Is this the best Cleveland Guardians rookie class of all time?
The Cleveland Guardians have had an interesting year. They won the AL Central and did so with 16 rookies making their debut. That number is a bit inflated, as only six or so had any real impact on the team’s success.
That’s not a knock against the rookie class by any means, mostly classes don’t have that two guys who make an impact, let alone one. Yet, if we’re being honest, there were really three who did the most work for the Guardians; Steven Kwan, Konnor Pilkington, and Oscar Gonzalez. They played the most, performed the best, and are all but guaranteed to make the post-season roster.
There are others who played more or played well but none that played as much as those three and as well. So if we ask the question, “is this the greatest rookie class ever?”, we’ll be looking at just those three players, and comparing them to other classes that had at least three guys who stood out.
So is there a greater rookie class than the 2022 crew?
The 2022 Cleveland Guardians may be the greatest rookie class ever
Between the 1950s and 1990s, there were more than 40 years between relevant seasons in Cleveland’s historic franchise. There isn’t a lot of pre-modern success. So going much beyond the late 1980s isn’t really necessary. To date, two seasons produced at least three guys who could be Cy Young winners, MVPs, All-Stars or just franchise cornerstones.
Those years were 2011, with Corey Kluber, Jason Kipnis, and Lonnie Chisenhall, as well as 2002 with Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, Coco Crisp, and Victor Martinez. Both classes had Cy Young winners and MVP candidates in Lee (12th in MVP in 2008) and Kluber (7th in MVP in 2017), All-stars in Lee, Martinez, and Kipnis, and guys who lasted (or would’ve lasted) a long time in the majors in Crips and Chisenhall.
Sadly for Chisenhall, injuries became a problem.
All of those guys, save for Kluber, are out of the league. Their legacies are cemented. That’s not the case for Kwan, Gonzalez, and Pilkington. Pilkington started out a bit uneven but over the last six or seven weeks has become a reliable starter for the Guardians.
Gonzalez has flashes of early Manny Ramirez at the plate, dazzling fans with his power and speed. He also has early flashes of Ramirez on defense, concerning coaches with his constant errors. Just Gonzalez being Gonzalez? As for Kwan, he’s likely leaving his rookie year behind with an AL Golden Glove and a Top 3 finish in the Rookie of the Year voting as well.
Kwan will also likely be a top guy in this lineup for years to come, and his early play reminds many of Kenny Lofton both in the field and at the plate.
Their legacies are not yet finished, unlike the prior classes, so it’s hard to see where they’ll end up in 15 years. Yet, for what they’ve done by winning the AL Central, especially with the mounting injuries and disappointments from top prospects like Bradley Zimmer and Bobby Bradley, I have o say the 2022 class is the best crop of rookies ever in franchise history.
The team has had a few great classes, but none of them either won the division or were the backbone of the team while doing so. Guys like Sean Casey and Richie Sexson were rookies in 1997, but only Bartolo Colon was actually leaned on.
The 2011 squad was uber-talented, but they only won 80 games. Respectable, but not on the same level as an AL Central Championship and potential 90+ win season. The same can be said for the 2002 class, 20 years prior. They were a good squad but they wouldn’t have a winning season for three years.
The production of the ’22 class, plus the team’s success due to that production is what makes this squad the best rookie class ever. Though, unless they win a World Series, a debate can still be had about who is the best rookie class ever.
If they win a World Series, however, that debate ends.