Monday afternoon, the Tigers announced that infielder Nick Maton has been designed for assignment.
After being acquired from Philly in the deal for flame-throwing reliever Gregory Soto, Maton was expected to be a useful utility piece, if not an everyday infielder. He got out to a hot start in spring camp and quickly endeared himself to Tigers fans with a couple of key hits in April. The future looked bright, but instead, he hit .173/.288/.305 and, over the course of 93 games, was actively harmful to Detroit's winning chances. Pitchers discovered that he couldn't hit the slider down and in and he watched too many pitches inside the zone to make his 13.0 percent walk rates worthwhile. He finished the year with a -1.1 fWAR to his name.
It wouldn't be surprising to see him traded for something small, probably cash, in the coming days. Despite how poorly he showed last season, Maton could still hold some appeal for a team in need of infield depth or who hope to sneak him through waivers themselves. Tyler Nevin didn’t seem to have any value remaining until the Orioles dealt cash for him a few weeks back. Maton brings a more well rounded game, as he's defensively versatile if not actually a good defender and has a track record of hitting well at the Triple-A level. The key problem for the Tigers is that he’s out of options. However, still only 26 years old, it's not too late for Nick Maton to turn things around.
Of course, we hoped for more out of him when the trade went down, but it's not necessarily a black mark on President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris' track record. Matt Vierling, who was included with Maton, is poised to gobble up a lot of third base playing time next season. Additionally, Soto is only getting more expensive through arbitration and his home run per fly ball rate shot right back to career norms after sitting at a miniscule 3.4 percent in 2022. He's a fine player with a great fastball, but in practice he’s just a decently effective reliever and Detroit has no issue finding those in the couch cushions. Maybe the best sign from this is a willingness to move on when something doesn’t work out rather than trying to prove something by plugging Maton into the active roster again this season.
The acquisition that prompted the Tigers to remove Nick Maton from the roster in the first place was adding left-hander Kolton Ingram. This is a minor homecoming for Ingram, who was drafted out of Columbus State University by Detroit in 2019 with their 37th round selection. The team never seemed to place much faith in him during that early stage of his career. He signed for a mere $1,500 and was released in 2020 after throwing only 30.1 professional innings. Fellow late round draftees from the 2019 class like Beau Brieske and Brendan White managed to stick, making for quite a deep draft class, but Ingram slipped through the cracks.
Ingram became a useful pitcher under the watch of the Angels, who helped him develop a cutter and gave him a shot in the bigs in 2023. He fanned boatloads of hitters at every stop in LA's system and finished his time in Triple-A with a strikeout rate of 10.43 K/9. Detroit's interest was likely piqued by his characteristic cutter, which gets a lot more horizontal movement than the MLB average, and his high-percentile extension.
On the other side of that token, the issues that led the pitching-starved Angels to cut bait may lead the Tigers to cut Ingham before the roster is finalized. He has a lackluster fastball and he doesn't have any offspeed pitches of a compatible quality to his cutter. Harris is a believer in the roster churn and could try to get him Toledo without clogging 40-man. The Tigers lack of left-handed relief talent beyond Tyler Holton and Andrew Chafin is no doubt a factor in the claim as well. That duo is a strong pair of lefties for the bullpen, but things get very thin beyond them. The Tigers reacquired lefty Andrew Vasquez in January for the same reason. A conversion to relief work for Joey Wentz, or minor leaguers Brant Hurter or Lael Lochhart might provide solutions in a pinch, but they, along with pure relief prospect Andrew Magno, still have some things to prove to get a shot.
Also included in the transaction report, reliever Devin Sweet passed through waivers unclaimed and assigned to Toledo. The former Mariner and Athletic will now find himself with the Tigers, at least for a while, in 2024. He throws a highly effective changeup and doesn't really have anything to prove in the minors, but neither is he a concretely MLB caliber arm. He'll be on the injury replacement shortlist if he performs well at Triple-A Toledo, which I'd expect he will.
