It wasn’t too long ago that the Detroit Tigers world was abuzz for Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Isaac Paredes to make their major league debut. Two of those three stuck immediately despite struggling in 2020, and then improved substantially in 2021. It was Paredes who didn’t seem ready through a short 108 plate appearance sample size in 2020. That happens, and of course the precocious infielder is the younger of the group by two years. He came back a little better this past season, but was still unable to produce at the plate.
For Paredes it was hard to find a place to break in. He’s a third baseman by trade, with growing experience at second base and some experience as a shortstop. With the likes of incumbents Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop, and now newcomer Javier Báez, there isn’t a lot of room on the infield. That, once again, will leave Paredes on the fringes of the Tigers roster looking for a way in.
While depth is a good problem to have, there might be a future where the lineup card puzzle intensifies and Paredes commands more at bats. He’s slashing .282/.436/.408 with more walks than strikeouts in Mexican Pacific Winter League, though he actually hit better down there last winter, showing more power. Still those current numbers are closer to what was expected from him during his MLB debut. He had elite contact rates in 2019 and boasts a great eye. In that sense he’s the embodiment of the term “professional at-bats.” The question still remains whether he can start doing enough damage to find a role in a Tigers lineup that is on a decided upswing.
Improvements in 2021
Paredes’ biggest sign of weakness in his first tour of the majors in 2020 was that he struck out 22 percent of the time, a rate unheard of at any of his other stops. His walks were down too. That corrected itself in another short 85 PA MLB sample in 2021. He walked 11.8 percent of the time with a 12.9 percent strikeout rate. Much closer to what he’d done at prior levels. Still, he slashed only .208/.306/.319.
Playing in small samples is tough to tell anything. Paredes spent most of the season in Toledo, where he hit much better through 315 PA. He smacked 11 homeruns, which was some of the best power output of his career. Again, though, the approach was great. He walked more than he struck out, posting an amazing walk rate north of 17 percent. Paredes’ strikeout rate was just shy of 16 percent.
Outside of his launch angle, there was nothing drastically different in his contact profile. His average exit velocity mark sits in the mid-80’s, which is the real crux of his issues. His launch angle more than doubled, so he was lifting the ball more in his second small MLB sample. Part of the reason for that is simply that he saw more fastballs and less offspeed. He was able to capitalize more on his excellent hand-eye coordination.
That correlated to some significant changes in what he was swinging at, and what happened when Paredes decided to swing. The biggest difference is that he swung at less pitches outside of the zone. A significantly less amount. His swinging strike percentage dropped, too. It’s a numbers oriented way to say he looked more like what we though Paredes would look like.
When all is said and done he was still worth less fWAR and wRC+ than he was in his first go around in 2020. That is partly because he was forced to play out of position defensively. He spent 15 games at second base or shortstop and only eight at third base, his natural position.
All of these are small sample sizes, so we’re not terribly interested in his total production by WAR. He played all three positions in Toledo and he played them well enough for it to work. That is really good news for both Paredes and the Tigers. He has soft enough hands to be a good second baseman, as seen below. The only question will be if he can have the range to play in the middle infield. Any range he does have will come from his reactions more than anything else. Still, the second base position has evolved with the shift over the past decade, and with good positioning, soft hands, and quick reactions, he should be fine there in time.
Where Does He Fit?
His approach improvements are great, but it still doesn’t explain where he fits on this roster. Early in the year the Tigers could play Paredes at second base and move Jonathan Schoop to first. Or, they could move Jeimer Candelario to first and let Paredes play third in the short term. Otherwise, at bats will be hard to come by and there isn’t much Paredes can do at the Triple-A level to force his way into the Tigers’ lineup. In either scenario, there’s a Spencer Torkelson-sized elephant breathing down Paredes’ neck. That means defensive versatility is going to be a must, yet Paredes doesn’t run well enough to play the outfield, making this a tight needle to thread.
At a glance, without injuries, Paredes looks as if he could get lost in the shuffle. Especially with Willi and Harold Castro, Kody Clemens, Ryan Kreidler, and Zack Short likely to get looks in the infield as well, it’s hard to see where the at-bats are going to come from, though Paredes still packs one of the best bats of the bunch. It’s just a bit crowded at this point, with only Kreidler holding any really notable trade value. That’s a good problem to have, and the Tigers can expect reasonably solid depth for the infield as a result, but we’ve quickly reached the point here where they have multiple infielders they’d like to test at the major league level, and precious little playing time with which to do it.
Paredes brings something to the table that is ultimately lacking among the rest of the Tigers offense, though. He can get on base and draw walks. As a team, Detroit was in the bottom third of the league in walk percentage and on base percentage. They were also third in the league in strikeout percentage. Javier Báez won’t help in either regard, but Paredes provides immediate help in those areas. That’s why it’s so encouraging to see the improvements in approach, even in the small samples sizes.
From a once highly regarded prospect, to a place where he will have to compete for a bench or utility role on the Tigers was a quick fall. It speaks more to the growth of the team than the fall of Paredes, himself. His skills, while largely unique to the rest of the Detroit roster, still need to translate to more success at the big league level. Something he might be able to get with a bigger sample size. Therein lies the issue. If he continues to walk and limit strikeouts, the rest has a chance to figure itself out.
Once the lockout (yay, optimism!) is over and Spring Training commences, Paredes has an uphill battle to earn a spot. The fact he was passed over a lot when infield help was needed in 2021 doesn’t bode well for his future role, and a pair of uninspiring seasons back-to-back haven’t helped his value as a potential trade chip either. However, if the Tigers hold Spencer Torkelson back and play Jonathan Schoop at first early in the season, there will be an opportunity for Paredes to show his stuff.
Earning a full-time role may be impossible without a major injury in the infield, but a successful stretch and more in-game power could build enough trade value to land him in an organization with more opportunities for him to develop. Or, should the Tigers choose, they could hang onto Paredes as insurance in case Schoop has a strong 2022 and decides to opt-out of his deal and try his luck in free agency again. One way or the other, this feels like a crucial season for Paredes to make his mark, yet finding him the playing time to do so is going to be difficult.