enemy.

So why am I optimistic? I think he knows this. He increased his Swing% from a statuesque 38% in 2022 (with a terrible 55% Z-Swing%) to a more reasonable 41% Swing% (60% Z-Swing%). His O-Swing% hardly increased as he did it, so I’m hoping that he continues to be more aggressive, since it’s the only way to bring down the K% (10%) closer to Arraez’s 6% rate.

Not only that, but while Kwan disappointed in batted ball quality he improved his batted ball direction. Well, given his profile, anyway. See, I think it’s a good thing that he decreased his FB% from 35% in 2022 to 30% in 2023 since most will be outs given his lack of power, whereas his groundball% increase from 42% to 45% in 2023 makes better use of his plus running speed. And no one will complain about the modest line drive rate increase from 23% to 25%. Given these factors, I think that even with the weak contact, he probably deserved better than his 2023 BABIP of just .294.

His expected stats agree, as his 2023 xBA of .282 is actually better than his xBA from 2022, which was just .268. So basically, if you took his 2022 xBA as a warning sign for 2023, that .268 hit the nail on the head. Even his lousy .356 xSLG for 2023, while lower than his actual SLG%, was still better than his .341 xSLG from 2022, whereas his actual SLG% then was 400. Essentially, this year was a market correction, but perhaps now it’s oversold.

Long story short, I expect more single-digit power, but as someone projected to be a leadoff hitter, he has a good chance to rack up a ton of runs and hit closer to .300, and while his time to first fell off some from 4.16 (18th) to 4.22 (39th), he still is an elite runner who actually improved his SB success rate in the same number of overall attempts (88% in 2023 from 79% in 2022). With a success rate like that and a team hard-pressed to manufacture runs, he could steal 25-30 after seeing the benefits. That could end up looking like a discount Nico Hoerner (ADP 61) with better OBP.

Kyle Manzardo, 1B  (ADP: 329)

He may be considered a less powerful first baseman, but you can’t deny the Manzard contact rate. The popular way of thinking is that the formerly super buzzy top prospect was disappointing in 2023 and that’s why he wasn’t called up, but that isn’t quite accurate. It’s true he had a rough start to the season as he battled through a shoulder injury, but it’s a good sign for that injury that he just kept getting better.

With the Rays he hit a modest .238/.342/.442 with 11 HR in 313 PA (.269 BABIP) but had a big power surge upon arriving in Cleveland with a .256/.348/.590 with six HR in 92 PA (.233 BABIP). I’d venture to guess that perhaps he also got a little unlucky, as his .269 BABIP with the Rays and .233 BABIP with the Guardians are well below the .330 mark he posted across High-A and Double-A in 2022. Sure, it could’ve also been the shoulder injury and a high flyball rate and pull rate, but still given his elite plate discipline it should rebound. More importantly, he boosted his momentum with an impressive AFL showing, hitting .272/.340/.565 with six HR in 103 PA 9/22 BB/K and tied for the third-best HR total in the league.

This means he will be given a spot to compete for a spot at first base (with Josh Naylor moving to DH) and is widely considered likely to win a spot given that he has nothing much left to prove after a whole season at Triple-A plus the AFL, plus a lack of viable alternatives on this barren offense. RosterResource pencilled in the 23-year-old as the #7 hitter on the strong side of a platoon, though I expect he’ll excel and earn more regular playing time. Sure, the expected platoon-mate, Deyvison De Los Santos, is likely to initially get some reps due to his Rule 5 status and massive power potential, but I’m skeptical it’ll work out, between reports on his defense ranging from “immature” to “God-awful” and his poor production in Triple-A (sure, he hit 20 HRs, but with a 26% K% and a lousy 88 wRC+).

With late-game players like Manzardo, I think rank becomes more important than ADP because the ADPs get skewed so late when players aren’t taken. At an ADP of 436, he seems like a slam dunk, but seeing an unproven player at rank 329 may give you pause. And I get that but also consider that his down year didn’t hurt his prospect rating of 50 by Eric Longenhagen even before the AFL, and we’re fine taking chances earlier on other unproven hitters like Wyatt Langford, Evan Carter, and many others, as well as Jordan Walker last year, much earlier (acknowledging Manzy lacks their speed. Also, look at the other 1B options going before him: Wilmer Flores, Ty France, and above them José Abreu & Anthony Rizzo… Yeah, I think Manzardo could outproduce all of them.

Despite his lack of raw exit velocity, his excellent pure hitting skills and OBP should enable him to thrive in his first go-around the majors, even if it has its ups and downs. I’d expect a final line somewhat like Triston Casas, trading off some of the raw homer totals with batting average. One can argue another somewhat similar comp is Vinnie Pasquantino, and with his shoulder injury, one could argue he’s not a whole lot safer. He’s become one of my favorite post-hype prospects to take in drafts and may reach for him if I still don’t have a CI by pick 300 or need an upside final pick in 12-teamers.

