A.J. Hinch tried to find a role for Isaac Paredes. He pushed Jake Rogers to take the next step and show he’s Major League ready. The Tigers manager’s work ended up being an investment in the future, but both players will be Mud Hens for the present.
The Tigers optioned Paredes and Rogers, their Nos. 6 and 16 prospects according to MLB Pipeline, to Triple-A Toledo on Thursday. The moves further whittle the competition for utility infield and backup catcher on the Tigers’ roster, while seemingly improving the chances for Renato Núñez to make Detroit’s Opening Day roster as the primary first baseman.
The 22-year-old Paredes arrived in camp, albeit a bit late, with the momentum of a winter ball batting title in the Mexican Pacific League. His bat was not only fresh, it was productive. His first week of games seemed to reflect that, with two singles and a home run in his first seven at-bats.
Hinch, meanwhile, showed his faith in Paredes by trying him out at positions beyond third base, where he played exclusively during his late-season stretch in Detroit last year. Hinch tried him extensively this spring at second, where the former shortstop’s middle-infield instincts showed no signs of rust.
“He can play,” Hinch said on March 3. “I’m not sure Triple-A is the best for his development, because the adjustments that he’s going to have to make, with his contact being a premium skill that he has — and his hands are really, really good — that might have to happen in the big leagues for him to get the full development at the end of his ascent to the big leagues.
“I want him to play with some urgency and a chance to make this team. I’ve said it to him. I’ve said it publicly. I think he can help us win.”
Hinch talked about the possibility of shifting Paredes and Jonathan Schoop between third and second, depending on that day’s pitcher and the opposing lineup, with Jeimer Candelario possibly moving to first over Núñez. However, Paredes’ hot start cooled. He went 1-for-25 with one walk and six strikeouts following his March 10 home run against the Phillies, and he finished at 4-for-32 for the spring.
The fade was a reminder of Paredes’ struggles last September to finish with a .220 average, and he supported the idea that he could use more work on his hitting before he’s ready to make the jump again.
With Paredes out of the mix, the Tigers’ bench decision becomes simpler, with Harold Castro and Greg Garcia still in a potential utility competition next to Niko Goodrum. But first, they have to decide who plays first.
If Núñez makes the team, he’ll be the primary first baseman, a decision that hinges as much on his defense as the power bat that drew Detroit to sign him. If the Tigers decide against Núñez, they’ll likely rotate at first with Miguel Cabrera — who will get a start or two per week at first regardless — along with Candelario, Goodrum and possibly Castro.
On the flip side, if the Tigers carry five outfielders on their 26-man roster to hold onto Rule 5 Draft pick Akil Baddoo, they’ll likely stick with one extra infielder, which would likely be Goodrum.
While Paredes worked to make Hinch’s decision a tough one, Rogers never showed the offensive progression to make his case. He didn’t need to tear up the Grapefruit League, but he needed to show enough progress at the plate to suggest he wouldn’t be overwhelmed by big league pitching while providing a strong defensive option behind Wilson Ramos.
However, Rogers batted 3-for-22 with a double and 10 strikeouts this spring, showing some of the same offensive struggles that led the Tigers to keep Rogers in Toledo last season. Add in the possibility of Ramos seeing some time at designated hitter when Cabrera plays first base, and the situation turned against Rogers quickly.
With Rogers out, Grayson Greiner is the only backup catcher candidate on the 40-man roster. Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase remain in camp as non-roster invites, but Haase has seen more games in left field than at catcher this spring.
Beyond Opening Day, time is becoming more urgent for Rogers to make the jump. Dillon Dingler, Detroit’s No. 7 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, will begin his pro career this year with a chance to become Detroit’s catcher of the future. The Tigers selected him with the first pick of the second round in last year’s MLB Draft.