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Injuries and prospect reassignments as Tigers’ roster battles intensify

Fortunately the injuries remain minor. Knock on wood.

MLB: Spring Training-Detroit Tigers at Philadelphia Phillies Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

With the first phase of spring camp now over, and a number of Detroit Tigers’ regulars now off to play in the World Baseball Classic, it’s time for some roster trimming to set up the final battles for various roles. And after a blessedly quiet set of injury reports early on, the Tigers have a few more minor injuries to report. Things are still looking good on that front, for now. Over the next week or two, manager A.J. Hinch will be pitting remaining contenders for a job against each other, and pitcher usage will start building up toward Opening Day.

First, the injuries. The club’s outfielders competing for the fourth spot on the roster may see some extra playing time as Matt Vierling is down with a right knee sprain. Early reports suggest that’s a mild sprain and partly precautionary, but there’s no timetable included just yet either and Vierling has been out of the lineup the past few days. For players like Akil Baddoo, Kerry Carpenter, and Brendon Davis, the time to make a push is now.

Meanwhile, corner infielder Tyler Nevin suffered a left oblique strain, and those can linger a bit even if not particularly severe. Nevin still seems like a longshot to make the roster, but a solid start had at least put him more clearly on the radar. Ryan Kreidler, Cesar Hernandez, and Andre Lipcius, who are all competing for a utility infielder job, will have a little more playing time available as a result.

Nick Maton has a spot locked up already and can handle shortstop for the time being, but with Javier Báez and Jonathan Schoop in the WBC, Hinch will have plenty of room to test his other options. Those could include mixing Kreidler and possibly Hernandez through the shortstop position a bit as well.

The rest of the injury update is perfunctory as Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal continue their rehabilitation calendars.

As far as prospects, the club sent top position prospect, and our second-ranked Tigers’ prospect, Colt Keith down to minor league camp a few days ago. Obviously this is somewhat ceremonial, thinning out the major league clubhouse and increasing the focus on players battling for a role. The prospects will probably still get a bit of playing time in major league camp, but Keith hasn’t reached Double-A yet and was never in consideration for a roster spot. On the other hand, he was very impressive against much more experienced pitching in camp and continues to look like he’s on the fast track to the major leagues.

On Friday, the Tigers also transferred infielder Wenceel Perez and right-hander Reese Olson back to minor league camp. They’ll both be opening the year with Triple-A Toledo. Perez put together a fantastic breakout season in 2022 at the Double-A level and will be looking to carry the power gains he made to the next level and will likely continue to develop as a utility player as the emphasis on versatility has only increased since Scott Harris took over. I’m still curious to see if he gets some time in the Mud Hens outfield. He’s a good bet to debut this summer. Olson dealt with some abdominal soreness early in camp and hasn’t made an appearance yet, but he’s cleared to pitch now and could be recalled to major league camp for an appearance or two before the season begins.

The Tigers are trying to give the young players a taste while they can. They had 2022 first round pick Jace Jung over from minor league camp on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He went 1-for-2 with an RBI and showed off a new setup at the plate, having abandoned the laid off setup he had in college. Keith also got in on the fun in that 10-7 victory for the Tigers as well.

On Friday against the New York Yankees, Keith will be available again off the bench, as will 2022 second round pick, and our fifth-ranked Tigers prospect, shortstop Peyton Graham. He’ll be making his spring debut.

Three other young minor leaguers were also re-assigned to minor league camp. Catcher Mario Feliciano showed some decent signs with his bat, but continues to look more like a utility player than a full-time catcher. Right-handers Angel De Jesus and Brenan Hanifee have quality stuff but neither has really put it together enough to compete for a major league job in the bullpen yet.