Chase DeLauter, OF (ADP: 555)

So yes, part of why I picked him is more of a statement about the team. The statement being that I think most of their current rostered hitters outside of J-Ram and the Naylor brothers are Cleveland Guar-bage. I actually think there’s a fair chance his ADP drops further following their Rule 5 acquisition De Los Santos and the fact that he’s no longer listed as a starter by RosterResource. But hear me out. This is a pick to Chase upside, and I think with him I might just win DeLautery.

Okay, another part of why I picked him was also for that pun but nevertheless, the somewhat odd scissor-swinging slugger has been held back by various foot injuries. While he’s not currently on the 26-man roster, when he’s played he’s absolutely mashed, and unlike other Guardians’ hitters, for both batting average and power. He hit a supreme .355/.417/.528 with five home runs and six stolen bases in 242 PA across three levels of the minors (Rookie ball, High-A, and Double-A, though mostly at High-A). And while Manzardo got more notice for a stronger start at the AFL, I find DeLauter’s output actually much more impressive, as he hit .299/.385/.529 with five homers and six stolen bases in 109 PA, while also being a year and a half younger.

One reason this should skyrocket his price (but hasn’t yet) is that AFL is generally considered a “finishing school” for major league-ready prospects, so that’s a much bigger statement for DeLauter who started in rookie ball and only got a small sample in Double-A, compared to Manzardo who already spent the whole year in Triple-A. Not only that, but seeing him steal six bags in just 109 PA gives hope that he’ll keep running (despite it not being one of his stronger tools), and he actually looked like the better “pure hitter” than Manzardo in terms of plate discipline with a 14/11 BB/K during that time (Manzardo had a somewhat uncharacteristic 9/22 BB/K).

Unfortunately, what DeLauter does not have is a likely shot at an Opening Day spot, which is among the reasons he flies under the radar. But I believe he would be far better, even without additional minor-league seasoning, than any of Cleveland’s current OF options. Moreover, I think that the Guardians’ other outfield options are so bad that I expect at least two, if not all three of the current projecting outfielders to be dethroned by midseason, if not by May. While I consider him to be still underrated in prospect circles for keeper leagues, I think he’ll be a viable redraft who will rack up over 400 PAs. A somewhat tempered comp for what kind of impact he could make would be something like Lars Nootbaar. It might not seem eye-popping, but that level of production this late in the draft would be an incredible value.


Tanner Bibee, P (ADP: 116)

I’m as anti-Bibee as a progressive living in Israel. Oh wait, that’s Bibi. I hate to be the wet blanket on a successful rookie campaign, as he dazzled with a 10-4 record, 2.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 141 K in 142 IP. But I think he’s merely a good but not great pitcher who got lucky, and there’s a lot more downside than upside at his pricey ADP of 116. Nick has already given his take on why he chose him as a bust candidate, but I independently reached that conclusion by using my less advanced and less generally smart methods.

My main issue with him is that I really can’t see what makes him dominant enough to truly be a top-tier pitcher. His fastball comes in hard at 95 mph, but it lacks good shape, so he can’t bully batters with it like a Bryan Woo or Bryce Miller fastball. Just as bad, despite his hat saying “Stay verty” he doesn’t practice what he preaches as he seems to lack the ability to consistently elevate his fastball out of the zone. Although his slider, his best pitch, is an impressive offering, it can’t live up to its potential as long as Bibee doesn’t execute the BSB. He uses that heater 47% of the time, a lot more than his slider, so that may catch up to him.

My other issue with him is that he pounds the zone, but can’t expand the zone and induce people to chase well. Even though the slider seems impressive, it falls short of being a Money Pitch because it only has a 33% O-Swing% and his other main pitches, his fastball and changeup, have only a 26% and 28% O-Swing%. While his changeup is actually his best pitch at inducing whiffs, with his 17% SwStr% making it appear like a viable second-offspeed weapon, it currently hugs too much of the middle of the plate, much like his fastball. I also don’t love that his slider and changeup are in the same velocity band, coming in at 85 mph and 84 mph, respectively (I’m not counting his lousy curveball because it falls below the 10% “Show-Me Threshold”).

Still, some might argue that he might have such elite stuff that command doesn’t matter, but Statcast tends to disagree. Not only do they think he got very lucky with an xERA of 3.66, but they rate his top comps in terms of pitch velocity and movement to be Ryne Nelson, Roansy Contreras, Connor Phillips, and Justin Verlander (old 2023 version). In case you want to pivot to say he has elite batted ball suppression, his top batted ball comps are Aaron Civale, Bryan Woo, Michael Wacha, and Jon Gray. Not that any of those pitchers are bad… they’re just not being taken in the first 120 picks (well Verlander, perhaps). Really, I think people are seeing the ERA and working backwards to justify it, and if they looked instead at the process they wouldn’t fawn over his “upside” the same way.

It’s just weird to me also that all four of his pitches pound the zone with over 50% Zone%. I know the easy thing to do is compare Bibee with Shane Bieber (I mean, the names make it so easy) since Bieber also threw too many strikes in his debut before truly breaking through one he tried to make people chase his breakers. But I think that Bibee, unlike Bieber, doesn’t have the command to make this approach change work. And going at such a high price, you basically need him to repeat or improve on last year’s numbers, which I don’t see happening.

