Jeimer Candelario was celebrating becoming a dad last week when he found out he had another reason to celebrate: He had been voted the Tiger of the Year by the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“It was awesome receiving those two blessings,” said Candelario, whose wife
“It was awesome receiving those two blessings,” said Candelario, whose wife Andreina gave birth to their first child, a girl named Alaya, last Thursday in the Dominican Republic.
The baseball blessing was a great reward for a long-awaited breakout season. After batting just .224 in 2018 and .203 in ’19, Candelario entered ’20 fighting to stick on the Tigers’ roster. He ended the season with a .297 average, seven home runs, 29 RBIs, a career-best .872 OPS and a 135 OPS+. His 1.6 wins above replacement per Baseball-Reference were easily the best on the team.
Now, Candelario is already getting to work preparing for next season. After being with his wife for the birth of their daughter, he’s currently in Miami working with his personal hitting instructor on points of improvement, like keeping his head still in his swing so he can see pitches and center them on the barrel of the bat. He plans to play winter ball in the Dominican League beginning next month. He has traded text messages with new manager A.J. Hinch, who has talked about studying video to figure out what clicked for Candelario this year.
“The Candelario breakthrough, I want to kind of figure out how and why and what happened and continue to build off that,” Hinch said in a video conference with beat writers last week.
Candelario knows what worked for him.
“I would say my routine — changing my mindset, building it up every single day,” Candelario said in a Wednesday afternoon video conference with reporters. “I worked really hard on my routine. I worked with my hitting coach here in Miami. We worked a lot every single day on camera, and we did a lot of drills to help me use my whole body and how to be able to have a plan, a scouting report on pitchers.”
What Candelario doesn’t know yet is whether his move from third base to first base last summer will extend into next season. While Hinch and Candelario exchanged introductions, they didn’t get into roles for next season. Candelario has not been told what position the Tigers see him playing in 2021.
“Probably, in a couple of days they will tell me, because I’m playing winter ball in December,” Candelario said. “I’m working my body, getting a lot of work on my hitting, a lot of drills. I haven’t heard anything about [a position] yet, but they have a plan.”
That might not be clear anytime soon. While the Tigers are expected to dip into the free-agent market for help at the infield corners, the market is expected to move slowly. Detroit waited until mid-December last year before signing first baseman C.J. Cron, whose season-ending knee injury in August forced Candelario’s move from third.
Realistically, given how well Candelario handled the move from third to first, the Tigers would probably rather have him work at third in winter ball and then adjust later if needed.
Detroit is far more likely to find a productive first baseman on the free-agent market than a third baseman, given supply and demand. Candelario primarily played third base last winter for Toros del Este.
This year’s Dominican League should give Candelario a good test. The talent level is expected to be its best in years with veterans looking to build off the abbreviated 60-game Major League season and top prospects looking to make up for the cancelled Minor League seasons.
One part of Candelario’s routine that is sure to change is one of his workout partners. Candelario spent part of baseball’s spring shutdown working with family friend Robinson Canó in the Dominican Republic. On Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced a 162-game suspension for Canó following a positive test for stanozolol, a performance-enhancing substance.
Candelario said he was not aware of Canó taking PEDs. He plans to reach out to Canó in the coming days.
“I saw the news,” said Candelario. “He’s a human being, and he’s my friend.”