Who? SCOTT Van Slyke? Yeah, you’ve never heard of him, so obviously this is not a “big-time” free agent to be pursued. Scott Van Slyke is a 26-year-old outfielder that was dropped from the Dodgers 40-man roster to make room for some utility guy. Why do the Tigers want some scrub that the Dodgers don’t?
Well, partly it’s his lineage: he is the son of Jim Leyland‘s friend (and former Tigers first base coach) Andy Van Slyke. Nepotism only goes so far, though, and it isn’t as though Van Slyke is really in a position to pull strings (like a certain Elder Avila). Van Slyke has to deserve it on his own merit, and he does. For one thing, he’s right-handed. For another, he could play left field. For another he could play first, if the team is too concerned (as they apparently are) about sending the wrong message to let Miguel Cabrera ever fill in for Prince Fielder if the latter needed a day off. So… he does fit one of the Tigers few needs in those respects.
If the Tigers are looking for a right-handed reserve outfielder that will sign a minor league deal to fight for that spot in spring training (and that seems to be what they would like to do, if they can’t sign Hairston or somebody like that on the cheap) anybody they sign is going to have some warts and is going to have a checkered track record (at least at the major league level). Van Slyke is no exception – he got some playing time for the Dodgers in the first half of 2012 and did absolutely nothing with it (which is why he got bumped from the 40). But… he has been absolutely raking down in the minors the past couple of years. His .982 OPS in AAA in 2012 has to be taken with a grain of salt, since the Pacific Coast League is known for a lot of offense (his Davenport Translation is only a .791 OPS) but he was even better than that in 2011 in the Southern League, and that isn’t a league that puts up inflated offensive numbers. The Tigers don’t really have a masher of his ilk in the upper minors right now – think of him like a younger Brad Eldred or a Ryan Strieby that got his stroke back.
Though minor league defensive numbers are spotty, it sounds as though he was about an average defensive outfielder (with a minor league career +2 according to Davenport) and every metric on earth says he did a pretty solid job in the outfield in the 10 games worth of action he saw for LA this year. The Tigers scouts would undoubtedly know more. If you look at those minor league numbers, where he was admittedly somewhat old for his league, you see a guy that strikes out less than 20% of the time, walks more than 10% of the time and hits with the kind of gap power to put up 20 home runs and 40 doubles. And… that’s the kind of guy I’d be willing to take a flyer on – since there really is no internal candidate and doesn’t look to be any desire to spend.