Tigers’ Hinch offers spring training primer: Infield spots still up for grabs

Detroit News

Chris McCosky
| The Detroit News

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Detroit — Until he’s told otherwise, Tigers manager AJ Hinch is preparing to greet pitchers and catchers in Lakeland on Feb. 17 and the rest of the squad a week later.

Beyond that, though, everything is pretty fluid in terms of logistics and COVID-19 protocols.

“We don’t know what (spring training) is going to look like yet,” Hinch said Tuesday in a Zoom call. “Josh Paul (quality control coach) is going to run camp with George Lombard (bench coach). They are planning a couple of different scenarios — one is a normal camp where we just plow through, and another is we stagger it, maybe we run a major league camp and a mini-camp simultaneously.

“But I think all 30 of us (teams) are somewhat confused on what the actual spring is going to look like.”

Players from the big-league roster, plus non-roster invitees and players competing for spots on the Triple-A roster will convene. Spring training for players in the lower levels of the minor leagues will start later. But Hinch said there will likely be spots for some of the club’s top prospects — presumably including Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson.

“We’re very optimistic that the prospects can handle back-to-back camps if we ask them to,” Hinch said. “I would expect some of the bigger prospects to be in camp, though not all of them. We will have to be very specific because of the limitations we will have.

“But some recognizable names who will not open up in Triple-A are being considered for big-league camps and will likely be there.”

Hinch, who has been in Detroit the last couple of days — just in time for the snowstorm that pelted the state — talked on a variety of roster topics:

► On the slow-moving free-agent market:

“There’s a ton of players who can help teams. And I hope, not just the Tigers, but I hope all teams understand there’s some really good baseball players on the market. It’s difficult when you see so many free agents still out there, just from a state-of-the-game standpoint. You really want to see them get wrapped up and get ready to go to camp with a team.”

► On the Tigers signing only two big-league free agents so far — left fielder Robbie Grossman (two years, $10 million) and starting pitcher Jose Urena (one year, $3.25 million):

“We’ve had more dialogue (with free agents) than gets reported. Good job by the Tigers keeping that mum. But we can only do so much. You’ve got to have a partner on the other side that wants to sign.”

► On whether the emphasis on developing young players in the system curtails the signing of veteran players:

“As much as you want to give opportunities to the young guys, they’ve got to keep playing well to stay here. I want all our young pitchers to be in the big leagues. I want our young position players to get the at-bats needed for us to evaluate them. But this is an accountability league. You’ve got to play well to stay here.”

► On whether he is expecting the club to add a veteran catcher, or is he set on entering spring with Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers and Dustin Garneau:

“Both are acceptable outcomes. Ideally, we can add to our mix and put some pressure on guys to make our team. We have the capability of having a stable duo of guys behind the plate. We have a little bit of experience and we have an up-and-comer in Jake Rogers. In a perfect case, there’s still a guy out there who can help us. Whether the market produces that or whether that’s how we choose to spend our dollars, that’s up in the air. But at that position, the more the merrier.”

Later Tuesday night, the Tigers were in the process of signing 33-year-old catcher Wilson Ramos to a one-year, $2 million deal. 

► On how many open rosters spots he sees being up for grabs entering camp:

“It depends on the configuration, whether we carry 13 pitchers and 13 position players, or 14 and 12. All that debate is going to happen in Lakeland. Most contending teams go in with two or three open spots. Rebuilding teams can go in with five or six. We’re right in the middle. I can predict our team pretty well, but there’s going to be a surprise or two. I’d say there are four or five open spots.”

► On the open spots in the infield:

“The infield is still fluctuating. It’s going to depend on where we play Jeimer Candelario (first or third base). Where does Niko Goodrum (utility) fit in? How many games can Willi Castro handle at shortstop? The answers we need are going to come on the field. We can dictate some of that if we sign an infielder — maybe we get a little help at first base. That changes Candelario’s and Goodrum’s usage. If we sign a middle infielder, that brings into question where guys can play. The infield is a specific area we are looking at toying with.”

► On where rookie Isaac Paredes, who is hitting .301 with two doubles and a home run in the Dominican Winter League playoffs, might fit:

“Third base is very comfortable for him, but if he could also play somewhere up the middle, second base would be ideal for us. It would allow more configurations for our lineup. If he’s hitting, I can put him in at a couple different positions. You will see us try him at third and second to see what it looks like. There’s no harm in trying. It doesn’t mean he’s not a good third baseman. It doesn’t mean he can’t make the team as an everyday third baseman. But why not have multiple ways to make our team?”

► On where veteran utility player and left-handed hitter Harold Castro fits:

“He’s been positioned more as a role player, using his versatility off the bench. We will see where we can maximize his usefulness. …Listen, I’m very open to any configuration that allows us to handle right-handed pitching better. If that includes Harold, then he’s going to nudge his way into the lineup.”  

► On whether the outfield is set:

“I feel with Robbie Grossman (left), JaCoby Jones (center) and Victor Reyes (right), we’re pretty solid. And there is competition with Daz Cameron, Akil Baddoo (Rule 5 rookie), Travis Demeritte, Christin Stewart and Derek Hill. We’re not afraid to upgrade and we’re going to do it methodically.”

► On his views on naming a designated closer:

“It’s a great distinction. It’s somebody the team feels like when he comes into the game it means we are about to win. I’m not afraid of the designated closer role. But someone’s got to earn it. There is competition for any of these leverage innings. We build the appeal from the back. The ninth inning is a super sexy role that everyone covets. But it takes a lot of work to get there, the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. I don’t want to lose a game on the way to waiting to use a pitcher.

“If someone establishes himself as our best option to close out wins, that’s a perfect scenario. But that means a number of other guys have to do their jobs before the ninth to set the table. Naming a closer in January is not going to happen with me.”


Twitter: @cmccosky

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