Evan Petzold | Detroit Free Press
LAKELAND, Fla. — Tarik Skubal doesn’t know how close Yolmer Sanchez’s scorching line drive came to hitting him Saturday night, but it was enough to make one of the Detroit Tigers‘ top pitching prospects concerned for his safety.
“It felt pretty close,” Skubal said following the team’s 6-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota. “I’m just glad he was there. The shift worked out, and there was a guy there for me. So, I’ll take it.”
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Skubal is talking about Isaac Paredes.
The 22-year-old, fully extended, dove behind second base and cashed in on a highlight-reel catch for the final out in the third inning. He casually jogged back to the Tigers’ dugout, displaying the “swagger and style” manager AJ Hinch noticed upon his arrival to camp.
If Paredes — a third baseman for the last two years — continues to showcase similar production, don’t count out a shift to second base. Hinch believes he has the tools to be a long-term member of the rebuild.
“At second base, Paredes is well-equipped to handle the position,” Hinch said Saturday. “He needs more experience to get comfortable, but tonight showed that he has all the actions.”
In the first inning, Paredes smoothly started a double play on the edge of the outfield grass to complete righty Michael Fulmer’s first frame of spring training.
He took three steps backward, cleanly received a hard grounder from Anthony Santander and shoved the ball to Niko Goodrum, who touched second base (ahead of a sliding Trey Mancini) and threw to first baseman Spencer Torkelson.
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“That was a good turn,” Fulmer said after the game. “Good field, good throw, good turn. Double plays are a pitcher’s best friend, and that’s what I’m hoping for with a guy on first base with less than two outs. Paredes did a great job making the turn, and that’s what we’re shooting for there.”
Paredes’ performance Saturday made it easy to forget he hasn’t played second base since the 2018 season in the minor leagues. He started his career as a shortstop but the 5-foot-11, 213 pounder transitioned to third base, in part because of his potential on offense.
In his minor-league career, Paredes played shortstop (246 games), third base (114) and second base (27). Across 34 games in his first big-league season, he served solely as a third baseman. This offseason, in the Mexican Pacific Winter League, he again commanded third base.
But Paredes’ past — without many innings at second base — never bothered Hinch.
“I guess I’m a little surprised that people are asking me questions about it,” Hinch said, “because there’s nothing there that says he couldn’t do it without trying it.”
‘Believe before we see’
Hinch desires to get the most out of his players, and he tries to set them up for future success by developing them as versatile defenders. Paredes to second base is just one of many key projects.
“I think we have to believe before we see it,” Hinch said. “In this game, oftentimes, we get caught having to see it first. I’m just a believer in (Paredes) beforehand. Now he’s going to go make plays.
“He’s going to make a mistake, or he’s going to potentially not have great range, but we need to remember nights like tonight, where he made great plays. That’s why I want to test him out at that position.”
Before camp started, Tigers general manager Al Avila made it a point that Paredes needed to arrive in shape to Lakeland. “It’s hard to have good range if you don’t take care of your body,” Avila explained.
Watching Paredes from the dugout against the Orioles reassured Hinch of how much Paredes could help the Tigers in the 2021 season and beyond.
Currently, Paredes is at an awkward stage in his development. Following a batting title in Mexico — and hitting at every level in the minors — he might not blossom from time spent in Triple-A Toledo, or at the alternate training site for the first month of the season.
Instead, Paredes may need to polish his game in the big leagues.
“You got to trust players,” Hinch said. “You got to let players play. Sometimes if it doesn’t necessarily fit the eye test or maybe he hasn’t done it before, that doesn’t mean he can’t do it. He’s got hands. He’s got ability. He’s got a great tempo to how he plays the game. That all screams that he’s going to be able to handle second base.
“He’s got to do it, and he’s got to get some experience and make plays, and then see where he fits. But I think you got to let players play and challenge them, even if it’s unconventional or unfamiliar.”
How Paredes to 2B impacts future
Exhibiting proficiency at second base in spring training immensely improves Paredes’ odds to make the team.
“It helps him a lot,” Hinch said. “We want to give him multiple ways to make our team. Obviously, as a manager, I want to be able to move him around a little bit, depending on (Jonathan) Schoop and other infielders. It’s a great skill.”
Assuming Paredes works out at second base, his transition opens the door for long-term infield flexibility. Where everyone fits remains a mystery, considering the Tigers should think about spending big on a top-tier free agent shortstop next offseason. (Trevor Story, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez are set to hit the open market.)
Whether it ends up being Willi Castro or Paredes, having a solidified second baseman — with the versatility to play other positions — allows for numerous possibilities. And if Jeimer Candelario struggles or is traded, Paredes can return to third base.
A lot is still unknown.
Yet the more versatile Paredes makes himself, the better.
“His hands are really good,” Hinch said. “He fields the ball cleanly. He can throw from a lot of different angles. It doesn’t really matter where you put him, he can make plays.”