Play Ball! Two of the most beautiful words of the English language when used together have returned to our lives. Spring Training is thankfully underway in beautiful Lakeland, Florida! It has only been a week for our 2021 Detroit Tigers, and it’s way too early to draw any conclusions, but it is always fun to examine those first impressions from the first cracks of the bat and seeing how they play out over the course of the marathon baseball season. Taking a look at the position players, here are a few initial thoughts as the AJ Hinch era gets underway in Detroit.
1- Willi Castro is never going to stop hitting.
Willi Castro was an unexpected surprise during the 2020 campaign. After a rather pedestrian first cup of coffee in 2019 where he definitely did not look like a major league SS, he put up a .349/.381/.550 slash line in 140 plate appearances. He has picked up where he left off, starting Spring Training with 2 Home Runs amongst his 5 hits in 12 AB’s. There is plenty to be suspect about when diving into his 2020 breakout: a .448 BABIP, 5% walk rate, a well below average 84.7 exit velocity, and a ground ball rate of 42.6%. They all scream fluke and unsustainable, not ignoring the fact he is still developing as he approaches 24 years old, yet here he is hitting the ball again. Enjoy the ride and let see what a full season’s data tell us about his future come October. Defensively I still think he is probably best suited for 2B, but if he can just play a passable SS while continuing to grow at the plate he could make things interesting when deciding how the puzzle pieces fit for 2022 and beyond.
2- Is there a potential glut brewing at 2B for the Detroit Tigers?
As Jacob Boes wrote about the improvement of the outfield situation, the 2B base position is also starting to become intriguing. Jonathan Schoop will be the starter at 2B to begin the year. Manager AJ Hinch is enamored with the growth of Kody Clemens, speaking with Chris McCosky of The Detroit News (subscription required) Chris did send out a tweet with this interesting quote from AJ Hinch: “He’s been around the game his whole life and we’ve seen some things we like. I’m glad he’s here but we’re going to have to make a tricky end of the month decision about him.” Kody has also picked up a 1B and 3B glove this weekend as the Tigers look to add to his versatility. His name has moved up a tick on the not-so-distant radar this Spring.
Isaac Parades, The Mexican Winter League Batting Champion, made the start at 2B on Saturday 3/6 and has a couple of hits in 5 AB’s to start the year. I have felt for quite some time his best major league value would come as a 2B and now the Tigers seem to be interested in at least taking a longer look at how he handles the position. With multiple candidates reaching the upper levels of the minors to go along with options at the major league level now, I believe one of them should be able to grab the reigns for 2022 and beyond. I would put a very high percentage on Schoop being shipped out for a prospect near the July 31st trade deadline.
3- Enough with Christin Stewart
If I see one more AB from Stewart it will be one too many. I would rather see a non-prospect like Danny Woodrow or Jacob Robson get the opportunities at a few appearances in a big-league uniform and the chance to make some kind of impression even though his chances are Power Ball level odds than see Stewart take another swing and miss. It is very simple, Christin Stewart is just not a major league baseball player. He is never going to hit the high fastball at this level and with what he has shown us over the last couple of seasons with DH-level play in the outfield, he would need a really big stick to justify a spot in the line-up and it’s just not going to happen.
Send him on his way, perhaps a stint in the KBO can give him another shot at the majors in a couple of years. With Victor Reyes reporting and Nomar Mazara entering the fray with his debut on Sunday 3/7, I expect his time is quickly coming to an end. The majority of the playing time for the rest of March I suspect will go to Grossman, Jones, Mazara, Reyes, Badoo with some Riley Greene sprinkled in to keep all we tuned in and excited for what lies ahead.
4- Jeimer Candelario will be traded this year
While not having anything to do with his current spring performance this is just a growing hunch that I have and maybe it happens and maybe it proves to be nothing more than hot air, but I believe Jeimer Candelario will be the big name moved at the deadline for Al Avila this season. Clemens is getting some practice reps, Parades a possibility later in the season, Harold Castro playing 3rd against the Jays on 3/7, and Spencer Torkelson coming maybe as soon as 2022, my gut tells me if The Candy Man picks up where he left off last season he is going to be moved. I think they are looking at every option in part to see how they can cover the position if there is a robust trade market that develops. This is also assuming he does not revert back to his pre-2020 form.
5- Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson walk
With a large portion of the potential success of this Detroit Tigers rebuild on their backs, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson are gearing up for key development seasons. While both of them need their time in the minors to get the bats to a major league level, they are drawing walks now. Greene has 4 and Torkelson has 3 this first week. It is super encouraging to see for an organization that hasn’t allows seemed to value guys that can draw a walk properly have a couple of potential rising stars who feature that ability.
As of today here are the 13 position players I see coming north with the Tigers, assuming everyone gets into camp and playing this next week and before any IL stints:
Catcher- Wilson Ramos
1B- Renalto Nunez
2B- Jonathon Schoop
SS- Willi Castro
3B Jeimer Candelario
LF- Robbie Grossman
CF- Jacoby Jones
RF- Nomar Mazara
DH- Miguel Cabrera
4th OF – Victor Reyes
Utility- Niko Goodrum
Utility- Harold Castro
Backup Catcher- Dustin Garneau
My feeling is the Detroit Tigers will not carry Rule V pick Akil Badoo despite a nice start this spring, flashing a little pop in his bat and above-average speed. I do believe that Big Al should look at making a deal with the Twins and have him keep playing every day. Having a player on the major league bench who has only played 29 games above Low A Ball is doing both the player and the major league team a disservice.
Week 1 is now in the books, stay tuned for Week 2 as we will see further developments and I will share my initial thoughts on how I see the pitching situation shaping up as we anxiously await Opening Day at Comerica Park on April 1st.