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Detroit Tigers News: Riley Greene, Tarik Skubal shine in spring training debuts

We finally have some games under our belts and some player development to talk about!

MiLB: JUN 24 Gulf Coast League - Blue Jays at Tigers West Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a rough exhibition outing that required a walk-off hit to best the Southeastern University baseball team, the Detroit Tigers put together incrementally better performances through the rest of the weekend. They played the Philadelphia Phillies to an 8-8 tie in their Grapefruit League opener on Saturday. In split-squad action on Sunday, they defeated the Atlanta Braves by a 5-1 score behind strong outings from Ivan Nova and Matt Manning, and bested the Pittsburgh Pirates, a game that saw Riley Greene homer in his first at bat. The youngsters are giving us reason to get excited early.

The Tigers take on Houston on Monday at 1:05 p.m. While we await the start of that game, let’s see who’s in the news.

All aboard the Riley Greene hype train

It’s been quite the year for outfielder Riley Greene. After being drafted in June and moving all the way up to Single-A West Michigan, he took a little down time in the offseason, and then went immediately to work getting ready for the grind of a full year of professional baseball. He has come in to camp close to 20 pounds heavier than he was last year — the good kind of 20 pounds heavier, of course. His preparation seems to be showing; in his first spring training game, he hit a home run, walked twice, and made a nice catch in the field.

Greene will likely start the season at West Michigan again, and as for where he might end up, he’s not too concerned. He just wants to become a better ballplayer.

Tarik Skubal makes it look easy

Tarik Skubal’s spring training debut went about as well as you could hope for. In his two innings of work against Southeastern, he struck out five with 18 strikes on 22 total pitches.

Skubal worked quickly, and with his kind of stuff, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire couldn’t blame him.

“He just stands on the mound waiting for the ball,” Gardenhire said. “Why wouldn’t you if you’ve got that kind of stuff? I think I would standing there, too, saying, ‘Give me the ball.’ He has good stuff, composed, the whole package. Pretty professional kid.”

Skubal is likely to start the season in either Double- or Triple-A, depending on Toledo’s rotation. How long he stays there is an open question.

Stewart needs to produce

Coming into the spring, there are things we know about Christin Stewart. For instance, his defense isn’t great, and it likely never will be. We’re not quite as certain about his bat (in either direction), and for his sake he needs to show that there is something there. After a disappointing 2019 season that saw Stewart strikeout 103 times in 104 games, he knows that he needs to do better at the plate. He sees last season’s struggles as a learning experience.

“I learned a ton about myself last year as a player and personally,” Stewart said. “I learned what I do well, what I need to work on. Just playing at the big-league level, you gain some confidence competing and doing well. You also learn about the different pitchers in the league once you faced them so many times. That will help me in the long run.”

It’s healthy to have a “long run” perspective, but to get to that point the organization is going to need some short run improvement.

Hill climbs

It’s been a long road to this year’s spring training for Derek Hill, but for now he’s just happy to be here. Injuries have plagued the early part of his career and slowed his progress toward possibly contributing to the major league club in the future. While the injuries have taken their toll, they have provided the young player with the opportunity to develop his mental resilience.

“On the mental side, I’d probably say, has been the biggest growth,” Hill said. “Obviously, my body’s changed a little bit, but more mental, just being able to get through the ups and the downs of the season a lot cleaner, and staying out of those valleys for extended periods of time, unlike previous years.”

The other thing he needs to develop is his bat. There is little question that his defense is ready for the big time, but with a healthy year in Double-A last year he only managed a .705 OPS — although he did hit 14 home runs. After a slightly better showing in the Arizona Fall League, he used the offseason to focus on his swing. Hopefully the course of this season bears some positive results.

Around the horn

The players union would prefer that the Rays stay put, but could approve the Montreal plan. The greatest, most dangerous minor league promotion ever. Philadelphia Phillies unveil a new look Phanatic. Madison Bumgarner has been competing in rodeos under a fake name.

Baseball is awesome