Finally, Tigers Turmoil reported on Twitter that reliever Jake Higginbotham is being extended an invitation to big league camp. Scott Harris traded for Higginbotham in the deal that sent Joe Jimenez to Atlanta, but he was overshadowed by Justyn-Henry Malloy and promptly forgotten about by fans. He was fine but largely unremarkable as a 27-year-old in Double-A, with a 2.09 K/BB ratio and inducing 35.5 percent ground balls.
Tigers Turmoil is not affiliated with the team or any news outlet, but he has been a trustworthy source for minor league transactions over the past several years. The rumor didn't catch on with the beat guys, but I'd expect it to be correct.
The Caribbean Series is underway, and representing the Tigers on Team Puerto Rico is utilityman Trei Cruz. The former third rounder was the 31st ranked prospect in our updated list and could potentially debut in the major leagues this season. Team Puerto Rico is using him in a bench role and deployed him at shortstop in one game. He hasn’t done much offensively, putting the ball in play plenty but failing to get aboard.
Evan Petzold interviewed him about his participation in the Miami based event for the Detroit Free Press. Cruz described it as a "big honor" to be included. Baseball is in the Cruz genes, and although Trei himself was born in Toronto, his family hails from the island. Both his father and grandfather were born in Arroyo, PR and went on to play MLB ball.
We're taking prospect mailbag questions!
Pitchers and catchers report in a few days, which means prospect season is rushing toward its end. Here at Bless You Boys, we've published three lengthy articles about the Tigers' farm: a discussion on the state of the system, a full ranking and breakdown of top prospects, and a list of the players who didn't quite make the cut for sickos like me who care about that kind of thing.
As a last gasp of air to feed my minor league obsession, Brandon is letting me drop a line for prospect mailbag questions! Want to know which players to watch for on your local minor league team? How about which ice cream flavor best represents Roberto Campos? Whether you're looking for a bit of insight into a particular player, thoughts on the previous or upcoming draft, or a ideas bordering on the ridiculous, don't hold back. Drop them in the comments below this article or direct them to me on Twitter at @thebettermarkle! It's fun to talk about the stuff that interests you guys.
The voice of the turtle
The Tigers released their spring training schedule and the accompanying broadcast details, which we discussed a bit here. Brandon rudely didn't ask for my thoughts in his article, so I decided to slap them in here.
The schedule opens with a home game against the Yankees. That places the Tigers in an unenviable position as the first team to face Juan Soto after being traded to New York. If he hits for extra bases, Detroit fans can expect to see their favorite team on the wrong end of a widely circulated highlight clip.
Remember back in 2017 when these two teams got into a dust-up, sparking a minor rivalry? Three of the major factors in that brawl — Michael Fulmer, Nick Castellanos, and Gary Sanchez — are all long gone from Detroit and New York. The Romine brothers careers in the majors appear to be over for good. So, Miguel Cabrera's retirement at the end of last season marks a complete roster turnover since that day. That means not a single player on next year's roster was on the MLB roster when the Tigers' rebuild began.
They'll also be taking on the Orioles early in the spring schedule. I'll be excited for that game; the O's have a metric ton of nearly big league ready prospects and the teams square off quickly enough after games begin that a number of players who will start the season in the minors may still be in big league camp.
Baltimore won't be the only team donning bright orange in the game. Detroit has redesigned hats this year, featuring loud color and the Tiger face logo.
Check ‘em out: the Detroit Tigers New Era hats for 2024 spring training in Lakeland pic.twitter.com/5cUDn9hiH8— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) February 6, 2024
Baseball is Awesome
In this video, Driveline alum and current television player analyst Lance Brozdowski (whom I met several years ago and managed to make complete fool of myself in so doing) does a thorough examination of Jackson Jobe's four-pitch arsenal in pursuit of the question: Who is the best pitching prospect in the league? I won't spoil his conclusions for you, but he does say some very kind things about the Tigers' prized righty.