Saturday evening, it was reported that the Detroit Tigers intend to call up veteran minor league first baseman Josh Lester. He was lifted from the Toledo Mud Hens’ game against the Rochester Red Wings on Saturday night, and should join the major league club on Sunday.
Miguel Cabrera’s left biceps strain sent him to the injured list on Saturday night, and opened up an opportunity. Lester will reap the rewards. He has played the entire minor league season with the Toledo Mud Hens, marking his third Triple-A stint during his lengthy career in the Tigers’ farm system.
If it feels like Lester has been around forever, that’s pretty much correct. He joined the Tigers organization in 2015, when he was the team’s 13th round pick. Of the team’s 41 selections in that draft class, only he and Tyler Alexander still remain in the Tigers’ organization. Now 28 years old, Lester has played in parts of seven minor league seasons, not counting the 2020 season lost to the pandemic.
Teams value players who can produce in the minor leagues and provide some veteran leadership as scaffolding for their developmental system, which seems a viable explanation for why he’s been able to hang around for so long. The news of his call up may come as a surprise to some people — it did to me — merely because it seems like he’d have gotten his chance with the team by now if it was coming at all. Players who are viewed as real prospects don’t have to wait until their late 20s to get a cup of coffee, even if their upper majors performances aren’t exactly sparkling.
Despite those factors working against him, hIs call to the majors is an understandable move on the Tigers’ part. It’s also a reward for his long service on the farm in the form of a couple big checks after years on meager minor league wages.
The timing of this opportunity is fantastic for Lester, whose mediocre season-long numbers are dragged down by a poor start and belie a furious hot streak he’s been on for the past two months. Since the beginning of July, he’s cut his strikeout rate nearly in half from last season and is hitting the devil out of the ball. His .279/.325/.535 line is notable in that time span even for the robust offensive environment of the league he plays in and he’s still in the slightly sub-.300 BABIP range, indicating he hasn’t been getting overly lucky.
Add to that his 24 home runs — fourth among active players in the Triple-A International League and tied for 37th among all minor leagues everywhere — and it’s clear that Lester has conquered MiLB pitching. The problem, is that he hasn’t conquered it in ways that predict major league success.
The absolute best case scenario here is that Lester provides a little pop before pitchers adjust to him. Spencer Torkelson needs all the reps possible, so it would be surprising if we saw Lester at first base much. However, the most fundamental issue with the 2022 Tigers’ offense has been the lack of power, and the inability to hit right-handed pitching with any real success. Lester might provide a little help in that regard. Just don’t make this out to be more than it is.