It’s been an intriguing summer for followers of the Detroit Tigers organization. The major league club is putting up a scrappy effort night in and night out and more than a few fans are thinking competitive times are looming. Many believe the glaring need is a fixture at shortstop to vault the club ahead in ‘22.
On the farm in the Detroit Tigers’ system, a cadre of potential young stars are moving through the various levels providing hope for the future.
Early in the year, the major buzz was around three guys in particular. Outfielder Riley Greene, 1B/3B Spencer Torkelson, and catcher Dillon Dingler. Torkelson and Dingler would be promoted in fairly quick fashion out High-A West Michigan to join Greene in Erie at the Double-A level. Suddenly the Big Three were together.
What few were noticing is another player in Erie was making moves beneath the radar to get himself noticed. 2019’s 4th round pick Ryan Kreidler was showing some power, playing a smooth shortstop and holding up offensively overall despite a high K-rate at Erie.
Soon thereafter it was decided Dingler would need more time in Erie—completely understandable for a catcher drafted in ‘20—and when Torkelson and Greene were ticketed to Triple-A Toledo a few weeks ago it was the unheralded Kreidler joining them.
When you consider many observers of minor league development were initially quite surprised Kreidler was getting such a high assignment to Erie it now qualifies as a “whirlwind summer”.
The Early Road
Kreidler is a native of Davis, CA who accepted a spot at UCLA. After two years of modest offensive production as a Bruin, he burst out in his junior season. Playing a lot third base, Kreidler slashed a very sturdy .300/.370/.502 with an 8.8% walk rate against a 17.6% K-rate.
This effort was enough to get the Tigers to invest their 4th round pick (112th overall) in the ‘19 draft on Kreidler.
Kreidler signed and was sent to the Connecticut Tigers (remember them?!?) for 60 games of rookie ball action. Like a lot of guys who had just completed a college season the immediate adjustment to pro ball was rather forgettable with a slash of .232/.307/.351.
Then the five-letter word—COVID—flipped society on its ear. Among the less important casualties in the world, minor league baseball was shelved in ‘20. Kreidler would join ballplayers across the league in alternative camp limbo.
Summer of ‘21
Kreidler has made the most of the Detroit Tigers’ aggressive placement. It’s obvious he opened some eyes in ‘20 during the quarantine ball. He’s taken the opportunity to start putting himself in conversations about the big club’s future even if that’s slightly premature.
Things went well overall at Erie for Kreidler. He smashed 15 homers and 15 doubles in only 379 plate appearances which will get a shortstop noticed. He stole 10 bags as well. Kreidler was striking out at a 31% clip which kept his average muted at .256 but an 8.5% walk rate countered at least some portion of the whiffs. To be fair it’s probably not a huge shock after a year off and with precious few pro-at-bats, Kreidler was adjusting to Double-A and the K’s were the cost of doing business.
Evidently, the Tigers weren’t concerned. The order came down for Kreidler to be a Mudhen. He’s taken the chance and bolted from the starting blocks in Triple-A.
Kreidler is hitting a sweet .330 with a .976 OPS in his first 102 plate appearances. He’s hammered five homers and five doubles in that time. Fans are getting that scent a hot prospect puts out.
Kreidler has dramatically cut his K-rate in Toledo as well. He’s now only a whiff victim 21.4% of the time and he’s walking in 14.4% plate appearances. The question is if he’s really made these strides on his own or is the level of Triple-A pitching so weak in ‘21 Kreidler is in the right place at the right time.
The Hens visited Des Moines last week to take on the I-Cubs. It was a no-contest matchup. The Cubs pitching staff was basically the Washington Generals with the Hens playing the role of the Harlem Globetrotters. It was a good hitting environment, to say the least.
Kreidler took advantage. High-quality at-bats were the order of the series. Kreidler showed power to all fields. A long homer, a scorching liner that ate the shortstop alive, a double off the wall, a couple of walks, a steal, etc…Kreidler produced and he did it while only looking fooled by maybe one pitch in the three games where I had a look.
Defensively he appeared solid. Good arm strength. Natural movements at the position despite his 6’4” frame. The highlight was a play deep in the hole with a jump throw on the money to squelch a rally. There was plenty for a fan to dream on displayed in that one moment.
Is there a Use-By Date for Ryan Kreidler?
With Kreidler on the prowl for a future in Detroit, should the Tigers still aggressively pursue one of the established veterans on the market? After all, Kreidler is now ostensibly on the doorstep just one notch below the majors.
Answer….” Yes”. The Tigers need premium talent. They can, in fact, use it at nearly every position in their lineup. Ryan Kreidler isn’t a guy at this point where you alter any future plans to get after Carlos Correa, Marcus Semien, Corey Seager, or Trevor Story.
Despite the recent fireworks, there is no guarantee Kreidler is the next Travis Fryman (initially a SS) out of the Tigers system. He could be the next Danny Worth too.
Kreidler is still well beneath 800 plate appearances as a pro and he missed one year in the middle. At age 23, he still has time to spend honing his craft defensively and developing as a hitter.
Kreidler would seem to be a player who might debut for a few at-bats as a Tiger in ‘22 but is more likely a roster hopeful for ‘23. If the Tigers have added a marquee shortstop in the interim Kreidler could easily transition somewhere else in the infield. He probably has the speed and arm to play a corner outfield if necessary. He might have the pop in his bat to carry that off as well.
Is Kreidler possibly the Tigers shortstop of the future? It’s within reason to think so. He’s had a good year with 20 homers and no big defensive red flags. The Tigers must believe something is there because they’ve pushed him this year ever since the Spring and he hasn’t faltered yet.
Ultimately the spending habits of Chris Ilitch will determine Kreidler’s future just as much as his own development as a player. If Detroit snares one of the big FA shortstops you can see a position switch brewing for Kreidler. If they don’t…it’s not hard to see him as the Opening Day shortstop in 2023 or 2024.