Ryan Kreidler’s story in pro ball has been one of self-determination, and it’s finally culminated in his arrival in the big leagues. Wednesday afternoon, the Tigers announced their intent to call up the infield prospect on Thursday. He’ll join Spencer Torkelson as the wayward first baseman returns to the fold as well looking to build a little momentum heading into the offseason.
It was widely considered a reach when Kreidler was Detroit’s fourth round selection in 2019, and fans didn’t really get a taste of what he could do on the field until 2021 due to the lost minor league season in 2020. When he got back on the dirt, it was game over for most of the pitchers he faced despite a somewhat aggressive promotion to Double-A Erie to begin the 2021 season. His success with a swing rebuilt with the help of top private instructor Doug Latta catapulted him up prospect lists as the year progressed, and he found himself moved up to Toledo in August. Triple-A has become known as an offense-first league, but his 148 wRC+ had league averages baked in and still pegged him as one of the most dangerous hitters who played at the highest level of the minors.
With that performance on the books, it was rightly expected that he’d make his debut in Comerica Park sometime before midseason this year. Those expectations met their grizzly end when Kreidler fractured his hand on a pitch in April.
He sat on the sidelines for nearly three months before rehabbing with the High-A West Michigan Whitecaps for three games. There, we were able to chat with him in person, and he explained the swing changes that fueled his breakout season.
“I wanted to understand myself better,” he said. “I didn’t really have an end goal; obviously I wanted to produce more. I feel like the swing that I had in college was pretty tailor made for the college game — fastballs away, sinker/slider mixes, that sort of thing.”
“Now, in pro ball, guys like to throw the fastball high. I feel like it was an opportunity to combat that stuff. It resulted in something that made it a little more easy for me out there.”
In the month he’s spent in Triple-A since, Kreidler has struggled at times to regain the traction he had in 2021. He went hitless in five of his first nine with the Mud Hens in the month of August and he’s struck out in 29.7 percent of his 111 plate appearances. It’s not all bad, though — he can also boast walks in 18.0 percent of his plate appearances and nine extra base hits. That’s enough to swell his wRC+ to 113, which roughly matches pace with how he was performing at the beginning of the year.
Though shortstop is Kreidler’s natural position, he’s been repping at second and third base as he gets closer to the majors. Added versatility is a key part of his development into a useful player for Detroit, and fans should expect the majority of his September playing time to be beside Javy Baez rather than in his place. Kreidler is a very sound defender anywhere you put him on the diamond.
There’s also the possibility that he’s auditioning for the jobs currently held by Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop. Both the incumbents have been colossal failures at the plate this year and a new GM will likely replace one or both heading into next season. If Kreidler is able to make a big statement in the home stretch of this season, could it put him in the mix for a long-term position next season? Beat reporter Cody Stavenhagen noted earlier this month that the Tigers “love” Kreidler, but followed that up by saying he’ll need to put up numbers to justify anything more than a look at the highest level.
Tempered expectations are the soup du jour of any mid-level prospect call up, and for Kreidler, that means bracing yourself for a boatload of swings and misses. He will wind up disappointing some fans who only ever bothered to look at last season’s video game numbers and are expecting an elite prospect’s seamless arrival. For reference, Steamer projects a .223/.305/.371 line, including a 28.7 percent strikeout rate.
In that vein, there is a chance the Kreidler is simply not ready for the major leagues on either side of the ball. As he explained to us in July, he learned to play out of position on the job, and his lack of reps could come back to bite him. In fact, he said that before this season, he’d never played second base in any game in his entire life.
At least during this upcoming month, expect to see Kreidler fill the Willi Castro role, no matter how well or poorly he performs at the plate. Providing rest days for veterans is worth something in and of itself.
As yet another lost season winds to its close, the Tigers probably care more about getting a look at Kreidler against MLB pitching rather than fining the ideal winning lineup. It may not go well at first, but it makes sense to give the young infielder a taste of what awaits him at the big league level before he heads into a crucial offseason in his career. The Tigers would’ve liked to get him in a better groove prior to his debut, but the injury just didn’t leave enough time. Don’t expect to see much impact in September, but maybe, just maybe, getting a taste of major league pitching could help Kreidler prepare himself this offseason to take the next step in 2023.