Those who follow the Tigers might know the story. They know Aderlin Rodriguez will be 30 years old in November. That he came to the Tigers in January as a minor-league free agent who could play first base, third base, or, in a real pinch, outfield. And you know also:
► He signed originally, in 2008, with the Mets for big money as teenage international talent goes: $600,000.
► That he has since worked in a slew of farm systems: Mets, Mariners, Orioles, Padres.
► That he spent 2020 playing in Japan.
And, of course, they are aware that in 2021 a right-handed batter, 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, has been playing for Triple-A Toledo while blasting the ball steadily: .310 in 62 games, with 16 home runs, a .388 on-base average, and muscular .603 slugging, which amounts to an OPS of .990.
Is this a player the Tigers can take seriously? Or, is he your basic minor-league laborer whose ceiling is Triple A?
“He’s had a tremendous year,” Toledo manager Tom Prince said during a Friday phone chat. “It’s one of those things where some guys are late-bloomers.
“Maybe some things are clicking. He’s hit the ball as hard as anybody I’ve seen in the league. And that started at spring training.”
Rodriguez has played 33 games at first base, 14 at third, and another 14 as designated hitter.
Defense is not his specialty, nor is it a glaring liability.
The Tigers are a bit jammed up as Rodriguez’s situation applies to Detroit, and at Toledo.
Jeimer Candelario is safe at third base as Tigers manager AJ Hinch’s lineup is currently gauged. First base? There’s perhaps an opportunity there, given that Jonathan Schoop ideally is a second baseman who often works at first.
But keep in mind another Toledo farmhand: Renato Nunez, who has big-league credentials and who worked earlier this year in Detroit. He also plays first base, also bats right-handed, and has Toledo numbers very near those of Rodriguez: .269/.378/.553/.930.
It’s also remembered Nunez had a seven-game cameo for the Tigers in April and batted .148, not that a cold-weather, fill-in stint is taken overly seriously.
Prince isn’t in charge of Detroit’s personnel decisions. He stays in his lane when assessing two men’s skills, beginning with Rodriguez.
“He’s been as professional as any player we have,” Prince said. “He’s done everything: first base, third base, DH, or if I’ve asked him to go to the outfield. He and Nunez have really been fixtures in the middle of this lineup. They feed off each other.”
In the interim, a man trying to avoid the label Career Minor Leaguer continues to rip Triple A pitching, hoping, no doubt, that events might somehow bring him to Detroit and to a new job classification: big-leaguer.
Bullpen options: Can a lefty help?
It is a lean list, the number of legitimate reliever arms at the Tigers’ upper-tier farm stops.
Jason Foley, the big right-handed gunman who shoots high-90s fastballs, is being shaped for duty the Tigers hope soon will result in fewer hits (19) and walks (12) than are now being issued at Toledo where he has a 5.19 ERA and 1.79 WHIP in 17.1 innings.
Bryan Garcia, another right-hander Tigers followers are not overly fond of at the moment, all due to a bunch of home runs he served up during his last stint in Detroit, has a chance to deal with some pitching issues and return to trustworthy ways.
Miguel Del Pozo … Angel De Jesus … Will Vest (returned to the Tigers this month by the Mariners after being taken in last year’s Rule 5 Draft) … Ricardo Pinto … Wladimir Pinto.
They are the best the Tigers offer, even as some of the above appear to be far from Detroit.
But that often is the case with relievers who can in a few days or weeks discover hot or cold extremes at any level of professional baseball.
The Tigers could have a lower-profile left-hander wending his way to Detroit: Locke St. John, 28, and a 32nd-round pick by the Tigers as he departed the University of South Alabama in 2014, is in the picture — definitely so — thanks to his 1.26 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 19 games for the Mud Hens.
St. John has tossed 35.2 innings, been swatted for 26 hits, while striking out 38 and walking 13.
“Some swing-and-miss,” Prince said. “He’s got a fastball — 91, 92 is his comfort zone. He throws change-up, backdoor slider, a back-foot slider. There’s some deception in the angle he comes at from the left side.
“And he can get inside on a right-hander.”
St. John has seven games of big-league spurs, all with the Rangers in 2019 after they nabbed him in the minor-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft.
The Tigers re-signed him as a minor-league investment heading into 2021 and he looms as help for a Detroit bullpen that obviously could use any and all support.
Drew Hutchison has been nicked for two earned runs in his last two starts for the Mud Hens. The rest of the story: 13 innings, 10 hits, 11 strikeouts, five walks. He is 30, a left-hander, and has lots of big-league history with the Blue Jays, Pirates, Phillies, and Rangers. Whether he can get big-league batters out in 2021 is a nervous question the Tigers haven’t yet answered. All because the suspected answer is: no.
… Kody Clemens had a big three-homer week for the Mud Hens as he continues to push for work in Detroit, either at second base, first base, or in the outfield. Facts are these in the case of Clemens, who on the year is batting .254, with a .318 on-base average and .804 OPS at Toledo. He has six homers, total.
… One of the big movers in a Tigers system aching for plus surprises: Eric De La Rosa, a right-handed hitting outfielder who had a strong 16 games at low-A Lakeland and has since been better at West Michigan: .292/.379/.468/.846, with a pair of home runs. De La Rosa turned 24 last month and was a seventh-round Tigers pick in 2018 from Grossmont College in El Cajon, California.
De La Rosa has been out-performing a couple of second-rounders who play for West Michigan and who have — or, perhaps had — considerably more cachet as Tigers prospects: Parker Meadows (.189 batting average at West Michigan) and Daniel Cabrera (.224).
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.