Why Tom Izzo would love Detroit Tigers shortstop prospect Ryan Kreidler

Detroit Free Press

ERIE, Pa. — You watch Ryan Kreidler play shortstop for the Erie SeaWolves and you think: This kid could play in the big leagues.

He has an impressive glove, a strong arm and an ability to make highlight plays.

“He’s one of the best shortstops I’ve played with,” said Riley Greene, his Double-A teammate and roommate.

You stand next to Kreidler, the Detroit Tigers’ fourth-round pick in 2019, and you think: When did shortstops get so big? Kreidler is 6 feet 4 — interestingly enough, the same height as the Houston Astros’ Carlos Correa and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Corey Seager.

You watch Kreidler at the plate, cranking a home run and you think: This kid has some pop in his bat. He had five extra-base hits, including a pair of home runs, in his first 39 at-bats for the SeaWolves.

You talk to Kreidler and you come away thinking: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo would love him — because Kreidler carries a serious chip on his shoulder. It’s the kind that emanates from deep within the baseball soul and motivates everything.

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“I’ve never been a hot prospect guy,” Kreidler said. “I’ve never been on Team USA. I’ve never been on a lot of those teams that a lot of these other players have been on. So it’s a little chip on my shoulder that I try and carry with me. And I’ll continue to carry that.”

“Does that motivate you?” I ask him.

Kreidler nodded his head.

“Come on,” I said. “You went to UCLA. It’s not like you came from nowhere, and you were overlooked.”

“It’s all just kind of in my head,” Kreidler said. “It’s a little game I like to play but yeah, it’s kind of that driving force in the offseason, especially this past year.”

Ah yes, this past season.

Kreidler was not invited to the Tigers’ alternate training site in 2020.

“Does that bug you?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, it did. I think I’m the best player here, and I think you go in our clubhouse, everybody would tell you the same thing. So I take everything personal. I’m a competitor and I take everything personal that way. I think I should be in the big leagues, man. But obviously you need to prove that, day in and day out.”

Kreidler did not say these things out of spite, or anger, or even entitlement. He did not sound cocky.No, he sounded determined and honest, offering a little window into what makes him tick.

Kreidler is known for his defense, not his bat. Baseball America ranked him No. 137 entering the 2019 draft.

“Kreidler’s reputation as one of the best defenders on the West Coast dates back to high school, but he long struggled to hit, including in the Cape Cod League last summer,” the publication wrote in a scouting report before the draft. “He has soft hands, reads hops well, has a plus, accurate arm and possesses advanced instincts that allow him to get to every ball. He projects as an above-average shortstop and a potential plus defender at third base… but he’s a below-average hitter who doesn’t cover the outer half and is susceptible to breaking balls. Even with a questionable bat, Kreidler’s infield defense, strength and gamer makeup have teams interested in the top five rounds.”

The Tigers took him in the fourth round (112 overall), signed him to a $517,400 contract and sent him to Connecticut to play in short-season Class-A. There, he played 60 games and hit .232 with 19 extra-base hits.

Then came 2020, lost because of the coronavirus pandemic. And yes, he felt slighted not to be invited to the alternate site in Toledo.

Kreidler started out in the Tigers’ minor league camp in spring training this year. Late in camp, he was called up for some games with the big league club and made the most of his opportunity, going 3-for-8 with a double and home run.

If you look at his numbers alone, it would fair to assume that Kreidler would have been assigned to Class-A Lakeland, or even High-A West Michigan. But the pandemic made a mess of everything, disrupting the normal progression of every prospect. So Kriedler, 23, skipped two levels — two huge levels, really — and started out at Double-A Erie. That allowed the Tigers to give all of their young shortstops a chance to play every day, including their two 2020 picks: Trei Cruz, 22, was sent to West Michigan and Gage Workman, 21, went to Lakeland.

“He’s a big, strong kid, and he’s just going to keep getting stronger,” Erie manager Arnie Beyeler said. “And he can play a little shortstop too. So he’s fun to watch… From our standpoint, he works hard. He’s got a lot of ability. From the professional standpoint, he’s pretty green, hasn’t played a lot of games, but he improves every day. He wants to get better every day and he’s just going to continue to get bigger and stronger and better and it’s going to be fun to watch him play and watch him progress.”

Kreidler is still adjusting. He was hitting .191 through 11 games while suffering from too many swings and misses (11 strikeouts). But he has confidence that he will turn it around. After missing a season and then making a monumental jump to Double-A, it’s not surprising he has yet to find his rhythm at the plate.

“I have nothing to lose,” Kreidler said. “I think any good baseball player will tell you the same thing. I try to do everything I can to force the issue, to tie some people’s hands and make tough decisions on me.”

[ Why the fixes for Tigers prospect Spencer Torkelson are all in his head ]

You listen to his words and you think: This is one smart, mature kid, full of confidence.

Not cocky, just driven.

If he can hit — and that’s the factor that will determine everything — he’ll continue to climb.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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