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Shortstop Ryan Kreidler was the Tigers’ breakout prospect in 2021

No one returned from the off year with a breakout better than Kreidler’s.

MiLB: AUG 17 Indianapolis Indians at Toledo Mud Hens Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The great frustration of the Detroit Tigers’ farm system over the last decade, has been a dire lack of good hitters. Top prospects Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson have finally changed the equation, but a system that can’t produce major league contributors without top draft picks is going to have a hard time sustaining a consistent winner. So it was a very pleasant surprise to see shortstop Ryan Kreidler emerge from the off year with an excellent season that vaulted him up Tigers’ prospect lists.

Kreidler is not billed as a future starting infielder yet, but his breakout changes the way the Tigers’ infield depth looks heading into the 2022 season. Alongside Isaac Paredes, the organization now has two decently talented young infielders to add to the mix as needed, and in Kreidler’s case, a solid defensive shortstop as well. We’d still love to see a bench upgrade for the Tigers whenever free agency re-opens, but the organization is rightly going to want to see what they’ve got in the pair if an injury to one of the starters occurs. For now, Kreidler’s strong 2021 season is enough to make him our eighth-ranked Tigers’ prospect.

Background

The 24-year-old Kreidler hails from California and played his college ball at UCLA. The Tigers selected him in the fourth round of the 2019 amateur draft to generally complimentary reviews. Despite a rangy, 6-foot, 4-inch frame, Kreidler didn’t impress with his power potential in college. Still, he was a quality defensive shortstop who made a lot of contact, and had some physical projection remaining. He handled rookie ball decently well post-draft, but certainly looked to have the ceiling of a bench player.

During the 2020 season, with no minor league ball, Kreidler followed in the footsteps of Jake Rogers and Derek Hill, working with private hitting instructor Doug Latta. The results unlocked his power, and he handled a slightly aggressive assignment to Double-A Erie in 2021 pretty well. Most importantly, he hit 15 home runs in 88 games, cooling doubts about his low power profile in college. Even better, he finished the season on an absolute tear after being promoted to Triple-A Toledo in August. In 44 games, Kreidler slashed his strikeout rate, nearly doubled his walk rate, and continued to drive the ball out of the park with seven more home runs.

Profile

The initial basis for Kreidler’s value as a prospect came from his defense and contact ability. However, the growth witnessed during his strong 2021 campaign has raised expectations. The swing changes added a little loft to his swing and helped him leverage more of his raw power. Those improvements seem likely to stick, and the fact that he finished the season strong with the Mud Hens, while showing more patience than he had earlier in the season, left things on a promising note.

During the off year, Kreidler and Latta narrowed his stance and changed to a more upright posture with higher hands, freeing up his lower half in the batter’s box and helping him leverage the latent power in his 6-foot, 4-inch frame. With a bit of leg kick added, Kreidler was able to stay back and leverage his weight more effectively. The slashing stroke he’d had in college was a lot more rotational, and while he sprayed line drives and ground balls around effectively at that level, more hard contact in the air was required for success in pro ball, and Kreidler’s hard work paid off in 2021.

Our friends over at Tigers Minor League Report have a nice recap of Kreidler’s 22 home run barrage last year.

Suddenly, the Tigers have themselves a guy who could potentially hit 20-25 home runs while playing roughly average shortstop. That’s pretty exciting. The question that remains is whether he can hit enough at the major league level to get to that power, or if his outburst this year was close to his peak.

Throughout the summer at Erie, Kreidler was still struggling with right-handed pitching. He was still mashing mistakes from right-handers, but remained too vulnerable to anyone with a quality slider. Overall he struck out 30.7 percent of the time at Double-A, putting a bit of a damper on the power display.

However, he seemed to be adjusting to both his new swing and the improved quality of pitching he was seeing over the final third of his season. At the Triple-A level, he cut the strikeouts down to a more manageable 24.1 percent, while continuing to hit for good power. It wasn’t a big sample, and he continued to struggle more with right-handers, but the fact that he finished strong while moving up a level lends some credence to the idea that he’s not done improving yet.

Right now, Kreidler looks like a potentially good utilityman. A little more is required to really convince scouts he’s a future starting shortstop in the majors. The Tigers will continue to play him mostly at shortstop as long as possible, and according to general manager Al Avila, have received some trade interest in him. But with Javier Báez now likely ensconced at the shortstop position for some time to come, his future with the franchise looks more like a utilityman who plays and pinch-hits most against left-handed pitching. As Kreidler already handles shortstop to a solid level, we can presume he has the versatility to handle the other infield positions and perhaps play some corner outfield as needed. It will be interesting to see if the Tigers start preparing him for a utility role this season, or whether he ends up in a trade for major league pitching instead.

Projected 2022 team: Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens

This is an easy one. Unless something wild happens once spring camp for the major leaguers, in whatever form it may take, gets underway, Ryan Kreidler will be Lloyd McClendon’s starting shortstop to begin the year. The odds that he makes his major league debut in 2022 are very high. If he can build on his progress and get out to a strong start, no doubt Tigers’ manager A.J. Hinch will find a way to get him some looks at the major league level. Otherwise he’ll have to wait for an opening in the roster due to injury or ineffectiveness later on in the summer months.