Tigers minor-league report: Dillon Dingler off to scorching start for West Michigan

Detroit News

It’s way, way too early for statistical trends to mean much in 2021, but with the return of minor-league baseball, we have something we never had in 2020: games, and actual performance numbers

A look at who had good and bad starts in the first handful of minor-league games since 2019:

Triple-A Toledo

Who’s hot …

Zack Short, SS: He hit a pair of home runs in the Mud Hens’ first four games and probably should put an extra change of clothes in a suitcase that can be grabbed in an instant. Short can play anywhere in the infield and figures to be an inevitable Tigers call-up, probably soon the way the injured list tends to spontaneously add names. Short bats right-handed, turns 26 later this month, and was the Tigers’ trade prize for sending Cameron Maybin to the Cubs.

Daniel Pinero, 3B: Been a long trek for Pinero, who is 27. But in this first taste of Triple-A ball in 2021, he at least is batting .300 in four games, with a couple of doubles, as well as four walks against only two strikeouts. Pinero is a big boy — 6-foot-5 — who bats right-handed. He was a ninth-round pick in 2016 when he played at the University of Virginia.

Eric Haase, LF: In traditional years, Haase is a catcher. But the Mud Hens like his bat and have others who can catch. Thus, he’s working a good bit in left and, no surprise, hitting. He’s batting .308 in this finger-nail-sized early sample, with a double, and it must be mentioned, seven strikeouts. He also has three walks. Haase, 28, and a Dearborn Divine Child High alum, hits with power and has a knack for finding his way to Detroit. No surprise if he lands there sometime in 2021.

And who’s not …

Matt Manning, RH starter: No, this isn’t a big deal, not for a moment, except perhaps in Manning’s eyes. He won’t want to allow three home runs and six hits in five innings, as he did in his first start last week against Nashville. Let the record show Manning also struck out six and walked one. In the first week of any season, there can be a fine line between “hot” and “not,” as Manning confirms.

More: Vanderbilt has pair of aces; could one be in cards for Tigers in MLB Draft?

Double-A Erie

Who’s hot …

Jacob Robson, RF: Really nice week for a London, Ontario, product who spent most of his early life in Windsor. Robson, 26, and a left-handed stick who played at the  Mississippi State ahead of being picked by the Tigers, is hitting .455 (1.359 OPS) through six games, with four doubles and a home run.

Yariel Gonzalez, 3B: Tigers signed him a year ago as a minor-league free agent after he was released by the Cardinals. He soon turns 27, and there’s a reason another big-league team can’t find room for you. But nothing wrong with the past week’s efforts: .400, 1.280 OPS, and a pair of home runs for this switch-hitter.

And who’s not …

► SeaWolves escape any and all demerits this week. It’s simply too early, and efforts have been too mixed, for a single bad grade.

More: Tigers prospect Bryant Packard living up to ‘pure hitter’ label at West Michigan

Single-A West Michigan

Who’s hot …

Dillon Dingler, C: Two homers, a triple, and a 1.025 OPS in his first five games, which is nice when your work behind the plate is also drawing raves from his bosses. Dingler is beginning his 2021 season in a way that might have been expected from last year’s 38th-overall draft pick, who was fresh from Ohio State. He’s a right-handed batter, 6-3, 210, and a player the Tigers believe will be their regular catcher for quite a spell. That he has struck out nine times in his first 20 at-bats confirms there’s some adjusting going on for a man playing in his first sanctioned professional games.

Andre Lipcius, 2B: A triple and double are counted as part of his .375 batting average and 1.194 OPS, which would be a nice pace to maintain for a third-round pick in 2019 from the University of Tennessee. Lipcius is 6-1, 190, swings a right-handed bat, and can shift to third base, as he did during a game last week.

And who’s not …

Spencer Torkelson, 3B: This won’t last much longer, this March and early-May fog that probably began lifting Saturday when Torkelson had two hits, including a double. Previous to Saturday, there had been a single hit and a batch of strikeouts as last year’s first overall pick begins a minor-league season that COVID-19 kept him from experiencing last summer. Expect a big bat to soon begin booming.

More: Tigers’ hitters finally seeing some light after dark month

 Single-A Lakeland

Who’s hot …

Wenceel Perez, 2B: He’s playing second base for the Flying Tigers and resembling a player the Tigers invested in heavily when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic. Perez, 21, is batting .350 with a .958 OPS and a home run in five games. He’s a 5-11, 203-pound switch-hitter.

Cooper Johnson, C: The Tigers wanted Johnson at high-A West Michigan rather than Lakeland, but numbers caught up and Dillon Dingler won the higher-tier ticket. Johnson’s response has been to bat .381 (.956 OPS) in Lakeland’s first week, with a pair of doubles, four walks, and six strikeouts. He bats right-handed, is 5-11, 209, is 22 years old, and in 2019 was a sixth-round grab from the University of Mississippi.

Nick Quintana, 3B: These are numbers, albeit six games’ worth, that could help Quintana re-establish some second-round draft capital: nine walks in those six games, with a home run and a double, which is how you put together a quick .867 OPS. Granted, Quintana is 23 and playing low-A ball. But the Tigers’ second-rounder from 2019 (University of Arizona) hasn’t run out of time, by any means.

Adam Wolf, RH reliever: Very nice work by this 6-6, left-handed gunslinger from the University of Louisville who was a fifth-round pick by Detroit in 2018. In two games and six innings, Wolf has struck out eight and walked only one batter, all while rationing a measly three hits.

And who’s not …

Sam McMillan, C: He’ll turn this around, this .067 start through four games. McMillan is 1-for-15, although four walks have helped ease the stress on this 22-year-old who in 2017 was a fifth-round ticket for the Tigers.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.

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