The Tigers’ uncertain outfield offers a chance for young players to carve out a role for themselves

The Tigers’ uncertain outfield offers a chance for young players to carve out a role for themselves

The Tigers have had a fairly quiet offseason. First-year baseball operations leader Scott Harris has avoided long-term additions immediately after the team’s “Murphy’s Law” 2022 campaign. The club did a couple of backwards rolls of the dice in matt boyd Y michael lorenzen for the rotation, probably with an eye toward a potential deadline deal if they get off to a good start. they have sent Gregory Soto Y joseph jimenez and could consider more bullpen draws.

Detroit hasn’t added any dunk regulars to the position player side in recent months. They brought in a couple of higher level players on the Soto deal who could factor into the mix. No one acquired this offseason should be guaranteed a day job, and the underperformance of the entire lineup last year means there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the diamond. That’s particularly true in the outfield, where Detroit has a handful of options that could compete for a spot in AJ Hinch’s lineup early in the year.

alignment locks

Greene is a lock for the center field spot if he’s healthy. The former fifth overall pick has raked in throughout his minor league career and entered 2022 as one of the top prospects in the game. He seemed trending toward an MLB job outside of camp last year, but a broken foot from spring training kept him on the disabled list and required recovery time at Triple-A Toledo.

The Tigers called up the left-handed hitter in mid-June. He was the club’s center fielder from then on, starting 93 games. Greene hit .253/.321/.362 with five home runs in his first 418 MLB plate appearances. While it wasn’t the mind-blowing debut some other rookies in the class enjoyed, hitting at a league level or so in the majors at age 21 is no mean feat. He grounded too many, but posted above-average exit velocities and solid contact skills. He is a solid offensive point guard and arguably the most important player in the organization. Some prospect evaluators have suggested that he might eventually be a better fit in left field than center, but there’s no real reason Detroit would move him to a corner in what will be an evaluative year anyway.

Like Greene, Meadows will also be an everyday player if he’s healthy. Unfortunately, he’s coming off an almost totally lost season. Acquired from the Rays during Spring Training, he only appeared in 36 games with Detroit during his first year as a Tiger. He battled vertigo-like symptoms earlier in the year, then lost time after contracting COVID-19. While trying to climb back up, he strained both Achilles tendons. Towards the end of the season, he and the club agreed to shut down his rehab so he could focus on his mental health.

Getting Meadows fit both physically and mentally is obviously the top priority and a prerequisite for him to rediscover his past success. He has shown the ability to be an impactful left-handed power bat in his prime, twice hitting 25 home runs during his tenure at Tampa Bay. Meadows is limited to corner field or designated hitter and should have an extended career somewhere, assuming he’s ready to return to the diamond. With two seasons of arbitration control remaining, he could be a trade candidate at the deadline if he gets back on track.

MLB Instant Mix

Baddoo seemed like a great find for Detroit’s scouting team in 2021. Drafted into Minnesota’s Rule 5 system, he stayed on the roster and played in 124 games as a rookie. Despite making the jump straight out of High-A, the left-handed hitter hit a solid .259/.330/.436 slash with 13 home runs and 18 stolen bases in his first 461 major league plate appearances. It would have been a great performance for any player, but it was particularly impressive for a Rule 5 selection.

The Tigers secured their long-term contract rights and opened last season with Baddoo in center field. His sophomore year against the big league guns was a major fight. He stumbled to a .204/.289/.269 slash line in 225 plate appearances, seeing his power output and hard-contact rate dwindle. The Tigers traded him to Toledo in early May. He responded extremely well to demotion, hitting .300/.405/.500 in 30 games during his first real action in the upper minors. Detroit called him up around All-Star Break, but he again hit below-average down the stretch.

Baddoo is still only 24 years old. He has shown a patient approach at the MLB level and plays more defense in the corner outfield (although he is stretched out in center field). His strong performance at Triple-A means 2022 wasn’t a complete lose year, though he’ll need to make a bigger offensive impact against MLB pitchers to establish himself. He still has two minor league options left, so the Tigers can keep him in Detroit or Toledo depending on his performance.

