Kody Clemens just wants to reach the big leagues.
He expected to play second base for Triple-A Toledo this season, three years after the Detroit Tigers selected him out of Texas in the third round of the 2018 MLB draft, but manager AJ Hinch believes defensive versatility is the gateway for prospects to arrive — and stick — at the highest level.
“Since I’ve been with the Tigers, I haven’t had one position change,” Clemens, 25, told the Free Press on Tuesday. “This was very new to me.”
Clemens’ older brother, Kacy, hooked up him with a first baseman’s glove in spring training. More recently, the Mud Hens asked Clemens to take reps in right field. He grabbed an outfield glove — despite not having played the outfield since his freshman year at Memorial High School in Houston — and is getting comfortable beyond the infield dirt.
“I honestly think second base is harder than both those positions, so it hasn’t been bad at all,” Clemens said. “I’m obviously open to do whatever the guys need me to do and whatever will get me in the lineup. It’s been great.”
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Entering Thursday, Clemens had played 34 games in Triple-A. He reached Double-A Erie in 2019 but didn’t advance because the minor leagues were shut down in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He is the Tigers’ No. 13 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Of those, 24 have come at second base, six in right field and three at first.
“We have said over and over how versatility is going to help you get to the big leagues,” Hinch said July 17. “Eric Haase is a perfect example of that and putting Daz (Cameron) in center (field) helped him get back to the big leagues faster, and Isaac (Paredes) playing second started in spring training. We want our players to move around and be an answer whenever we need a call up.”
During Toledo’s six-game series with the Iowa Cubs from July 13-18, Clemens played both first base and right field twice, along with one game at second base. He started in right field Tuesday for his team’s series opener in Indianapolis and did the same Wednesday.
“If that’s what will help me get to the big leagues, I’m all for it,” Clemens said. “It’s exciting that Eric is out there doing what he can do with the multiple positions (catcher, left field, first base). Wherever they want me to play, I’ll play.”
The Mud Hens started using Clemens as a first baseman and right fielder when the Tigers sent 24-year-old second baseman Willi Castro to Toledo on June 16. In the majors, he was hitting .214 and struggling defensively — nine errors while at second base and shortstop — across 74 games.
But the Tigers believe Castro is key to the future, so they want him to develop at second base in the minors — which doesn’t leave many starts for Clemens at his primary position.
“Our best team has (Castro) involved and playing virtually every day,” Hinch said July 16. “I do think we’ve seen some progress defensively. The defensive metrics aren’t very kind to him, but we’ve seen progress at second base … but a lot of it has to do with getting his bat on track.”
Clemens is hitting .246 (31-for-126) with seven doubles, three triples, four home runs, 14 RBIs, 13 walks and 32 strikeouts. He had a .277 batting average but went 0-for-15 with three strikeouts during the six-game series against the Cubs.
Clemens doubled Tuesday to snap his slump, then crushed a home run Wednesday as part of a 2-for-5, two-RBI performance out of the cleanup spot.
“I’m working with Jeff Branson down here. I really love him as our hitting coach,” Clemens, a left-handed hitter, said. “He keeps me honest to the left side of the field, which I’ve really grown and adapted to with my swing. It’s almost to the point where I forgot how to pull the baseball. The shift they used to play on me isn’t happening as much, which I like.
“Swing feels good. Hitting the ball to left-center field, just need some of them to fall down this week.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.