A lot of guys (even guys we didn’t expect a heck of a lot for) have been hot in Toledo lately: Brad Eldred (who just got called up) obviously, but also Matt Young, Eric Patterson, Ryan Strieby, Quintin Berry and… Danny Worth. Though it’s Eldred who first got to enjoy his cup of coffee (and how can you keep a guy with a 1.457 OPS down on the farm?) it’s probably Worth that more Tigers fans wanted to see rejoin the team. Now – he has – but for how long and to what end?
Worth has – it seems – improved his game enough that we shouldn’t be thinking about whether he’s the best utility option for the Tigers last bench spot. With Inge gone, you could say that such a vacancy exists. A lot of people want Worth to fill it. In my opinion, that isn’t the real question and it isn’t what Danny Worth should be playing for right now. Last year and the year before, that’s all he was really in the running for – period. Prospect projectors would most likely have seen that as his genuine ceiling. Is it?
When you’re looking at forecasting prospects – you have to beware the guys with amazing tools whose numbers rapidly tail off as they rise through the minors. NOBODY hits so well in low-A that they can still be decent if they see the ‘average’ drop in production at each level (or they become Delmon Young). The guys you want to pay attention to are the guys who started slow but figured things out. Guys who develop power, guys who figure out how to lay off a slider or hit a changeup, etc…
Worth’s glove has been a given, he has simply needed to develop as a hitter to earn a middle infield job. Danny Worth’s 2011 campaign – at Toledo – was a big such step in the right direction. His slash line was only .256/.333/.421 but that’s noticeably better than his .687 OPS in 2010 or his .587 OPS in 2009. He still struck out more often than we’d like, but the improvement didn’t come in ‘fluky’ BABIP but rather in walks and power. Forecast his major league numbers based on his 2011 in Toledo, and he comes out good enough for a part-time role and no better. Something that roughly reflects his small-sample major league numbers thus far (.257/.295/.345). Something better than what Inge provided last year and better than Inge provided this year – hence the loud and frequent calls to get Inge’s butt out and bring Worth back.
I actually think that Worth is hitting too well right now to bring him up and stick him in that role. After all – if Worth comes up, he’ll still be behind a bunch of guys on the depth chart. In 12 games for the Mud Hens so far Worth is batting .308/.379/.596. Part of that might be his unsustainably high .361 BABIP – but we often see very high BABIPs in AAA for guys who are showing that they are simply ‘too good’ for the level. Brandon Inge had a .338 BABIP in Toledo last year – like him or not he is too good for AAA. Just note that Worth has kept his walk rate high (over 10%), taken his Ks down a tiny notch and has 3 home runs in those 12 games. He had 8 in 2011 – a breakout considering that he had a total of 9 between 2007 and 2010. He also has 6 doubles. Worth is driving the ball, not slapping it around.
As such – I don’t want Worth to come to Detroit to sit around and face the occasional lefty. It’s entirely up in the air who ought to be the Tigers second baseman of the future… Santiago and Raburn are both over 30 and both will be with the team through 2013 – but neither is really an ideal option, at least as far as those in the organization are concerned. Perhaps Worth is… but he’ll need to do a bit more to prove it. If he’s still hitting this way by midseason – perhaps he should get a call for an extended trial as the Tigers regular 2B…
This is a real issue – a 2011 offseason need that was never addressed and Worth looks like he may deserve an audition. This is also an audition that Ryan Raburn is making – and while I’d say he hasn’t been quite the butcher on defense that he was last season (though it’s still early) he hasn’t been hitting at all. The bar is obviously lower for a middle infielder than a corner outfielder, but it’s still well above a .400 OPS. IF he could play slightly below average second and hit like he’s hit in warm months, Raburn becomes a 4 win player and a shoo-in next year. Right now he’s looking more like a 4th outfielder. Ramon Santiago – apparently – is not allowed to audition for the job. He’s been firmly pigeon-holed already. As for the offseason free agent market – there won’t really be anyone particularly impressive at second (or short and able to transition) and the pool of guys who could fill the spot acceptably for a team with a desperate need looks pretty shallow.