As the final roster battles start to take shape in spring training, playing time is at a premium and the cuts in major league camp start coming fast and furious. On Tuesday, the Tigers sent four prospects down to minor league camp. The group is headed by outfielder Parker Meadows and includes infielder Andre Lipcius, and relievers Rony Garcia and Brendan White.
Manager A.J. Hinch was very complimentary about the group in general, and while Garcia is more of a known quantity, the other three were in their first camp with a chance to make the team, and they all made a good impression.
Obviously no one more so than Meadows, who tore the cover off the ball in his first look at major league camp alongside his elder brother. Our sixth-ranked Tigers prospect, the young center fielder posted a rather delicious 1.131 OPS with four home runs and six extra base hits in 33 plate appearances. He did strike out 11 times however, drawing three walks.
Meadows had fallen off the radar by this time last year, showing very little progress since he was drafted in the second round back in 2018. A dedicated project to clean up and shorten his swing while developing better batspeed paid off handsomely as he torched the Double-A level in his first look. There is still work to be done at the plate, particularly against lefties, but Meadows put some good swings on southpaws in camp as well. A little more refinement, including to his defensive game, will set him up to make his debut sometime this summer. It would’ve taken a truly stunning spring campaign to get the Tigers to start his clock out of camp, but he’s now very close and will have a lot of eyes on him playing for Triple-A Toledo this spring.
For now, with Riley Greene, Austin Meadows, and Matt Vierling locked in as the top three outfielders, the competition for the fourth job is now down to Akil Baddoo and Kerry Carpenter. Baddoo’s ability to come off the bench as a weapon on the basepaths seems to have him on the insider track, despite Carpenter’s superior performance at the plate. The Tigers like Carpenter, but they’ll like him even more if he can improve his defense and make them more comfortable playing him in either corner spot on a regular basis. In that sense, if Baddoo wins the job out of camp don’t take it as a knock on Carpenter. They may just think he can continue to improve playing everyday, while Baddoo kind of is what he is at this point.
Andre Lipcius also had a good spring, putting the ball in play in all but three of his 33 plate appearances and hitting three home runs and three doubles along the way. Interestingly for a hitter known to draw a ton of walks, he drew not a single one this spring, but his record as a tough guy to strike out was maintained as he punched out just three times. The key issue for Lipcius as he competed with Ryan Kreidler and Cesar Hernandez for the fifth infield spot, was his defense. While Hernandez already has a nice major league career under his belt, and Kreidler’s progression has stalled out over the past year, both are good defenders capable of handling shortstop when required. That defensive versatility, plus Lipcius need to play everyday and keep working on those aspects, made this a fairly easy call.
As for the relievers, Rony Garcia just hasn’t shown much consistency since the Tigers claimed him in the Rule 5 draft back in 2019. He’s a likely candidate to get DFA’d for the 40-man roster spot if needed.
Brendan White, however, was in his first major league camp and impressed with a new iteration of a cutter to go with a solid fastball and a deadly sweeping slider. He performed quite well, allowing just one run in four innings of work with six strikeouts. I thought he might have an outside shot at making the Opening Day roster, as the relief corps hasn’t really staked their claims this spring just yet. Still, the 24-year-old hasn’t pitched above Double-A in regular season action. Giving him more time to refine his game while the Tigers ramps up the tests for pitchers they have to make decisions on keeping or releasing over the next two weeks is understandable.
The Tigers stockpiled a lot of pitchers to work with this spring, and so far the roster battles in the bullpen haven’t reached a state of real clarity. There are probably two, possibly three spots, that are still wide open. Look for A.J. Hinch to make some of his best options as uncomfortable as possible with matchups over the next two weeks as he probes to see how they respond.