After Tuesday night’s victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, the Detroit Tigers announced that they have optioned outfielder Christin Stewart to their alternate training site in Toledo. The move wasn’t so surprising considering his struggles at the plate, but the question is, who comes up to replace him?
Manager Ron Gardenhire teased us a bit in his post-game press conference. According to Gardenhire, the call-up will be a “fun thing for Tigers fans.” That led to a lot of mock Yasiel Puig enthusiasm on Twitter. However, coming up with the real answer is trickier. Assuming the Tigers are going to use someone on the 40-man roster, the two likeliest names seem to be outfielder Daz Cameron and right-handed pitching prospect Franklin Perez.
The thing that keeps catching us short as we ponder this, is the fact that Gardenhire specifically teased the announcement. That kind of treatment is typically reserved for the club’s top prospects. We got a similar public relations spectacle when Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Isaac Paredes were called up in mid-August. Interesting, but lower tier prospects like Willi Castro haven’t gotten the same fanfare.
This had led to just a tiny bit of Riley Greene fever on social media on Tuesday night. Most are keeping a cool head here, but the fact that the Tigers optioned an outfielder would tend to indicate a corresponding positional move. Complicating the thought process is the fact that the status of guys like JaCoby Jones, Ivan Nova, and Jordan Zimmermann is unknown. The Tigers could certainly open a 40-man roster spot if they really want to, either by putting one of the three on the long-term injured list, or by simply releasing Nova or Zimmermann. That kind of release doesn’t seem at all like the Tigers’ style, particularly in Zimmermann’s case, but it’s enough to know they have potential to open a spot on the active roster.
Right now, Cameron would seem the obvious move. He’s a good defensive outfielder with some power, and the Tigers could use that help. He’s already on the 40-man roster as well. Two things give us a bit of pause, however.
First Cameron hasn’t even officially been announced as clearing the COVID IL list. Secondly, reports indicate that he’s only been in Toledo for about two weeks. That’s not much time for a hitter who struggled quite a bit in his first full season at the Triple-A level last year. Cameron remains the most likely suspect here, but let’s consider two other possibilities.
The Tigers used just about all their best relief arms on Tuesday night trying to lock down a game in which they had built a six, and then an eight run lead through the seventh inning. They’re about to play six games in five days, with a doubleheader and two flights involved. It’s going to a hectic an exhausting few days. If they believe they need another arm to help in the bullpen, former top prospect Franklin Perez is the only one who fits on the “fun meter.”
Perez has been a walking injury report since the Tigers acquired him in the Justin Verlander trade, throwing just 27 total innings over the past two seasons. However, he reemerged in the spring, and like most brief glimpses we’ve had of him, he still looked pretty good. His command and his fastball appeared intact, and it’s worth remembering that he was widely considered a very advanced prospect even at age 19 when the Tigers acquired him. If Perez has progressed in Toledo, he would certainly make sense as a bulwark for a tired bullpen.
Finally, there is Riley Greene, the club’s first round pick in 2019. The young outfielder’s progress has been excellent, and he really showed out against far more experienced major league competition in spring training back in February and March. Greene certainly appears on the fast track, and no one would light up the fanbase more in terms of a fun move.
However, that seems like crazy talk. Greene has barely played games in pro ball and none above Class-A level other than Grapefruit League action. He’s been outstanding, and may be the Tigers most exciting overall prospect, but this would be extremely hasty. If his progress has been this rapid, and the Tigers really believe he can contribute to this surprising push toward the playoffs? Great. But starting his clock so early would require a level of certainty that is impossible to have without seeing him in real games against upper level competition.
We’re pretty confident you can remove Greene from the equation, and rightly so. Unless Gardenhire is trolling us prior to a Dawel Lugo or Nolan Blackwood callup, Cameron and Perez are the smart money.
If you’d like to parse Gardenhire’s tone and expressions for subliminal hints, here is the post-game presser.
As for Christin Stewart, it’s been a rough go since his debut, two years ago to the day, in Comerica Park against the St. Louis Cardinals. Through 576 plate appearances, just shy of a full regular season, he holds a 79 wRC+. For a player whose only quality tool in the minor leagues was a powerful bat, that just isn’t getting it done.
Now 26 years old, the outfielder has been a mess this season, putting up just a 45 wRC+, meaning he’s been 55 percent worse than league average. The Tigers will try to tune him up and give it another go next season, but time is running short for him without some real signs of improvement.