Martinez, DeLauter, Gaddis Making an Early Impact This Spring for Guards

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We’re about ten games into the Cactus League season, and while the baseball season is still in its infancy, a few Guardians youngsters have set themselves apart in Arizona. These ballplayers are known within the organization but aren’t necessarily players that the fans or even possibly the team’s brass would have expected to make an argument for the Opening Day roster. But with early success, it may be worth a moment to reflect and consider what lies ahead.

IF Angel Martinez

First among these players is infielder Angel Martinez. The 22-year-old switch hitter spent most of 2023 at AA Akron, playing 99 games there and another 37 for Columbus. His hitting stats were admittedly awfully pedestrian over the course of the entirety of 2023, slashing .251/.321/.394 with 14 home runs, 47 walks and 119 strikeouts. After minor league play concluded, Martinez briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, struggling at the plate and only hitting .111 in 5 games. However, upon returning from the Dominican, Martinez worked on his stance. He now appears a bit more upright at the plate with his hands lower. Something among these changes seems to have clicked, as he has hit nothing but line drives and fly balls since reporting to camp- with most of them being rockets.

Martinez is among the players to get the most at-bats in camp so far. In his 14 at-bats, he is 8 for 14, hitting .571 with 2 doubles and 2 home runs. He has also struck out only twice. At 6 foot tall and weighing 200 pounds, Martinez isn’t a particularly imposing ballplayer. On Sunday though, he turned around a pitch from Kyle Hendricks, smashing a double off the wall on the fly in the left-center field gap. Martinez had been hitting lefty, showing pop to the opposite field against a legitimate veteran Major League starter.

Martinez is the number 10 prospect in the Guardians organization according to MLB.com and the team is flush with young middle-infield talent. While Martinez is making a name for himself, the three main names vying for the available Major League starting shortstop spot are Gabriel Arias, Brayan Rocchio and Tyler Freeman. Juan Brito (the team’s number six prospect), Jose Tena (number 15) and Khalil Watson (number 17) are also milling about the upper levels of the minor leagues. So while Martinez’s early play has set himself apart, there is a lot of competition to be had.

At this point, I would not expect Martinez to end up as the starting shortstop, no matter how many endorsements or line drives he hits. The team is likely to give the opportunity to someone currently ahead of him in the depth chart, but if he continues this play, he could find a spot on the roster in lieu of someone like Freeman, or David Fry. He has the versatility of playing all infield positions except first base, so he has a skill set to come off the bench.

If he continues to play well; I hope he gets the chance. It’s great to have as many options as the Guardians have in young infielders, but getting the most value from those options means picking the options that are performing the best, and not just sticking to a predetermined pecking order. I’m a big Tyler Freeman guy, but if Martinez outplays Freeman, Martinez deserves the job.

OF Chase DeLauter

Outfielder Chase DeLauter is also off to a fantastic start this spring. The 22-year-old former Guardians’ first-round pick in 2022 has only had eight at bats in Cactus League play but has four hits including a double and an absolute blast- a 478-foot home run (Yes, four hundred. And eighty-seven. Feet.). Standing at 6 foot 4 and 235 pounds, he looks the part of a former first-round pick and future star. Quite frankly, he looks like a big, strong, athletic dude, albeit one with above-average but not elite speed. His at-bats have looked both confident and competent, looking far from overwhelmed despite only playing 6 games at AA in his career. The Guardians have taken some athletes who were more athletes than ballplayers in recent years (Bradley Zimmer comes to mind). DeLauter feels different.

DeLauter spent most of last season at High-A Lake County after recovering from a stress fracture in his left pinky toe over last winter. He spent most of his time there splitting time between center-field and right-field and hitting an emphatically good .366 with a .549 slugging percentage. He had just four homers but 18 doubles in 42 games. That would have been 64 doubles over the course of 150 games. He ended the season at Akron where he picked right up where he left off, hitting .364 in six games, and the results continue to be superb this spring.

DeLauter stands to be the Guardians’ number-one prospect this year. It’s hard to think of a reason he wouldn’t be. Still, manager Stephen Vogt is not talking about DeLauter as someone who will be on the MLB roster this year.

I know I just talked about having options and rewarding the successful players among your many options in talking about Martinez, but DeLauter has only had six games at AA. He very well may end up being the kind of guy who can have a brief stint or skip AAA entirely, but he has to see some better intermediate competition before coming to the show. Vogt is talking about DeLauter having a healthy season. I would add to that: a healthy and successful 2024 at AA, could really bode well for DeLauter’s 2025 outlook.

P Hunter Gaddis

The final player to turn heads is one that has actually appeared in the Majors before for the Guards, pitcher Hunter Gaddis. Gaddis has pitched 4 2/3 innings thus far, allowing only 2 hits and 1 walk while striking out six. His outings have come early enough in games as well that he is facing largely MLB regulars. This is not a matter of Gaddis getting fat and happy against minor-league depth.

Gaddis has made appearances in the Majors for the Guardians in each of the last two seasons. He posted a much-improved 4.50 ERA in 42 MLB innings last season (after an 18.41 ERA in 2 starts in 2022) as he made 7 starts and 11 total appearances. Strong Spring trainings aren’t something new to Gaddis, as he made last year’s Opening Day roster largely based on his performance in Arizona in 2023. He ended up scuffling in April and was demoted towards the end of the month, but he would be recalled multiple times over the course of the summer and would post a 2.42 ERA in six appearances between May and the end of the season.

There are two known, open spots in the Guardians bullpen that are up for grabs. Among the names available to take them are James Karinchak, Carlos Carrasco, Xzavion Curry, Tim Herrin and Ben Lively. Much like Martinez, Gaddis is looking at a stacked field and isn’t necessarily high in the pecking order. However, having been in the bigs before, there is some chance he could out-compete his colleagues for a role in the Guardians bullpen. However, the Guardians are feeling a little devoid of starting pitching depth, and it may be more likely that they stretch Gaddis out and hold him in AAA for insurance purposes.

To Conclude…

It’s important to remember that the sample size we are really talking about here for hitters is basically enough at-bats for a single regular-season series of games. For Gaddis, we are talking about a single short-length start. All three ballplayers have shown some serious ability so far but will need to sustain their success through March before we even get to the real deal in the coming months. The success we have seen though is at least better than the alternative. At most, it’s quite promising. In many ways, the Guardians are a deep organization and while 2024 should be a season of discovery, if those discoveries aren’t positive the team should have plenty of opportunity to reload.

The next wave may even be better than this one.

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