A.J. Hinch’s first Spring Training as Tigers manager set what he hopes will be the tone for his tenure, with an attention to detail, an aggressiveness on the mound and on the basepaths, a tenaciousness at the plate and an expectation to win the day.
What that means for Detroit’s 2021 season will unfold over the next weeks and months. But with a camp stocked with prospects who are expected to form the core of the Tigers’ next contending team, the message hopefully resonates with the next generation for the coming years.
“The young players, they get publicized and complimented all the time. We have a really good farm system. It’s validated when you’re around these guys, and I look forward to the future,” Hinch said. “But the mindset of ‘win today’s game now’ is something I think the team has taken to. There’s a great hunger to be better and provide a better product and to win games.
“And that’s not to say they didn’t want to win last year or the year before, but there’s some energy on this team that I think that we can help improve and when we get to Detroit, have that winning mentality.”
Tarik Skubal stepped up from pitching prospect to polished pitcher and stood out in a cluttered rotation battle, tossing eight scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts over his first three outings before finally allowing a couple of runs. The 24-year-old left-hander added a Driveline-designed splitter to his power arsenal and mixed pitches in a way that showed maturation from his late-season stint last year.
“It was business-like,” Hinch said. “He has a seriousness to how he competes. I don’t want him to change that. I do want him to find some of the fun that comes with using his dominant stuff, but every player needs a little edge that they create for themselves in order to be good. He loves to compete.”
Delays hurt the Tigers all over their roster. Nomar Mazara and Jonathan Schoop arrived late to camp due to visa issues and that seemed to carry over to Lakeland, Fla., where the veterans largely struggled at the plate until the final days of camp. Victor Reyes had a similar slump following his delayed report. Versatile swingman Wily Peralta missed all of Spring Training, costing Detroit pitching depth. Contact tracing and COVID-19 protocols affected closer candidate Bryan Garcia early in Spring Training and potential ace Spencer Turnbull at the end. Turnbull will open the season on the injured list while he works to get back up to speed after being away from camp for what would’ve been his final tuneups of Spring Training.
Player who opened eyes
Akil Baddoo looked a whole lot better than a Rule 5 Draft pick who hasn’t played a game above the Class A level. Beyond his team-best four home runs, the 22-year-old showed solid defensive instincts, incredible athleticism and a maturity beyond his years. His handling of what seemed like a long-shot bid has essentially forced the Tigers to shoehorn him onto the Opening Day roster or risk offering him back to the division-rival Twins, his original organization, with extra development and a confidence boost to haunt Detroit in the coming years.
Skubal went up against a lineup of Phillies regulars on St. Patrick’s Day in Clearwater, Fla., and racked up six strikeouts over three scoreless innings, including two strikeouts of Bryce Harper.