Well the centerfield carousel continues to turn. After Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Detroit Tigers optioned JaCoby Jones to Triple-A Toledo. Returning in his place is Victor Reyes, who was sent down two weeks ago when Nomar Mazara returned from the injured list.
The 29-year-old Jones still had two option years available, despite nearly four years of service time across part of six seasons since his 2016 debut. While he’s continued to be a steady presence patrolling centerfield, Jones’ offensive production has completely collapsed this year after looking on the verge of a breakout the past two seasons. Through 101 plate appearances this season, he’s posted just a 27 wRC+ with a 40 percent strikeout rate being the leading cause of his woes at the plate. Never one to walk much, Jones also holds just a four percent walk rate, and a miserable OBP of .208 thus far.
However, in his place, the returning Reyes holds an even more horrific .169 OBP, and retains next to zero power potential. He swung the bat far better in Toledo, where he played centerfield for 11 games, but two weeks at Triple-A doesn’t count for anything. However, Reyes only has 65 plate appearances with the Tigers this season. Hopefully, sharing a platoon with Akil Baddoo, rather than Jones and Baddoo, gets Reyes going a bit with regular playing time.
The other options were Derek Hill and Daz Cameron. Cameron has battled COVID and a string of injuries over the past year, and is just getting settled in with the Mud Hens after missing the start of the minor league season with an injury. He’s a likely candidate to get a callup this season, but the Tigers would like him to get some regular work under his belt before making the leap. Cameron, our ninth ranked Tigers prospect, did get a 17 game look in 2020, but didn’t do a whole lot at the plate.
As for Hill, the genius defensive centerfielder is a popular choice as someone we’d like to get a look at, but with little in the way of a convincing track record at the plate, particularly against right-handed pitching, the Tigers would probably like to see him get hot at the plate before getting another look at the majors. Hill got a cup of coffee in 2020, and is hitting well for Toledo, posting his usual steady walk rates and hitting for some power. Still a 30 percent strikeout rate at that level doesn’t bode real well for a move into a major league lineup. Hill is only 25, despite being the Tigers first round pick way back in 2014. A.J. Hinch has specifically mentioned wanting to give Hill a look and put that elite defensive ability to work, but it seems we’ll have to wait a while longer to see it.
In rumor territory, the New York Yankees have lost centerfielder Aaron Hicks to wrist surgery that threatens to cost him the rest of the season. Reports have had them checking in on Texas Rangers minor league outfielder Delino DeShields. DeShields is fast and a plus centerfielder, but much like the slew of Tigers options at the position, has rarely been a productive hitter. We wouldn’t mind seeing the Tigers try to move Jones or one of their other options if the Yankees are looking. Any deal along those lines is going to be of the small scale variety.
Other roster issues
Obviously, centerfield isn’t the only issue. Niko Goodrum has had a rough couple of weeks at the shortstop position, while Willi Castro has been moved off the position to second base entirely. Castro’s defensive issues have dogged his progress ever since the Tigers acquired him from Cleveland for Leonys Martin back in 2018. With his bat contributing nothing this season either, and the transition to second base going no better than his work at shortstop did, he may be the next one taking the longest of hour drives to Toledo.
Goodrum has at least been productive offensively to a league average degree. It’s unlikely he’s going anywhere soon. However, the Tigers could decide to call up infielder Zack Short from Toledo. The utilityman features a good glove, and the ability to put together pesky, quality at-bats. He’s adept at shortstop as well as second base, and would give Hinch more flexibility in how he deploys his middle infield.
Preseason sixth-ranked prospect Isaac Paredes hasn’t done much with the bat thus far, and seems unlikely to be recalled until progress is made on that front. Paredes has played third base, shortstop, and second base for the Mud Hens, but isn’t really a fit for the shortstop position at the major league level.
Finally, there’s the catcher position. The Tigers are regularly putting three catchers in the lineup, with defensive specialist Jake Rogers earning the bulk of the starts behind the plate since he was called up a few weeks back with both Wilson Ramos and Grayson Greiner hitting the injured list. Ramos hasn’t swung the bat well since his return from a back strain, and Hinch has seemed, quite reasonably, unwilling to put him behind the plate much. Meanwhile, Eric Haase has been hitting enough to get starts in left field as well as behind the plate. He isn’t the catcher Rogers is, but he’s looked good enough to supplant Ramos as the Tigers second best defensive option.
Things will get interesting when Greiner returns, but for now, he’s still on the injured list and looking at a rehab stint in Toledo that will likely be a much longer stay than he anticipates. Rogers has hit a bit, and his work behind the plate is just too valuable to the pitching staff to contemplate sending him back down unless his bat closes up shop entirely for a month. Haase’s versatility and huge raw power also seem likely to get him a very long look in the majors for now.
As for Ramos, the Tigers signed him to a two million dollar free agent contract this offseason and won’t be giving up on him anytime soon. Even for his bat—arguably the third or fourth best on the roster—he’s still too valuable to go giving up on. However, his catching work has been poor enough that he should see his AB’s come mostly in the designated hitter slot. If the bat doesn’t get going, expect another stint on the IL for the back issues. He’s also a potential low tier trade chip as several early contending teams are pretty thin at the position, to say the least.