Alan Trammell has been in professional baseball for more than 40 years. He has been teaching baseball at the professional level for more than 20 years. The Hall of Famer has never had a summer quite like this one.
“Nobody has seen anything like this,” Trammell said. “They’re going to be writing books. This is like no other.”
In a normal year, Trammell would be wrapping up a summer of criss-crossing the Tigers’ farm system, working with infielders up and down the developmental ladder before getting ready for instructional league and the Arizona Fall League.
This year, the only traversing Trammell has done has been down Interstate 75. After working with manager Ron Gardenhire and his staff at Summer Camp at Comerica Park in July, Trammell reported to Toledo, Ohio, where he and Tigers player development personnel took on the challenge of creating a competitive learning environment for the rest of the Tigers’ player pool.
It was an incredible collection of prospects in one place. Nine of the Tigers’ Top 10 prospects were there when the training site opened at Fifth Third Field. They were all over the developmental scale, which meant far different goals for each one. For the Tigers’ last two top Draft picks, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, the camp has been about continuing their learning process to make up for a lost season of Minor League ball. For Torkelson, that learning process includes the transition from first to third base.
“His third-base play has been very good, to be honest with you,” Trammell said. “I told him this many times: We can do the best we can to simulate the game situations and game speed, but it’s not quite the same as a game. So, getting ground balls during a game is what we’re looking for. When balls have been hit now, he’s gotten a few, and he’s made most of the plays. That’s what we’re looking for. But he needs some seasoning. He needs some games. He needs a Minor League season under his belt, but he’s been very good.
“Hitting-wise, as with everybody, he’s been hot and cold. That’s kind of how baseball is, like the Dow Jones, up and down. Hopefully we’re trying to even some of that out with him and some other players. That’s baseball, and for him to get this experience has been invaluable, and I believe for him and other guys, it’s going to help their development go a little quicker.”
For Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Isaac Paredes, Willi Castro, Daz Cameron and the other prospects who have been called up, Toledo was about putting the finishing touches on their development and getting them ready for their Major League debuts. When Jonathan Schoop left Tuesday’s game with a bruised right wrist, three of the four players in Detroit’s infield had started the season in Toledo: Sergio Alcántara at second base, Castro at short and Paredes at third.
“Offensively, he’s been outstanding,” Trammell said of Castro. “Defensively, I know he’s been bouncing around. When we had him in Toledo, he was playing very well. There’s going to be a few hiccups. They’re not finished products by any means. We all should understand that. We like what we see. I do believe that he can handle it, and hopefully over the next couple weeks, he’s going to improve even more.”
Then there are the veteran players in camp on non-roster invites who have been retained for depth. Jorge Bonifacio and Nick Ramirez were in that group before being called up. Frank Schwindel and Shao-Ching Chiang are still there. For them, the games are important to keep them ready. But with a limited amount of players, games are difficult.
“We have had multiple coaches playing most of the time, Mike Hessman being one,” Trammell said. “We’ve been creative, very creative. The staff has done an outstanding job just to get nine people out there sometimes. But now we do have a few reinforcements, so that’s been helpful. I’m not there today, but I believe they have seven-plus innings. The other day, they had 6 1/2 innings.”
Thursday was a break for Trammell, who got his own callup to fill in as first-base coach while third-base coach Ramon Santiago took — and passed — his U.S. citizenship test in Miami. But it was also a chance for Trammell and Gardenhire to talk, and they had a conversation about preparing infielders for the many defensive shifts they’re doing in Detroit this season.
“We are working on that, but we’re still not doing it enough. We’re going to need to continue as we go forward this year, next year in Spring Training,” Trammell said. “Some of these plays, they don’t come up that often, but you have to be prepared for it.”
• While Riley Greene has been speculated as a candidate for a late callup, Trammell provided a dose of caution. “I’m not speaking for [general manager] Al Avila and the rest, but when people start saying that [we’re calling him up], that’s not gonna happen, guys,” Trammell said. “He’s still developing. This is a kid that’s ahead of the curve, so to speak, and this experience he’s gaining this year is invaluable. But he’s not quite ready. Let’s leave it at that. But he’s a fine young man, and he’s played very well down in Toledo.”
• Niko Goodrum (right oblique strain) was scheduled to begin swinging a bat in his rehab Thursday after working on running previously. “He has more issues from the left side than the right side,” Gardenhire said.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck’s Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.