Detroit Tigers: A Theory on Third Base

The Detroit Tigers have taken an interesting approach with third base. Could it be an audition for the offseason?

The Detroit Tigers and GM Al Avila have not been strangers to injuries this season, even with a shortened year. CJ Cron, Ivan Nova, Jordan Zimmermann, Niko Goodrum, JaCoby Jones, and Harold Castro are some of the names that have missed significant time with injuries in 2020. Rather than go out and try to fill the holes with unemployed utilities, they opted both to borrow from their player pool in Toledo as well as move some current players around the diamond.

Jeimer Candelario moved from third base to first base almost exclusively since the injury to power bat CJ Cron. Isaac Paredes was called up with a sprinkling of Willi Castro to handle third base. Upon the injury to Goodrum, Willi Castro overtook the everyday shortstop duties. Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal were brought up to fill in the all-too-often opener bullpen games that were semi-regular at the front of the season. And on, and on.

The third base position, though, is particularly interesting. Jeimer Candelario has had an offensive renaissance to the tune of .333/.389/.590 and was already grading as a plus defender at third before the team decided to move him across the diamond. Isaac Paredes has struggled in his limited time thus far but is still just 21-years-old and has made some nice defensive plays himself. Willi Castro, while not as exciting with the glove or arm, has slashed .360/.388/.560 over 22 games as a 23-year-old this season, displaying the ability to hit loud contact from both sides of the plate.

This does not even figure in Spencer Torkelson, whom the organization is insistent upon his ability to stick at third base himself. Combining Al Avila’s sentiment about Torkelson possibly getting a September call-up if this were a full season with Alan Trammell’s recent gush about his ability to handle third, Torkelson may be closer to the major leagues than we thought. In an article written by Evan Petzold with the Detroit Free Press, the Special Assistant to the General Manager had this to say recently on Torkelson:

“You got to be ready, so when balls have been hit, he’s made most of the plays, to be honest with you. So that’s what we’re looking for. But he needs some seasoning, needs some games. He needs a minor league season where he gets that under his belt, but he’s been very good.”

I have long-fought the narrative on a player being ‘blocked’ in the major leagues. In MLB, the best players play and as long as they are hitting, the club will find a defensive home for them to get by. Not to mention, as it pertains to prospects, they are just that until they succeed in the major leagues. Drafting or making decisions on moving players because of a perceived block to their path in the future is asinine. Someone has to play that position until the player is ready.

Even if these players do succeed, though, and there is a true block, there are options. Apart from moving players around, they could also facilitate a trade to address a different need. Getting assets in baseball is a terrible task; getting them wherever possible is vital–let the rest solve itself later.

With the recent comments on Torkelson, the Detroit Tigers may be closer to a block situation than even they initially thought. The team would prefer Candelario at third where he is more defensively apt. Additionally, Paredes has shown defensive prowess and despite his short struggles offensively, would be an attractive plug-and-play young player for other teams. Castro has been the inverse of Paredes; showing the ability to hit but lacking some of the defensive prerequisites to play of the left side of the infield.

Could it be that the Detroit Tigers are doing a mass try out–seeing which of Paredes, Castro, and Candelario would be most productive in a short season–then in the offseason, sell high on one of them to address one of the club’s other needs, and play one of the other two there until Torkelson was ready after a presumed short stint in the minor leagues in 2021? It is not as out-of-the-question as I would have believed on draft night in June.

Having three candidates give the club this type of flexibility. It gives other teams their pick of the litter while playing all three in 2020 would also give the Tigers leverage to keep them in negotiations. The unknown is how soon the organization feels Torkelson will be ready for MLB time at a position in which he is still a novice. If the answer to that question is early-to-mid-2021, September may serve as a mass tryout not only for the Detroit Tigers but also for potential suitors.