The Detroit Tigers continued to bolster the team’s organizational depth by signing six players to minor league contracts. The half dozen players include outfielder Nate Schierholtz, infielder Alberto Gonzalez, utility player Jordany Valdespin and pitchers Logan Kensing, Melvin Mercedes and Dustin Molleken. The team officially announced the signings.
Of the two, only Schierholtz and Kensing received invites to Major League spring training.
Schierholtz comes with the most big-league experience, and perhaps the best chance to make an impact this season. The outfielder has nearly 800 (799) games under his belt at the Major League-level. The former San Francisco Giant is a career .253 hitter with 52 home runs and 228 RBI. Schierholtz’ best season came in 2013 when he mashed 32 doubles and 21 home runs while driving in 68 runs in 137 games for the Chicago Cubs.
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The 31-year-old’s hitting splits against right-handed and left-handed pitching are similar. Schierholtz is a career .253 hitter righties and .254 hitter against lefties. However, he has done most of his damage (extra base hits and RBI) against right-handed pitching.
What’s more, Schierholtz is a particularly effective fielder in left. In terms of Total Zone Fielding Runs Above Average per 1,200 Innings and Defensive Runs Saved Above Average per 1,200 innings, the former Cub has saved 24 and 32 runs respective as a left fielder.
He will likely challenge for at-bats in left during spring training. If he can provide an impact, this can only be good news for the Tigers. The team’s current left field situation figures to be some combination of Cameron Maybin, Anthony Gose, Tyler Collins and Mike Aviles.
Sep 6, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Logan Kensing (27) pitches the ball against the Oakland Athletics during the eighth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
The only other player to receive an invitation to Major League spring training, Kensing has accumulated 177 innings pitched with the Marlins, Nationals, Rockies and Mariners. His most recent stop was in Seattle where he pitched to a 5.87 ERA in 19 appearances (15.1 innings). Kensing’s ERA at the big-league level is 5.80, but the right-hander has provided much better results at the Triple-A level. The right-handed pitcher’s ERA in 276 innings at the minor’s highest level is 3.46. That ERA includes a 2.23 earned run average racked up at Triple-A Tacoma this past season. The right-hander will clearly be looking to latch on as an extra reliever.
Most of the other players signed have varying degrees of experience at the highest level. The only exception is Molleken, but the 31-year-old, right-handed pitcher put up a 3.25 ERA in 40 appearances for Cleveland’s Triple-A affiliate in 2015.
Mercedes has only pitched in one game with the Tigers. The 25-year-old’s ERA was an unsightly 6.68 with Triple-A Toledo in 2015, but MLB.com still ranks the hard-throwing Mercedes as the team’s 28th best prospect.
Both Gonzalez and Valdespin have experience at a number of different positions. Gonzalez has played every position except center field and catcher in the majors while Valdespin has logged innings at both middle-infield positions and all three outfield spots. Neither are going to win batting crowns (Gonzalez is a .239 career hitter while Valdespin is a .216 career hitter), but they provide defensive flexibility and speed.
All six will provide the Tigers with depth this season as the team attempts to reclaim the American League Central title. The 2015 season exposed the team’s lack of minor-league depth, hopefully these players will ensure that a repeat performance isn’t in the cards.