Despite the lack of recent games, the Tigers decided to send shortstop Willi Castro and outfielder Troy Stokes Jr. down to Toledo to begin the 2020 season.
The 2020 season seems far-off now, but planning never stops. On Thursday, the day that should have opened the season, the Tigers optioned Willi Castro and Troy Stokes Jr. to Triple-A Toledo, joining fifteen other players who have been cut from big-league camp. Neither Castro and Stokes Jr. were frontrunners to land jobs with the MLB club, but there was a path to playing time on Opening Day for both of them.
Castro was acquired in a trade with Cleveland in 2018, sent to Detroit in exchange for Leonys Martín and has raked in both Erie and Toledo. He was billed as a well-rounded shortstop with the requisite tools to be a regular player on the infield dirt. His 2019 performance wasn’t exactly reflective of that billing.
His .301/.366/.467 line while with the Mud Hens was 13 percent above International League average last season. While the Triple-A was a veritable launching pad, it was still an impressive performance. His play on the field was less impressive, though, and he committed 22 errors in 111 games. Of course, errors aren’t the most dependable stat (especially in minor league stadiums) but his Statcast defense numbers reflected what the numbers seemed to indicate.
In 81 attempted plays, he had an 83% success rate, falling short of the estimated 85% rate. That led to a -3 outs above average rating. In other words, his defense just isn’t that good.
One of the big stories at Tigers camp this spring was that “a pancake glove fixed Castro at shortstop,” but spring training claims are often just as useful as a chocolate teapot. The young infielder will have to prove himself in 2020, and it looks like he’ll have to prove himself in Toledo first.
Stokes Jr, the other player the Tigers sent to Triple-A, was a late-season roster claim from the Milwaukee Brewers and, somewhat surprisingly, held down a place on the 40-man roster through the entire offseason. His 2019 performance was resoundingly underwhelming, but the tools that made him an interesting prospect when the Brewers drafted him out of high school are still extant. He has some interesting power and speed and has a good feel for the strike zone. He plays well in right field and can fill in up the middle in a pinch.
The Tigers added a large number of outfield options in the offseason, producing intense competition for a small number of slots, but Stokes Jr. was one of the few that had a real shot at unseating a frontrunner for an MLB job. He was doing all the right things in camp, and Dan Dickerson noted on air that the Tigers are internally excited about Stokes Jr. Unfortunately for the 24-year-old, Spring Training was cut short and teams are reverting to more conservative trains of thought in the aftershocks of the indeterminate shutdown.
Things could turn in both Castro or Stokes Jr.’s favor if the season winds up being significantly shorter than the standard 162-game schedule. Strange things can happen in small sample sizes in baseball, and both are among the first in line for a callup. If the Tigers put their bench players on a shirt leash, a hot start on their part or struggles on the major league club could lead to MLB playing time in shorter order than in a long season.