I’m not saying he’ll be the next Lance Lynn. I think he’ll be a fine pitcher with a K rate around 8/9, a walk rate around 2.5/9, and an ERA around 3.60, but that’s not so different than José Berríos, who you could have 50 picks later. He should still perform like a top 200 ADP pitcher, but that’s a bust when you’re sacrificing the 116 pick for him, and he still could be worse. I’ll drink the kool aid and the buzz on other rookie pitchers with a more believably elite package, but this colorful yet bland Guardian bug juice I will not imbibe, bee.

Bo Naylor, C (ADP: 159)

This one hurts, mostly because I really did think he was going to be one of my sleepers before looking closer. With Naylor, I expected his early struggles to depress his 2024 ADP more than it has, and I think that now, at his December ADP of 159, it’s time to say the love has gone too far. Sure, it’s fun to assume that just like William and Willson Contreras, the brother will rise to match or exceed his brother in hitting ability, at least considering the positional differences. After all, Bo Naylor has been long reputed for his rare combination of power, elite plate discipline and speed from the catcher position. But for those hoping to get J.T. Realmuto at half the price, I have some reservations.

So let’s start with the things I do like about him since I was originally hoping to write him as a sleeper before the whole fantasy community decided the same, making that impossible. While I won’t put any stock into his awful eight PA cup of espresso in 2022, he definitely did not seem overmatched in his latter attempt (or should I say latte attempt). He hit a toasty .237/.339/.470 with 11 HR and five SB in just 230 PA, which looks even more impressive when you say he did it in 198 PA (or if you care more about OBP than AVG).

The reason I thought he’d be a sleeper and called him a buy in-season many times is that he had a rough debut month weighing down his numbers. He hit just .196 with one HR in 56 PA in the first half but warmed up nicely with a .252 with 10 HR and all five of his SB in his next 174 PA. If you’re prone to irresponsible extrapolation, you might shake off the shaky start and say that if you multiply that by three for 522 PA, he’d have 30 HR and 15 SB, which would make him easily the best C in fantasy. I also love that while he has great plate discipline, he still doesn’t let many strikes go by, and in fact, his 23% CSW% was 24th best in baseball, which placed him above Wander Franco and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. That seems to suggest his so-called weakness of contact is actually a strength, making him a potential batting-average threat too.

This is all fun to dream on. But sprouting dreams were made to be cut down, no? Yes, someone may be trimming his playing time with Austin Hedges. For all the hype, we must remember how terrible Mike Zunino was last year offensively… and how he kept cutting into Bo’s playing time. The fact the Guardians felt it worthwhile to scoop the weak-hitting defensive wizard Hedges suggests they still lack confidence in Bo’s defense. Perhaps this concern is overblown, given Bo actually rated positively defensively by most metrics. This could also be a platoon thing, as Bo hit just .217 with one HR in 51 PA vs lefties, though I think that sample is way too small to worry much about.

The bigger concern though, is his power… or lack thereof. For someone with a reputation as a slugger, his MaxEV of 109 is rather disappointing. but it only gets worse. He rarely hit the ball with authority, as his IPA of 21% was horrible and 311th in the league, and his Hard Contact% of 2o% was even worse at 322nd in the league is even worse. So basically, he’s someone who tries to volume his way into power by making a lot of contact and hitting a lot of mostly weak flyballs (50%). You could say the same is true of Isaac Paredes, but Naylor will have to learn to pull his launches more to get that to happen.

Sure, he’ll provide chip-in speed, but we also need to remember that a handful of bags is simply not nearly as valuable as it was when JTR was in his fantasy prime. And unlike Realmuto, whose Sprint Speed clocks in at a healthy 84th percentile, Bo Naylor’s is a rather pedestrian 51th percentile. Like pedestrians walking briskly but not quite running. Given that he only stole two bases in 270 PA in Triple-A, I don’t feel that running will be a big part of his game, and actually expect a single-digit total of stolen bases. All in all, I think there’s a fair risk he logs about 400 PA with a .240 AVG, just short of 20 HR and about eight SB, which in AVG leagues sounds an awful lot like Danny Jansen (ADP: 250) plus a handful of bags (I actually love Jansen as a sleeper). Even if he beats those numbers, I think the risk makes him a pick unlikely to provide positive value at his ADP, due to the low run production alone.


Photos by Frank Jansky | Icon Sportswire
Adapted by Kurt Wasemiller (@KUWasemiller on Twitter / @kurt_player02 on Instagram

Ben Pernick

I've been writing for Pitcher List since the beginning, and have been a fantasy baseball addict now for 20 years. I grew up as a Red Sox fan in New York, but now I declare allegiance only to my fantasy teams.

One response to “2024 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers & Busts: Cleveland Guardians”

  1. Babbo B says:

    If it takes Josh Naylor 4.66 seconds to go from home to first, and Bichette only 4.52 seconds, how can Naylor have “a much better time to first base”? Statcast’s sprint speed leaderboard actually shows Bichette with the 325th fastest time to first, Naylor at 426th (similar to their overall sprint speed rankings of 344 for Bichette and 501 for Naylor), so neither is particularly impressive.

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