CLEVELAND — The Guardians are starting to see what the next few years could look like, with so many of their young prospects finally getting a shot at the big league level. And so far, they’ve had every reason to enjoy the crystal ball preview.
Again, the young bats carried Cleveland to a win, as Oscar Gonzalez led the way with his first career four-hit performance. Steven Kwan escaped his skid with a three-hit night, and Andrés Giménez was responsible for the go-ahead in the eighth that led to the Guardians’ 8-4 win over the A’s in the series opener at Progressive Field on Thursday. night.
“Nights like this are fun to watch, their enthusiasm youthful and their not backing down,” said Guardians manager Terry Francona. “All the things we want to live with. Yeah, you get proud.
Youth brings its share of mistakes and growing pains, but trying its luck with younger players has allowed the organization to see the raw talent it can develop to create a strong foundation for the future. Gonzalez was one of the pillars of this foundation that no one was sure could support much weight. But so far, he’s proven he deserves a chance to fit into the Guardians’ plans.
There was hesitation in bringing Gonzalez to the big leagues. He managed to strike at all levels in the minors; the only problem was his overly aggressive approach at home plate, to the point that Guardians worried about how it would translate at Major League level. In 2021, he recorded 112 strikeouts in 121 games between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus. But when the Guardians needed another body after Franmil Reyes landed on the IL, Gonzalez was the only logical choice.
“We kind of said to him, ‘Hey, don’t worry about the walk,'” Francona said. “‘Just try to see how many good swings you can get on good pitches.’ Because he’s got batting speed, he can hit the ball the other way, he’s not like a lot of young right-handed power hitters. It doesn’t come out much. He stays through the ball and kicks the ball to right field. He’s just super aggressive. If he stays in the area, he will do damage.
So far he has stayed in the area. In his first few games, it seemed like beginner’s luck that he continuously encountered hits. But now that he has 13 games into his big league career (although still a small sample), it’s starting to look like he’s maturing on the plate rather than just having luck. Gonzalez has recorded at least one hit in 12 of his 13 games. He and Roger Maris are the only players in Cleveland history to record a hit in 12 of their first 13 games.
“It’s what I’ve been thinking about since I was a kid,” Gonzalez said, through team interpreter Agustin Rivero. “I prepared for this. I just pray to God to help me play the best I can every day.
Seven of those 12 contests have been multi-hit efforts, tying him with Dale Mitchell, Roy Weatherly and Bob Seeds for the second such performances in the first 13 games in a career in club history, behind only Mark Lewis (1991) and Joe Vosmik (1930-’31), each with eight.
“It was awesome,” Kwan said. “He’s obviously a great teammate, a great person in general. He always has a lot of fun. He’s a great hitter. I’m glad that translates and I’m glad he’s still rolling.
Although known for his power, Gonzalez has yet to hit his first major league home run. All of his contributions have come from singles and doubles, and his four hits on Thursday bring his average to a whopping .404. He had a brief scare in the top of the eighth when he slammed into the right field wall while chasing a fly ball. But after taking a while to get up, he came back in the bottom half of the frame to trigger a four-run inning with a first single.
In just 13 games, the Guardians have seen growth in his discipline at the plate, an improvement in his defense and his desire to find ways to win every night.
“I’ve played with him pretty much every level to come up,” Guardians infielder Ernie Clement said. “So to see his growth and maturity, it’s amazing, because when I first met him he was just a young lad in the [Dominican Republic]. He’s still an amazing hitter. It always has been. But the other facets of his game are coming, and it’s really exciting because he’s going to be one hell of a player.