A former 19th-round pick, Carpenter wasn’t considered by most evaluators to be more than an organizational depth player heading into last season. He altered that perception with a break showing in the upper minors. Between Double-A Erie and Toledo, Carpenter hit 30 home runs with a massive .313/.380/.645 line in 400 plate appearances. He earned his first MLB call-up in August and hit another six long passes while hitting .252/.310/.485 in 31 games.

The 25-year-old has firmly put himself in the mix for game time. However, there is still some skepticism about the viability of him as a long-term regular. He’s limited to the corners and is considered a below-average defender there, raising the possibility that he’s best suited for the DH job. He has great power but an aggressive offensive approach that could limit his on-base marking. Baseball America named him the #8 prospect in Detroit’s system last month, calling him a potential low-end regular or left-handed platoon hitter. While that would be a great result for a 19-round pick, Carpenter should get a chance to see if he can top that projection this year. He still has three options left.

Acquired from the Phillies in the Soto deal, the 26-year-old Vierling steps right into the outfield equation. He has appeared in 151 games with Philadelphia over the past two seasons, hitting .260/.309/.374 in 434 plate appearances. After accounting for the Phils’ hitter-friendly stadium, that registered 12 percentage points below the league average, as measured by wRC+. He hasn’t hit for a ton of power and has walked at a mere 6.2% pace, reducing his on-base numbers.

While Vierling hasn’t established himself against major league pitchers, he has displayed some interesting traits. He made hard contact with an excellent 48.2% pace while displaying strong bat-to-ball skills. A right-handed hitter, he has posted solid numbers against lefties (.307/.343/.423) while battling same-handed pitching (.227/.285/.339). Vierling bounced around the diamond in Philadelphia, playing all three outfield spots with occasional glances at the infield dirt.

Public defensive metrics have not liked his work in center field. He’s probably better suited to a corner as he covers center field and second or third base in a pinch. At least it’s easy to see him carve out a multi-position role against lefties with the potential to take on more responsibility if he can translate his promising underlying offensive metrics into more consistent production. He has one option season remaining.

multipositional options

Also part of Soto’s deal with Philadelphia, Maton is a left-handed hitting utility. He’s primarily an infielder, but he could see some time in the corner outfield if the Tigers are looking for ways to get him into the lineup. He owns a .254/.330/.434 line in 87 career MLB games and posted a strong .261/.368/.436 slash in 250 Triple-A plate appearances last year.

It’s essentially the same story with Kreidler, who BA ranked as Detroit’s No. 9 prospect. He has spent virtually his entire career as an infielder, playing primarily shortstop in the minor leagues. Kreidler’s professional outfield experience consists of two MLB entries working center field last season, so Detroit may not consider him a real option for the outfield. However, it’s not uncommon to see multi-position infielders eventually branch out into corner fieldwork, as expanded defensive flexibility increases their utility off the bench. Kreidler is a good enough athlete, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Tigers experiment with him in the outfield at some point. However, the most direct path to playing time for both Maton and Kreidler is at second/third base.

Haase has some experience in left field in his MLB career. He is primarily a catcher who hits the lead and has spent most of his time behind the plate. As it is, he looks like Detroit’s No. 1 catcher. If a player likes donny sands, jake rogers or unlisted guest austin wynns takes advantage of most of the receiving time, Haase could consider the corner outfield combination more often.

End of season chances

Detroit also has a couple of notable outfield prospects who could factor into the mix in 2023. Former second-round pick parker meadows he hit .275/.354/.466 with 16 long balls and 17 stolen bases in 113 games for Erie last year. He walked a strong 10.6% pace while cutting his strikeout rate to a career-low 18.4%. He just turned 23 and is already on the 40-player roster.

Justyn Henry Malloy, 23 the next month, arrived from the Braves in the Jimenez trade. The right-handed hitter traversed through three minor league levels in 2022, briefly reaching Triple-A after strong performances at both High-A and Double-A. Malloy walked a massive 18.1% pace en route to a .268/.403/.421 slash line in 54 Double-A contests. He is still not in the 40 men.

Both Meadows and Malloy are listed to start next season with Toledo. There’s no need for Detroit to push any of the players to the majors before management is convinced they’re ready. With another solid showing in the upper minors, anyone could put themselves on the map for a midseason promotion. In the meantime, the Tigers will hope to see the likes of Baddoo, Carpenter and Vierling to determine where that group fits in the long-term picture.

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