The Tigers’ shaky outfield offers young players an opportunity to make their mark

The Tigers’ shaky outfield offers young players an opportunity to make their mark

The Tigers are coming off a pretty quiet offseason. First-year head of baseball operations Scott Harris has shied away from long-term signings following the team’s 2022 Murphy’s Law campaign. The club picked up a few upward dice rolls Matt Boyd and Michael Lorenz for the rotation, likely with a view to a possible deadline deal if they get off to a strong start. You are sent Gregory Soto and Joe Jimenez and may consider further deductions from the bullpen.

Detroit hasn’t added any slam dunk regulars on the position player side in the past few months. They brought a couple of high profile players into the Soto deal to add to the mix. No one who has acquired this off-season should be guaranteed a day-to-day job, and last year’s lineup-wide underperformance means there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the diamond. That’s especially true in the outfield, where Detroit has a handful of options that could compete for a spot in AJ Hinch’s lineup earlier in the year.

Lineup locks

Greene is a suspension for the midfield job if he is healthy. The former fifth overall pick has raked in the minor leagues throughout his career and entered 2022 as one of the top contenders in the game. He appeared to be leaning toward an off-camp MLB job last year, but a broken foot in spring training kept him on the injured list and required some build-up time at Triple-A Toledo.

In mid-June, the Tigers promoted the left-hander. From then on he was the club’s midfielder and started 93 games. Greene hit .253/.321/.362 with five home runs through his first 418 MLB plate appearances. While it wasn’t the stunning debut of some of the other rookies in the class, batting at roughly league level in the majors as a 21-year-old is no small feat. He hit a few too many grounders but showed above average exit speeds and solid contact skills. It’s a strong offensive foundation and he’s arguably the most important player in the organization. Some potential raters have suggested he might be a better fit for left field than center, but there’s no real reason for Detroit to put him in a corner in a rating year.

Like Greene, Meadows will be an everyday player when he’s healthy. Unfortunately, he has an almost completely lost season behind him. Acquired by the Rays during spring training, he only appeared in 36 games with Detroit in his freshman year as a Tiger. He struggled with dizziness-like symptoms earlier in the year and then lost time after contracting COVID-19. When trying to get back up, he suffered strains in both Achilles tendons. Towards the end of the season, he and the club agreed to put his rehab on hold so he could focus on his mental health.

Fixing Meadows both physically and mentally is obviously the top priority and a prerequisite for him to rediscover his former success. He has shown he can be a left-handed power hitter at his best by hitting 25 home runs twice during his time at Tampa Bay. Restricted to corner outfield or designated hitter, Meadows should be extended somewhere provided he’s ready to return to the diamond. With two seasons of arbitration remaining, he could be a deadline trade candidate if he gets back on track.

Instant MLB mix

Baddoo looked like a great find for Detroit’s scouting team in 2021. A Rule 5 draftee from the Minnesota system, he remained on the roster and played in 124 games as a rookie. Despite jumping straight from high-A, the left-hander put down a solid .259/.330/.436 line with 13 homers and 18 stolen bases in his early 461-plate appearances in the big leagues. It would have been a strong performance for any player but was particularly impressive for a Rule 5 selection.

The Tigers secured his long-term contract rights and opened last season with Baddoo in midfield. His sophomore year against the big league guns was a significant fight. He stumbled over 225 trips to the plate to a .204/.289/.269 line and saw his power production and hard contact rate decrease. The Tigers chose him for Toledo in early May. He responded extremely well to the demotion, hitting .300/.405/.500 in 30 games during his first real Upper Minor action. Detroit recovered him around the All-Star Break, but he again scored at a below-par level on the track.

Baddoo is still only 24 years old. He’s shown a patient plate approach at the MLB level and plays plus defense in corner outfield (although he’s stretched in midfield). His strong Triple-A performance means 2022 wasn’t an entirely wasted year, though he will need to compete offensively against MLB pitching to establish himself. He has two minor league options remaining, allowing the Tigers to keep him in Detroit or Toledo depending on his performance.

