A game winning grand slam, a diving catch on a ball hit into deep left center field, a couple more RBI in key situations, a few comments from Jim Leyland, and suddenly, Quintin Berry found his name in the conversation when the last roster spot on the Tigers was being discussed (at least temporarily). Berry may have been sent to minor-league camp on Monday, but it might not be the last we hear of him.
So who is Quintin Berry, and where did he come from?
If you search the transaction records on the Tigers’ website, you won’t even find Berry’s invitation to spring training listed. Berry is a 27-year-old left-handed hitting and lefty throwing outfielder who is known much more for his speed and his defense than he is for his power, although he has shown some surprising pop in his bat with the Tigers this spring.
Across five seasons in the minor leagues, Berry has a .267 average, an on base percentage of .355 and a modest slugging percentage of .339 for an OPS of .697. He has stolen more than 40 bases in four of his five seasons, and swiped over 50 bags twice. He has never homered more than six times in a season, which he did last summer, averaging four homers and 40 RBI over his pro career.
Berry was drafted by the Phillies out of San Diego State in the fifth round of the 2006 amateur player draft, and he has yet to play a game in the major leagues. He has been an All Star at the minor league levels with Phillies affiliates in the Low-A South Atlantic League, in Advanced-A Florida State League, and Double-A Eastern League, in three separate seasons. He was added to the Phil’s 40-man roster after the 2009 season and seemed to be progressing at a steady pace until the summer of 2010 when, mired in a bad slump, the Phillies put him on waivers in July. Berry was claimed by his home town Padres for the remainder of that season, but he continued to struggle at the plate. He was outrighted back to Double A in August, and became a free agent after the season.
Berry signed a minor league contract with the Reds for the 2011 season and rebounded fairly well, hitting .297 with a .399 OBP and 42 steals as well as pushing his OPS above .800 for the first time at Double-A Redding with a brief foray up to Triple A Louisville. The Reds did not give him a roster spot after the season, so he was once again a free agent, which led him to sign with the Tigers, who gave him an invitation to spring training.
Berry wasted no time getting himself noticed by the Tigers when he laced a two run triple into the gap in a game against the Blue Jays to give the Tigers a victory. A week later, he singled home the winning run in the tenth inning to lift the Tigers over the Mets, and the heroics continued with a ninth inning grand slam over the center field fence to beat the Pirates. Once again, this is a player that is not at all known for his power.
Berry showed why he has a reputation for his fielding on Sunday, making two running catches against the Yankees. In the first inning, he sprinted with his back to home plate to flag down a ball hit to the warning track off the bat of Robinson Cano. In the bottom of the ninth, with the game tied, Berry made the defensive play of the spring with his now famous diving catch.
Recent comments from Jim Leyland suggest that Berry may yet find a spot on the Tigers' roster at some point this season, something nobody would have expected when they first arrived in Lakeland.
MLive's Chris Iott quotes Leyland on Monday:
"I find it hard to believe he can't be or isn't at least a utility player in the big leagues. I didn't know Berry much, but Berry's attractive to me because of that speed. ... He made a heck of an impression. That's another weapon, and we don't have much of it."
What would Berry bring to the Tigers? Two qualities stand out; speed and defense. The Tigers are a notoriously slow team. Their bench would have the likes of Laird, Dirks or Thomas, and maybe a Santiago or Raburn. Not exactly the jet set. And while Clete Thomas is possibly the best defensive outfielder they have other than Austin Jackson, he isn’t exactly hitting the cover off the ball and he has a habit of going into prolonged slumps at the plate. If he’s not in the picture, Plan B for center field would be Dirks. While Andy has hit better than Thomas, he still managed only a .251 average with an OBP under .300 last season. Not exactly lead off material.
Suppose that Austin Jackson struggles in the lead off role again. Is Dirks going to be able to replace him in center field, or batting lead off? I wouldn’t think so. Or suppose Leyland feels that he is not getting the right combination of offense, defense, and speed from Dirks or Thomas? If so, there may be a role for Berry, under the right set of circumstances.