Yesterday we looked at three Statcast standouts from the first Detroit Tigers spring training game of the season. We won’t be doing this for every game…but it’s kind of fun when the young players and prospects are in camp, so let’s give it another whirl!
From a team perspective, there was one notable trend yesterday: hits against velocity. Detroit Tigers hitters recorded four hits against pitches thrown 98 MPH.
Robbie Grossman led off the game with one, taking a 98.4 MPH Gerrit Cole fastball and lining it to left field. Then three batters later Wilson Ramos hit a bloop single to right field off a 99.3 MPH Cole heater.
It didn’t happen again until the 7th, when Zack Short hit a liner to left-center on a 98.2 MPH Albert Abreu fastball, and then Dillon Dingler doubled on a 98.4 MPH offering.
What’s notable about these four hits? The entire Tigers team managed only 13 hits against pitches at 98.2 MPH or harder in 2020, and they did it just 10 times in 2019.
What’s even more notable is the Detroit Tigers led all of baseball in 2020 with 17 hits on pitches that were 98 MPH or faster. Three teams — the Reds (3), Cardinals (2), and Brewers (1) –had fewer hits on 98-MPH pitches all of last year than the Tigers recorded yesterday.
It’s hard to say if that means anything. Maybe hitters are getting used to elite velocity, but maybe pitchers simply aren’t locating well this early in spring training. Perhaps it’s just a fluke. But it could be something to pay attention to in the future.
Now let’s get to the individual players, led by Motor City Bengals number one Detroit Tigers prospect, Riley Greene.
Riley Greene’s Polish
Greene didn’t hit a massive home run, or make a spectacular diving catch yesterday, but he showed off the advanced skills that give him such potential. We’ll explain by walking through the above video.
Gerrit Cole starts off with a nasty 98.5 MPH fastball at the letters, and Greene swings (and misses) so hard his helmet falls off. Greene looks overmatched, but there’s no shame in that. Cole leads all pitchers in swinging strikes against fastballs (365) over the past two seasons.
Then Greene lays off a pair of similar fastballs, both a little farther away, and gets an easy take on a slider in the dirt. But it’s the next take that really makes the at-bat.
Cole throws his hard knuckle-curve — by percentages it was his best swing-and-miss pitch in 2020 — and Greene flinches, but seems to ID the pitch and doesn’t offer. One pitch later he takes a well-earned walk.
His next AB was a hit that didn’t seem terribly impressive on the surface. It was a soft liner against a 91 MPH fastball from Jhoulys Chacín.
But it was actually a beautiful piece of hitting, because it’s an inside pitch and A.J. Hinch had called a hit and run. Greene pulls his hands in and is still strong enough to flare that ball the other way, just over the glove of a leaping Tyler Wade.
And finally, we come to the stolen base. There isn’t any hard data to point to here — no sprint speed or catcher pop time — but Greene gets a good jump and swipes the bag. It’s just another small indication of the reason we ranked him ahead of Spencer Torkelson on our prospects list.
Riley Greene loathes the idea of being just a hitter. He works hard on his defense, and he came into camp thinner so he can run a bit better. He probably considers himself a true five-tool player, and it may be time for fans to start agreeing with him.
Jason Foley’s Fastball
Jason Foley didn’t make our prospect list. He’s a 25-year-old relief-only pitcher who went undrafted and has never thrown a pitch above High-A ball. But he sure can throw hard.
Foley hit 99.9 MPH with his hardest two-seamer yesterday, something only 16 big-league pitchers did last year. Only seven Detroit Tigers pitchers have thrown a two-seam fastball that hard in since 2008. Foley clearly has a huge arm.
But the Tigers didn’t protect Foley on their 40-man roster in the off season, and no other team selected him in the Rule 5 Draft. Foley only threw eight pitches, but he didn’t generate a single swing-and-miss. And beyond that, he gets hit pretty hard.
That was a slider, but Jason Foley’s fastball just doesn’t seem to move much. It shows a bit of sink, but not much run, and that’s a recipe for getting hit hard. The first out he recorded was on a 107.6 MPH grounder to shortstop (manned by Foley’s college teammate Zack Short), which was the third hardest ball of the day, behind two home runs.
The velocity will keep giving Foley chances, but he’ll need to continue to refine his secondary offerings to carve out a role in a big-league bullpen.
Akil Baddoo’s Day
Detroit Tigers fans seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship with Victor Reyes, the team’s last Rule 5 outfielder. He swings at nearly everything and doesn’t have much game power, but he makes a lot of contact and shows good speed. He looks like a decent 4th outfielder.
We still don’t know what kind player Akil Baddoo will be, but we’ve seen some interesting tools already. Baddoo hit two balls very hard yesterday. He hit a 105.8 MPH grounder to the second baseman, and he also took a 99.7 MPH offering from Albert Abreu and hit it 102.1 MPH to the shortstop.
Yes, they were both outs, but the exit velocity does tell us something about Baddoo. For comparison, Reyes hit only 6 balls at least 102 MPH in his 100 games in the 2018 season, and never twice in the same game.
In 2020, individual Tigers batters hit multiple balls 102 MPH or harder 34 times. That sounds like a common occurrence, but remember, it’s out of nine players over 58 games. Essentially it happens about 6% of the time, and Akil Baddoo did it in his second spring training game.
Also, make note of Baddoo’s speed on that second grounder. Getting to first base from the left side of the plate in 4.0 seconds is a 70-grade run time, in scouting terms. That’s fast.
It takes a lot more than hitting the ball hard and running fast to have success at the MLB level, but it’s easy to see what the Detroit Tigers liked about Akil Baddoo.