Tigers minor-leaguers lost 2020 to a pandemic, but their splintered baseball year is not finished.
Fifty of the team’s top prospects will convene Oct. 1 at the TigerTown complex in Lakeland, Florida, for a five-week Instructional League that will wrap up Nov. 8. They’ll be joined by about 20 coaches and managers, said Dave Littlefield, who heads Tigers development.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Littlefield said during a Sunday phone conversation. “For the guys who missed time this year, who weren’t able to play in games this year, I think it’ll be very good.”
Tigers farmhands showed up at Lakeland in March and were settling in for the usual seven-month grind when coronavirus shut down games and workouts. Unless they were part of the 60-man roster that either played in big-league games that began in July, or at taxi-squad workouts at separate sites, most prospects had scant options for either games or coordinated practices.
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The 30 big-league teams had hoped for clearance from Major League Baseball to hold some kind of autumn Instructional Leagues as a means to cut losses in development. Losing games and daily baseball routines in 2020 came at a vital time for minor-leaguers who have thoughts of playing in the majors.
There is not yet any formal plan for an Arizona Fall League, where baseball’s best prospects each year are showcased.
Littlefield said the plan for Lakeland will mirror the Tigers’ taxi-squad arrangements at Toledo, where heavy draft-picks like Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, and Dillon Dingler worked out alongside more seasoned talent.
Dormitories at TigerTown will be used to house players, while some will be stationed at a nearby hotel. Masks, distancing, testing and the usual COVID-19 protocols will be in place.
Littlefield said there would be no extremes in game and workout schedules during the five-week camp, which might have been anticipated because of 2020’s interruptions.
“I think you’ve got to balance it out,” Littlefield said. “You want to get a lot of work in, but these guys have been working hard on their own. You want them to grow at the right rate and minimize injury.”
The Tigers’ big-league and taxi-squad seasons, which began in July, will cease on Sept. 27. Four days later, some of the younger talent that’s been laboring at Toledo will head for Lakeland for another 35 days spent salvaging a year turned upside-down by 2020’s worldwide pandemic.