Jeff Seidel | Detroit Free Press
LAKELAND, Fla. – It’s strange covering the Detroit Tigers right now.
It’s like going to a stadium and looking into a crystal ball, trying to figure out the future, paying more attention to “what could be” for the next 10 years, instead of “what is” for this one.
So when the Tigers hold their first full-squad practice on Monday morning, there are several story lines I will be watching. But most are more focused on the future than the present.
The first thing I want to do is get my eyes on Spencer Torkelson, the Tigers’ first-round pick (and No. 1 overall) in 2020. I can’t wait to watch him take batting practice, and then, in a few days, face live pitching. This will be his first spring training. And in about a week, we will finally get a chance to see him play against another big-league team.
I can’t wait to see how he responds.
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Yes, of course, I want to see him take grounders at third base, to see how much he has improved. Because if he can play third base in the future, it will give the Tigers flexibility and increase his value.
But more than anything, I want to see how he acts, to see if he is comfortable, or overwhelmed. In a perfect scenario, he will hit the ground running in spring training, climb through the minor leagues and push for the big leagues at some point in 2022.
But that’s just the start.
Here are nine more things I’ll have my eye on:
How will Jake Rogers fight for the back-up catcher job?
Rogers is the most intriguing player in this camp.
The Tigers have to figure out if he is part of the future. That won’t be decided this spring, but we will get some hints. While Rogers has to hit to become a starter someday, he has to become more consistent with his defense just to get to Detroit.
“All eyes are on his offense, right, on whether he can be an everyday player?” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “But the reality is, from his manager, I want him to know that he will lose playing time and lose a spot on the roster more because of what he does on defense.”
There is a time crunch, too. Adrian Del Castillo, a catcher from the University of Miami, is considered the No. 2 prospect in this year’s draft. If he is available when the Tigers pick at No.3, the Tigers have to know how the 25-year-old Rogers fits into their plans.
Granted, Dillon Dingler is another realistic option to be the catcher of the future — but first and foremost, the Tigers have to find out what Rogers can be.
Speaking of Dingler, how will he perform?
He has yet to play a game for the Tigers since being selected out of Ohio State in the second round of the 2020 draft. I gave Dingler, as well as Torkelson, a pass during July’s summer camp in Detroit because 2020 was such a messed-up year for them. The college season shut down in March, and they were thrust into a wild scenario, suddenly practicing with major leaguers a few months later. Neither one looked entirely comfortable in Detroit. Neither one did much to impress. But it was understandable.
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What will Hinch create?
It will be interesting to see the culture Hinch creates — not so much for this season, but for the future. Hinch has a chance to set a tone in these first early workouts, focusing on small details and creating new expectations. Maybe — well, almost certainly — that won’t turn the Tigers into contenders this season. But it will set the tone for the future for these young players. And that’s all that matters in the big picture.
I’m interested to study how Hinch acts around the players. He seems to be a hands-on manager, someone who studies their personalities as much as their abilities and tries to figure out how to handle each player differently.
“I’m learning their mannerisms, their approach, the way they go about their work, the way their body moves,” Hinch said. “That tells me more about them than they’re going to tell me verbally over the phone or via text.”
And it’s more important than spring training stats.
“Quite honestly, I’m not even that fixated on the statistics when in spring training,” Hinch said.
Will Michael Fulmer grab a spot in the rotation?
Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year coming off Tommy John surgery in 2019, made 10 starts in 2020, but was limited to no more than three innings in each, working a total of 27⅔ innings. He only walked 12 batters, but gave up 45 hits.
“You know, rehabbing last year is one thing in itself,” Hinch said. “The fact that he had to do it in the big leagues was pretty unfair to someone coming off of injury.”
What will become of Franklin Perez?
Yes, I know, it seems like that has turned into an annual question, as every year, Perez gets bogged down with injuries. He has only thrown 27 innings since joining the organization in 2017’s Justin Verlander trade. For Perez, it is simple: He has to stay healthy.
In some ways, I don’t even think of him a prospect anymore. I have almost forgotten about him. But if he could stay healthy and reach his potential, it would be a tremendous boost for this rebuild. Which I think is the same thing I said last year.
But at some point, he has to do it. Or he will waste all that potential.
How will Isaac Parades look, move and hit?
The Tigers need to find out if the third baseman who hit .220 in 100 at-bats as a 21-year-old will be part of the future. Again, this won’t be settled in spring training. But we will get a hint.
What will Riley Greene look like?
I swear 2019’s top pick (No. 5 overall) looks bigger every time I see him — not just his body but his presence. I firmly believe he is going to be a superstar. During instructional-league ball in November, he was the alpha dog among the prospects. Not surprising. But he’s still a prospect, still learning, still developing. I expect him to start out at Double-A Erie. If he performs in Erie, as I suspect he will, he’ll be in Toledo in no time. Then? Who knows.
When will Matt Manning arrive in Detroit?
Tigers general manager Al Avila has indicated the 23-year-old 2016 first-rounder will have a shot to play in Detroit in 2021. If the Tigers start out with a six-man rotation, which sounds like a strong possibility, something will happen — be it injury or poor performance — and a spot will open up for Manning to slide into the rotation.
What will become of Daz Cameron?
I expect Cameron will start the season in Triple-A, repeating the level after playing 120 games there in 2019. Called up to the majors in September 2020, the now-24-year-old hit .193 with 19 strikeouts in 17 games with the Tigers — a ridiculously small sample size. The fact that the Tigers signed a pair of outfielders — Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara — suggests they think Cameron needs more time.
But he’s a guy I would love to see get another shot in Detroit. I’d rather see him than an a veteran who is only a placeholder.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.