The Philadelphia Phillies took down the Detroit Tigers 9-3 on Saturday, but the results for individual players trying to make the final 26 man roster are all that matter. And as those roster decisions draw near, the overall picture of the 2021 starting roster is starting to take shape.
We’ll get the bad news out of the way first. Casey Mize has little shot at the starting rotation right now. Long-term, our perspective on the former first overall pick hasn’t changed. He should develop into a pretty good starting pitcher in time, but he’s not there yet. Without a convincing performance in his next start it’s hard to imagine A.J. Hinch putting him in the rotation over both Michael Fulmer and Jose Ureña.
Mize got the start and couldn’t get out of the third inning on Saturday, surrendering six earned runs on four hits and three walks, striking out three. Bryce Harper greeted Mize with a two-run shot to deep right-center off a fourseamer in the first inning. It was Didi Gregorius who put the emphasis on the beatdown, launching a hanging slider deep to right field for a grand slam in the third inning, and knocking Mize out with just one out recorded in the frame.
The problem for Mize remains poor command, particularly of the fastball. As we’ve noted repeatedly in our scouting reports, this has been an ongoing theme even during his excellent 2019 season at the Double-A level. The velocity is consistently 94-96 mph, but it plays down a little due to Mize’s lack of extension to the plate. Now, with major league hitters refusing to offer on heaters around the zone, his mediocre fastball command is leaving him exposed when he falls behind in counts. He’s got to be more precise to get ahead of major league hitters and allow his splitter and slurve to work for him. On Saturday, he was also yanking too many splitters in the dirt, which didn’t help matters.
The Tigers, somewhat obtusely, have a highlight reel up of his three punchouts, and you’ll see that the secondary pitches remain dangerous, but considering how much quality junk Mize throws up there, it’s disconcerting to see hitters ID the fastball so consistently. In the interest of objectivity, we’ll show you the two homers he allowed as well.
Akil Baddoo is going nowhere
Akil Baddoo is not getting returned to the Minnesota Twins. That much we can say with near certainty. The Tigers Rule 5 pick has been one of the most impressive players in camp despite the fact that he went almost two full years without getting in a real game.
The 22-year-old is hitting .389 so far with outrageous OBP and slugging numbers. He’s drawn seven walks to just five strikeouts in 25 plate appearances, while showing his plus speed in the outfield. On Saturday, he launched his first home run of spring camp, and it was a screamer down the right field line.
The only question now is whether the Tigers can work out a deal with the Twins for him and acquire his full rights. GM Thad Levine has got to know that Al Avila will play chicken all year long to hang onto Baddoo as he did for Victor Reyes, but it would be best for the young outfielder to play in the upper minors this year rather than jumping all the way from A-ball to the major leagues. Hopefully a deal can be reached, but if not, Baddoo looks like the Tigers best outfield prospect after Riley Greene and there’s just no way they can let him go even if he has to be stashed on the roster all season long.
Alex Lange may eat Joe Jiménez’s lunch
It’s been another disappointing start for former closer Joe Jiménez, while relief prospect Alex Lange continues to look like a viable future setup man. Jiménez has been generally effective this spring, but it hasn’t looked great through three outings. On Saturday he walked two and allowed one earned run in his inning of work. Not terrible, and Jiménez was clearly trying to use his changeup and slider a good deal to get them in shape. The problem? After a velocity drop in 2020, he sat just 91-92 mph on Saturday. The big right-hander could see that improve in the coming weeks, but without a mid-90’s heater it’s pretty hard to see him as a viable major league reliever, and he does have options remaining.
On the flipside, Alex Lange is coming to take the spot Jiménez is losing a grip on. The former Cubs first rounder came to Detroit in the Nick Castellanos deal, and since converting to relief has seen a nice bump in fastball velocity. On Saturday, he entered the game in relief of Jiménez and was again showing 96-97 mph with good life to pair with his nasty hard curveball at 85 mph. Lange’s stiff, high effort delivery remains unrefined, and he may not locate the heater well enough to handle a major league role just yet, but he’s coming on strong and will almost certainly make his debut sometime this year.
Of course, with Derek Holland pitching well, and Jose Cisnero, Bryan Garcia, Daniel Norris, and Tyler Alexander all looking like locks in the pen, and Buck Farmer being out of options, there may not be many spots available, but the club needs another power right-hander and right now Lange, and potentially Jason Foley, look like better bets than Jiménez.
Torkelson gets off the schneid
Spencer Torkelson has had a rough go in his first look at high-end pro caliber pitching. This is of no real concern, but it had to feel good to collect his first hit of the Grapefruit League season on Saturday. He led off the eighth inning with a hard line drive single to left off veteran reliever Michael Ynoa.
Spencer Torkelson’s first hit of the spring. Save that ball! pic.twitter.com/96JQxxqzuZ— Chris Brown (@ChrisBrown0914) March 13, 2021
Ryan Kreidler continues to impress
The other real news of note came from infielder Ryan Kreidler. Kreidler was the Tigers’ fourth round pick in 2019 after a college career playing shortstop and third base for UCLA. He didn’t do a ton to impress in a brief post-draft look at pro ball, but was still on our periphery as a guy to keep an eye on. So far, he’s made that easy this spring, swinging the bat well and showcasing some nice defensive work as well. He’s still a fringe candidate who might hit enough to develop into a utilityman, but without the power potential to carry him to the majors in a full-time role. Still, he has the defensive ability to handle shortstop and third base reasonably well, and continued success this spring would boost his stock as he embarks on his first full year of pro ball at the A-ball levels.