Carpenter, a former Round 19 draftee, was viewed by most reviewers as no more than a player with organizational depth going into final season. He changed that perception with an outburst that showed up in the upper minor tones. Between Double-A Erie and Toledo, Carpenter tied over 400 plate appearances on 30 home runs with a massive .313/.380/.645 line. He earned his first MLB call in August and hit another six longballs with a .252/.310/.485 slash in 31 games.

The 25-year-old has worked hard for the season. However, there is still some skepticism about his viability as a long-term regular. Confined to corners, he’s considered a below-average defender there, increasing the likelihood he’s best suited for DH work. He has great power but an aggressive offensive approach that could limit his points on base. Baseball America named him the No. 8 in the Detroit system last month, naming him a possible low-end regular or lefty platoon bat. While that would still be a great result for a round 19 pick, Carpenter should get a chance to see if he can beat that prediction this year. He still has all three options left.

The 26-year-old quadruple, who was acquired from the Phillies as part of the Soto deal, enters the outfield equation squarely. He has played 151 games with Philadelphia over the past two seasons, hitting .260/.309/.374 in 434 plate appearances. After accounting for the Phils’ hitter-friendly ballpark, that was 12 percentage points below the league average as measured by wRC+. He didn’t hit for a ton of power and ran with just 6.2% clip and capped his numbers on base.

While four of a kind hasn’t established itself against pitching in the big leagues, it has displayed some interesting qualities. He made hard contact with an excellent 48.2% clip while demonstrating strong stick-to-ball skills. As a right-hander, he’s posted solid numbers against left-handers (.307/.343/.423) while struggling with equal-handed pitchers (.227/.285/.339). Four of a Kind jumped around the diamond in Philadelphia, playing all three outfield points with occasional glimpses of the infield dirt.

Public defense metrics have not liked his work in midfield. He’s probably better suited for a corner while covering midfield and second or third base in a pinch. It’s at least easy to see that he has a multi-position role against southpaw with the potential to take on more responsibility if he can translate his promising underlying offensive indicators into more consistent production. He has one option season remaining.

Multipositional options

Also part of the Soto deal with Philadelphia, Maton is a left-hander who beats Utilityman. He’s primarily an infielder but could see some time in the corner outfield if the Tigers look for ways to get him into the lineup. He owns a .254/.330/.434 line in 87 career MLB games and posted a strong .261/.368/.436 in 250 triple-A plate appearances last year.

It’s essentially the same story with Kreidler, whom BA ranks as Detroit’s #9 prospect. He has spent virtually his entire career as an infielder, playing primarily as a shortstop in the minor leagues. Kreidler’s professional outfield experience consists of two MLB innings of midfield work last season, so it’s possible Detroit doesn’t consider him a viable outfield option. It’s not uncommon, however, for multi-position infielders to eventually branch out into cornerback work, as expanded defensive flexibility increases their off-bench utility. Kreidler is a good athlete so it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Tigers experimented with him outfield at some point. However, the easier route to game time for Maton and Kreidler is at second/third base.

Haase has had some left field experience in his MLB career. He is primarily a bat catcher who has spent most of his time behind the plate. As things stand, he looks like Detroit’s main catcher. If a player likes Donny Sands, JakeRogers or non-cadre invitee Austin Wynns takes up most of the catch time, Haase could intervene more often in the outfield corner mix.

Post-season opportunities

Detroit also has a few notable outfield prospects that could add to the mix in 2023. Former choice for the second round Park Meadows had a .275/.354/.466 line with 16 longballs and 17 stolen bases in 113 games for Erie last year. He left with a strong 10.6% clip while dropping his strikeout rate to a career low of 18.4%. He just turned 23 and is already part of the 40-man squad.

Justyn Henry Malloy, 23 next month, came into the JimĂ©nez trade from the Braves. The right-hander progressed through three minor league levels in 2022, briefly reaching Triple-A after strong performances in both High-A and Double-A. Malloy ran en route to a .268/.403/.421 line in 54 Double-A contests with a massive 18.1% clip. He’s not on 40-man yet.

Both Meadows and Malloy want to start the coming season with Toledo. There’s no need for Detroit to push either player to the majors before the front office is satisfied they’re ready. Another strong showing from the Upper Minors could both put them on the card for mid-season promotion. In the meantime, the Tigers want to look at players like Baddoo, Carpenter and Vierling to see where this group fits into the long-term picture.

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