What are Tigers doing with top prospect as position change creates questions?

SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game
SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game / Alika Jenner/GettyImages

What on earth is going on with the Detroit Tigers' third base situation? To the front office's credit, they've been able to justify a lot of their philosophies to a hesitant fanbase by getting us excited about the core of young players the Tigers are developing, as well as signing proven entities on top of bounce-back candidates for the pitching staff. However, the Tigers still seem to be making a couple of dubious decisions that seem hard to back up with any actual sense.

No. 9 prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy, an outfielder and third baseman, could be the perfect solution to the Tigers' third base woes. These Tigers are all about their young players — they signed Colt Keith to an extension without needing to see him play in a major league game. Malloy, who had a good, full season in Triple-A last year, could be another to get excited about this year. He could solve problems at third base, issues the front office wasn't willing to sign a free agent to paper over.

However, he reported to spring training in Lakeland as an corner outfielder, leaving Matt Vierling, Zach McKinstry, and Andy Ibáñez to split reps at third, perpetuating what was never an ideal situation and what was thought to be a temporary solution. Again: what's going on?

Detroit Tigers' No. 9 prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy reported to spring training as an outfielder

Malloy has as good a chance as any to come out of spring training as a non-roster invitee and make it onto the Opening Day roster. The Tigers certainly have vulnerable spots that he could easily take, given his record in Triple-A last year (.277/.417/.474 line, with 23 home runs and 83 RBI). MLB Pipeline notes that he was moved to the outfield while in Double-A, but also that the Tigers have "every reason to try Malloy [at third]."

The team's dedication to their utility men is a little baffling at this point. Vierling, an outfielder by trade, and Ibáñez had very respectable seasons last year, but there have also been questions about why the Tigers won't just settle on one of them for third base and cut through the noise instead of cycling them and McKinstry through the position. The same kind of thinking can be applied to Malloy — what's stopping them from putting him at third?

If Malloy makes the Opening Day roster as an outfielder, he'll join a pretty crowded Tigers outfield that's already populated by Riley Greene, Parker Meadows, Kerry Carpenter, and Mark Canha. Setting their sights on putting him there instead of letting him spend time at third is incredibly questionable, an unfortunate head-scratcher for a team that actually clarified a lot of other things this offseason.