A tall order? Shortstop Ryan Kreidler’s ability to make impact with Tigers rests with bat

Detroit News

Begin with the fact Ryan Kreidler is 6-foot-4 and plays shortstop. There aren’t a lot of those guys around. Not in the big leagues, and not in the high-rung minors.

Shortstop typically demands grace a man with Kreidler’s frame doesn’t easily deliver. But this is not one of those factory-stamped athletes, this 23-year-old, right-handed hitter now playing at Double-A Erie two years after the Tigers snatched him in the fourth round of the 2019 MLB Draft, straight from UCLA.

“He’s a big-league shortstop, that’s the bottom line,” said Arnie Beyeler, Erie’s manager, as he spoke Saturday about a prospect whose glove, principally, and power (eight home runs in 47 games) have made him a person of interest as the Tigers hunt heavily for help at short.

“It’s just a matter of him getting more reps in games. If he hits enough, he’s going to be a pretty special guy, and if he doesn’t you would still think there’s some big-time utility value.

“No one really knows how that will play out. But he drives the ball to all fields, he runs, he moves runners, and he knows how to play the game. And he doesn’t have just a pretty good glove — he’s got a really good glove, real rangy, with a plus arm. He pretty much checks all the boxes on a big-league team.”

Kreidler has played 47 games through May and June at Erie. He is batting .240, with his eight homers the greater prize among secondary stats that show a .290 on-base percentage, and .686 OPS, with 70 strikeouts and 12 walks.

The latter numbers point to his bigger mission: chop down on punchouts, add some walks, swing at pitches more suited to him than to a pitcher hoping to cheat on the strike zone’s perimeter.

The Tigers, of course, knew all about Kreidler’s ways and still decided on sticking him at Double A — even after a year layoff due to COVID, and even after his only taste of Single-A baseball was an entry-level New York-Penn League stint in those weeks after he had signed with Detroit.

It was an ambitious assignment, Erie, which showed how seriously Detroit takes Kreidler’s upside. What they believed was a combination of size, skills, maturity (he turns 24 in November), experience (UCLA, Cape Cod League, etc.), and need — the Tigers have all but the FBI helping them in their search for a shortstop — made Kreidler worth the bold bump to Double A.

“He’s an advanced guy who plays a premium position,” said Dave Littlefield, who oversees Tigers player development, and who along with his associates liked how Kreidler handled a cameo last summer with the Tigers’ taxi squad. “We thought it (Erie) was a good fit. We think he’ll be a solid-to-plus defender in the big leagues. He’s a strong-makeup kid, a very competitive kid.”

Whether he makes it as a starter or as bench help will be a matter of his bat. Almost exclusively.

Whether he can raise his average, string together better at-bats, and lay off the fringe stuff is everyone’s question. Improving on those splits (he is batting .204 against right-handers, .327 against lefties) also would help.

“And I don’t see any reason why it won’t (improve),” said Beyeler, who has been a big-league coach for the Red Sox and Orioles. “He has the hand-eye coordination. He can drive the ball to all fields.

“He’s just going to have to get more reps, and put the ball in play with better rates. He’s getting challenged this year, sure, but he’s hanging in there, and there are nights he’s really good, and other nights when the game’s really hard.

“But his glove never takes a day off, his feet never take a day off. He’s pretty fun to watch in the field. He makes a play about every night that affects the game.”

Beyeler mentions a couple of recent testimonials there. Kreidler, the skipper says, has “that (Derek) Jeter play down pat” — grabbing a deep grounder, leaping into the hair, twisting and firing a bullet to first for the out.

“He made two of those plays last week, and those guys were (respectable runners).”

Friday, against Akron, Kreidler fielded a chopping grounder that forced him to take a step back. The runner was more like a sprinter.

“He knew he had to get rid of the ball,” Beyeler said, explaining that for most shortstops, the grounder was a pure base hit. “I said, ‘Well, we’re not going to get him.’

“But, sure enough, he threw a bazooka and got the guy. He’s got a really good clock (a sense for the throw he needs to make in the time allotted). Again, those are attributes some say you can teach and some say you can’t. But that’s where his skill-set comes in.”

That a guy 6-4 sticks at shortstop is a wrinkle not unique to Kreidler. Not anymore — not after Cal Ripken and Carlos Correa and Corey Seager have played there, and not when San Diego’s sensation, Fernando Tatis, Jr., is 6-3.

But the fact a man with altitude moves so swiftly is another of Kreidler’s distinctions, along, of course, with that ever-popular plus: makeup.

“The work ethic of this guy — how he gets to it every day,” Beyeler said, and on the phone line you could all but envision him shaking his head. “This is a college player who’s been taught baseball really well. His baseball acumen is pretty special.

“You don’t see a lot of guys 6-4 who are above-average going down the line, and who can steal bases,” Beyeler said, shifting to Kreidler’s height. “He’s a wiry guy, which helps with the speed. He’ll get bigger, and when that happens most guys slow down and become sloggers.

“But he’ll still be able to run. You’d hope to keep him in the middle of the field (shortstop or third base), but the hands and his glove are going to play somewhere on the field.”

If, of course, he can cut it at the plate.

It’s interesting that Baseball America scouting report from 2019:

“Kreidler’s reputation as one of the best defenders on the West Coast dates back to high school, but he struggled to hit, including in the Cape Cod League last summer. He improved his approach this spring and surprisingly emerged as one of UCLA’s top hitters, sending his draft stock soaring.

“… Kreidler 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. Scouts believe he could play an above-average or better second base and first base, too.

“Kreidler’s strength and long levers give him average power potential, 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.

Quite the bull’s-eye, the BA scouts seem to have etched two years ago.

It’s up to Kreidler to surprise them with the bat. And, if he does, a team with a longtime void at shortstop would get one of the biggest boosts in recent Tigers draft history.

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

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