Why the Detroit Tigers are losing ‘the hottest player in baseball’ for a few weeks

Detroit Free Press

Jacob Robson, the hottest player in the Detroit Tigers‘ minor league system, is taking a leave of absence, at least for a few weeks, with the Tigers’ blessing.

Robson, a 26-year-old outfielder, has been called up by the big club.

His country.

Robson has left the Double-A Erie SeaWolves to play for Canada, which is trying to qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games. “Man, it’s a tremendous honor,” said Robson, who was born in Windsor, Ontario. “It means a lot to me to be able to put on the red and white and represent Canada.”

Robson is having a tremendous season for the SeaWolves, hitting .424 with an eye-popping .531 OBP and 1.243 OPS. He leads the entire Tigers minor league system with 28 hits in 18 games.

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“I mean, he might be the hottest player in baseball,” said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers vice president of development. “He’s doing a great job.”

The Olympic qualifier begins Monday when Canada plays Colombia in West Palm Beach, Florida. “There are only six teams that qualify for the Olympics,” Robson said, “and four of them have already qualified.” It’s the first time baseball has been an Olympic sport since 2008, and Israel, Japan, Mexico and South Korea are already in.

Robson doesn’t know how long he will be gone from the Tigers.

By the end of the summer, Robson could be an Olympic medalist in Tokyo.

Or playing in Toledo.

Or maybe, if everything comes together perfectly, he could be playing in Detroit. That’s not completely far-fetched.

But if he’s still playing in Erie, that would be ridiculous.

A chance to play every day

It’s crazy that Robson is even playing for Erie. He should be in Toledo, where he spent time in 2018 and 2019. But he has been on the losing end of a numbers game. The Tigers’ outfielders in Toledo include Daz Cameron, Derek Hill, Christin Stewart and JaCoby Jones — all players who are, in theory, valued more than Robson. All but Stewart are on the 40-man roster.

Hill is the best defensive outfielder in the organization, and Cameron is coming back from a fractured wrist. Jones and Stewart are trying to get back to Detroit but neither has ever proved they can hit over a full season in the majors.

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So I understand sending Robson to Erie, just so he can play every day.

But he has made a strong argument — by producing on the field — that he is ready to move up.

“He’s done exactly what we ask players to do — show us,” Littlefield said. “Everybody who goes down a lower level than they expected, and that they hoped for, is upset and we get that, and that’s part of being a good player. But the best thing to do is take a couple of days and whatever uneasiness you have about it is fine, but then get back to work and perform, and he’s done a great job of that, and he’s gonna make some headway for himself here at some point.”

At some point, you have to look at productivity, not not draft position.

At some point, the Tigers have to cut bait with some of those outfielders who have not produced and give players like Robson a chance.

Because Robson has earned it.

“I think he’s more mature,” Littlefield said. “It’s not just all of a sudden we learned about Jake Robson. He’s been in big-league camp for a couple years. But this guy’s pushing the envelope and he’s forcing our hand.”

MLB Pipeline, baseball’s official scouting service, lists eight outfielders among the Tigers’ top 30 prospects — but Robson isn’t one of them.

But, all he does is rake.

“Sometimes, frequently, the game will show you who can play,” Littlefield said.

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Use him or lose him

Whenever he returns from his quest to get Canada into the Olympics — the qualifying tournament lasts until June 5, and Olympic competition is scheduled for July 28-Aug. 7 — Robson deserves to be playing at Triple-A Toledo.

“Honestly, I think I can do even better,” Robson said. “When I get back, I expect to keep it rolling and do some more cool stuff.”

Robson signed with the Tigers in 2016 after being selected in the eighth round out of Mississippi State; if he isn’t added to the 40-man roster by December, he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft.

So the Tigers are going to have to make a decision about him soon.

“I’m a baseball player,” Robson said. “No matter what team I’m on, I will find my way to the big leagues, whether it’s with the Tigers or not. It may not be this year. Everyone’s timing is different.”

The Tigers might as well move him up, at least to Toledo, and see what he can do.

Before they lose him to somebody else.

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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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