The Minnesota Twins are catching up with the Cleveland Guardians in the race for the AL Central. At the time of writing, the Guardians lead the Twins by only one game for the division lead, with a 69-64 record. The Chicago White Sox, led by Jose Abreu and Luis Robert, are not far behind, as they are only two games away from the Guardians.
With the race the closest it has been in a while, the Guardians will need somebody to step up and help star third baseman Jose Ramirez, the emergent second baseman Andres Gimenez, and ace Shane Bieber if the Guardians were to run away with the AL Central.
It’s crucial to remember that division winners are automatically rewarded with a postseason berth, and the Guardians’ (and the Twins’ and White Sox’, for that matter) record is not good enough to make the most postseason via the wildcard as things stand. With the Guardians’ offense outside of Ramirez and Gimenez remaining uninspiring, to say the least, Cleveland manager Terry Francona will look to turn to this young position player for an offensive boost, especially in the power production department.
Here’s one player that the Guardians need to step up as soon as possible so they could hold off the hard-charging Twins.
Not to be confused with fellow Guardians outfielder Oscar Mercado, who was designated for assignment by Cleveland in early July, Gonzalez will be tasked to play a major role in the Guardians offense, and Francona’s trust in the 24-year old rookie corner outfielder seems to be growing with every plate appearance.
Gonzalez was fifth in the batting order in the Guardians’ close 6-5 victory over the Kansas City Royals that snapped a five-game losing streak, and he delivered. Gonzalez essentially drove home the game-winning runs during the top of the 10th inning when he hit a crucial two-run double to left-center field that bounced off the wall.
Just like oxygen, we needed this, O.#ForTheLand pic.twitter.com/IZjQJ6jjBq
— Cleveland Guardians (@CleGuardians) September 6, 2022
Gonzalez was promoted to the Majors back in May, after the struggles of former Guardians outfielder Franmil Reyes. Reyes was expected to provide power hitting to a lineup so starved of it, despite a leaguewide drop in home run production. However, Reyes was a disappointment, hitting only .213/.254/.350 with 9 home runs and 28 runs batted in en route to a -0.9 WAR with Cleveland.
The Guardians really needed Oscar Gonzalez to emerge as the power-hitting outfielder he was in the minors in 2021 when he hit 31 HRs and 83 RBIs across two levels, and Gonzalez is starting to resemble that player more and more.
Although Gonzalez only has 5 HRs and 26 RBIs in a Guardians uniform across 253 plate appearances in 62 games, Gonzalez will provide Francona’s side with an offensive X-factor especially as he continues to come into his own as an everyday player for Cleveland. Gonzalez will be especially useful as a right-handed hitter who hits better against right-handed pitching (.286 vs .274 against lefties). In half the PAs, Gonzalez has hit as many doubles as everyday player Steven Kwan as well, and once Gonzalez puts on more muscle, his considerable gap power should turn into more balls hit out of the park.
The Guardians outfield will welcome any semblance of offensive production anyway, as Myles Straw, the Guardians’ first-choice centerfielder, cannot hit a lick. (Straw’s defense is stellar, however, and is one of the best in the league.)
Oscar Gonzalez was never the most heralded player out of the Guardians farm system. He was ranked as the Guardians’ 34th best prospect by Guardians Baseball Insider before the season began, but Gonzalez shows yet another reason why prospect projection is such a crapshoot.
Oscar Gonzalez’ emergence as an everyday corner outfield option has been important for the Guardians’ playoff push, but they may need him to do more. And with everything Gonzalez has shown in his brief big league career thus far, it seems as if he’s ready to step up to the challenge of going from good to great.
All stats were taken from Fangraphs.com unless otherwise noted.