The resolution of baseball’s near labor crisis means that MLB teams can transition from minor league minicamps to full spring activities with the major league team. For the Detroit Tigers, full workouts begin on Monday, with the abbreviated Grapefruit League season beginning on Friday, March 18 against the Philadelphia Phillies. Accompanying that transition is the announcement of 18 non-roster invitees to be included in major league camp, pulled from among the players within the organization not on the 40-man roster.
Some of these players are prospects the team wants to give their MLB staff a good look at, but a few are of the minor league signing variety who have a shot at making the major leagues as break-glass options. A mix of minor league veterans like Jacob Robson and Josh Lester rounds out the list. Let’s take a look at what these players bring to the table and which ones have a shot at making the team.
Ryan Kreidler is a shortstop who rocked the Tigers’ farm system in 2021. He was drafted as toughness and grit middle infielder who wasn’t expected to do a ton at the plate but overturned those expectations by hitting well at Double-A and ripping a .304/.407/.519 line with the Toledo Mud Hens. He’s got a shot at backing up the Tigers’ middle inifield, especially if they can’t produce a reliable starting second baseman. Mileage varies when it comes to prospect analysts’. Faith in his abilities at the major league level, but he’ll get a chance to prove his worth.
If it feels like Josh Lester has been around forever, that’s because he was drafted in 2015 and has slowly mashed his way up the ladder in the years since. He hit for a 151 wRC+ in an 84 game span with the SeaWolves last season but has yet to make the leap to Triple-A ball with success. The Tigers are probably keeping him in major league camp to gauge whether they can lean on him if Spencer Torkelson or Jeimer Candelario go down with an injury.
Second baseman Jack Lopez is a journeyman minor leaguer with time logged in Kansas City and Atlanta’s systems before getting a 7-game cup of coffee with the Red Sox last season. He latched onto the Tigers this season, signing a minor league deal in early February. He doesn’t do much with the bat — he’s 29 and has never been an average hitter by wRC+ In any level with a sample size over three games.
Spencer Torkelson needs no introduction among Bless You Boys readership. The first baseman was drafted first overall in 2020 and he rewarded the Tigers’ faith in him with a triumphant season when the minor leagues returned in 2021. He’s going play in the major leagues this season, it’s just a question of when. Before the new CBA was inked, it seemed likely the team would keep him in the minors until an extra year of service time could be gained. Newly minted draft incentives now in place for a team to have the Rookie of the Year on their opening roster may alter the equation.
In that same vein, there’s a good opportunity for Riley Greene to become the Tigers’ center fielder in their opening series. He’s an instinctive hitter who rocketed through Detroit’s farm system and established listed himself as one of the game’s bets prospects. He’s as driven as anyone you’ll meet, using pre-draft criticisms of his speed and doubts about his ability to play up the middle to fuel his progression as a fielder. Now, he’s one of the most anticipated players in the team’s rebuild and another legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.
Jacob Robson fell into the infatuation of much of the Tigers’ fanbase with a handful of strong minor league stints in 2019. He continued hitting well in 2021 but struggled during his small major league opportunity at the end of last season. The Tigers need quality outfield depth, so he is probably in a similar situation as Josh Lester, being evaluated for his dependability if the need arises.
Dillon Dingler is an especially athletic bat-first catcher who got some helium just before the 2020 draft and has propelled himself to a spot just outside the consensus group of top-100 prospects. There’s always a need for extra catchers at major league camp while the team thins out their pitching options. Selecting Dingler for the job as opposed to an older, more experienced player like, say, Jon Rosoff is a despite his odds at starting the season in Detroit resting nearly at zero serves the purpose of acclimating him to a major league environment and the MLB staff.
Minor-league signee Jacob Barnes is a relief arm who has our attention as a potential breakout candidate. The veteran right hander has a power fastball that can dial up to 98 miles per hour and a cutter he throws 38 percent of the time. He has control issues and doesn’t get the ball past as many bats as you’d hope for a player with that kind of power stuff, but that’s why he’s a minor league signing. If the Tigers can tune him up a bit, he’ll be a decent option in the team’s already solid bullpen.
The most recent minor league addition is righty Miguel Diaz, who can make $800,000 if he’s added to the major league roster. He’s a Rule 5 draft washout and pitched for the Padres over parts of the last four seasons, but he’s out of options now and this is just a tryout deal. If he clicks, fine. If not, nothing was lost.
Detroit’s biggest surprise of the 2021 season was Beau Brieske, who turned himself into a real prospect during the pandemic. He has refined control for a minor leaguer and throws with a pretty average three-pitch mix. As a 27th rounder who had an awful ERA in college and didn’t even start pitching until his senior year of high school, his evolution has been stupendous. He doesn’t have much in the way of upside but it’s not unreasonable to call him a future backend starter.
Drew Carlton has had consisten success as a closer at every level of the Tigers’ system despite his inauspicious beginnings as a 32nd round draftee. He made the bigs last year and pitched in four contests. Whether he has a real future in the major leagues is tough to tell, it always is with relievers, but he’ll get his chances at a spot in the team’s bullpen.
What Garrett Hill offers is consistency, efficiency, and unspectacular pitching that leads to good results. He was a fan favorite in West Michigan during his extraordinary 2019 season and constituted to pitch well during the 2021 season. His changeup and slider are his best pitches, and if he can control his cutting fastball well enough to keep it off hitters’ bats, he could eventually fill a Tyler Alexander-esque swingman role.
Much to the amazement of draft analysts, Ty Madden fell to the Tigers with their second pick of the 2021 draft and brings Big-12 power to the team. He doesn’t have a chance at making the roster this spring. My theory — and this is not sourced reporting — is that the team wants their best pitching minds to get their hands on him to develop a custom developmental fast track.
Ricardo Pinto caught the Tigers’ eye after a season as a starting pitcher in the KBO after laboring for a decade in the minor leagues. He pitched to modest results in Triple-A last year. It’s hard to believe the Tigers think he has a chance at an MLB spot on Opening Day, but he can eat innings while the big guns get up to speed and can audition for a break-glass role down the line.
A pitch metrics darling from the Astros’ system who hasn’t put the pieces together, Nivaldo Rodriguez was claimed off waivers by the Tigers and didn’t do much of note in his 13 Triple-A games afterward. He’s not a lost cause, but his developmental path was a nightmare and he hasn’t been able to reproduce the good results he got in the low minors during the past two years.
Logan Shore’s changeup is sexy, but he doesn’t have a whole lot else and many people were ready to write him off after an unremarkable 2019 season pitching below his age. He did well enough in 2021 to merit one last look as a potential depth guy, but he’s 27 years old now. This Spring Training is probably his last opportunity for a good first impression before being relegated to minor league pitching depth.
I’ll be honest, I’m a little perplexed by the team’s choice to bring Dylan Smith to MLB camp. He’s a college product with a good slider and there are varying opinions about his viability as a future major leaguer. This season will mark his first full year in pro ball and he’s a solid prospect, but there’s no shot he makes the team and listing him as an invitee is just an opportunity for a closer look at him. Perhaps the org thinks it would do him good to play with the big dogs and work with the major league coaching staff for a few weeks.
Will Vest is a late bloomer who Seattle snagged in the Rule 5 draft, but the Mariners pulled the ripcord and returned him to Detroit. He has a power fastball and a slider that functions as his putaway pitch. The odds on him coming to the majors right away are slim, but he could find himself in a Tigers uniform as the injury bug makes its way through the team’s bullpen.