No blaming those who follow Detroit baseball for wondering if, perchance, September might bring a sneak peek at, say, Riley Greene, or maybe Spencer Torkelson, when teams have the option of calling up extras for their big-league rosters.
But it isn’t going to happen.
Greene and Torkelson, as well as Dillon Dingler, and shortstop Ryan Kreidler, all are likely to stick at Double-A Erie in September for the final month of a 2021 season that’s different from previous years.
The minor-league calendar changed in 2021. Games began in May and will cease, not over Labor Day weekend as previously was the case, but at the end of September.
So, there’s one reason the above names won’t be seeing Detroit in 2021.
They instead will be traveling west in October to the Arizona Fall League. Decisions aren’t final, but it’s looking as if all will be playing in the AFL, where MLB teams’ top prospects get an added taste of quality pitching as they tune for eventual big-league work.
Another reason none of the Erie quartet is slated for a September debut at Comerica Park rests in the simple fact they aren’t yet ready. A lesser fact has to do with red tape (teams can only expand September rosters to 28 players; the guys at Erie aren’t yet on Detroit’s 40-man roster; COVID protocol demands quarantining for Double-A players called to the big-league club, etc.).
But while they’ve all made nice gains in 2021, especially Greene, who has been at Erie and has been consistently good from May into August, the four aren’t yet MLB timber.
Next year will be a different matter altogether. But for now, they have work to do. Specifically:
► Greene: He needs only a bit more time aging in the oaken barrels at Erie and probably next spring at Triple-A Toledo. Remember, Greene is only 20. It was nice that Al Kaline won an American League batting championship at age 20 in 1955, but Greene isn’t yet Kaline, although don’t rule out ceilings of any sort with a left-handed batter and center fielder as rich in skills as the Tigers’ first pick in 2019.
He’ll benefit from those weeks in the Arizona desert and arrive at spring camp next February with an outside chance of making the team. Figure on a later debut, something closer to May or June, but minds are best kept open when Greene has done nothing but surpass most thoughts the Tigers had in mind when they grabbed him two years ago.
► Torkelson: He is moving steadily toward big-league work at Comerica Park. As with Greene, the ETA for Torkelson probably is something closer to June, or at some point next midseason. His bat will be ready for big-league pitching as early as next year’s spring camp. But keep in mind the Tigers are still massaging him at third base, part of the time, anyway, and do not care to abandon that experiment quite yet.
Most likely, he ends up at first base in Detroit. But the Tigers aren’t in any rush either way when events and Torkelson’s skills will determine, however early in 2021, that last year’s first overall pick is ripe for a locker at Comerica Park. His right-handed bat will change some games in a hurry for manager AJ Hinch. Together with Greene, the Tigers have a marvelous pair of potential All-Stars gestating at Erie.
► Dingler: He will require more time, for two reasons: He is a catcher and defense, alone, generally calls for overtime on the farm. Dingler’s bat is another factor. He hit the ball hard at Single-A West Michigan but, predictably, has had a rougher time at Double A.
It’s a matter of becoming more seasoned, especially when last year’s minor-league season was ripped away by COVID.
Fortunately for the Tigers, they suddenly have a pair of catchers they like a great deal in Eric Haase and Jake Rogers. That makes even more incumbent, in the team’s eyes, a longer and fuller developmental timeline for Dingler. There remains about as much confidence as can be placed in a Double-A player that the Tigers have a third All-Star in the works in Dingler.
But figure on a lengthier stay at Erie, or more likely Toledo, in 2022. Remember also that life is fast and Dingler’s athleticism is premium. It makes his arrival not a matter of if, but when, with 2022 still in the cards.
► Kreidler: He is a shortstop, so, there, your honor, is the Tigers case for Kreidler. The team is still searching for up-the-middle infielders as its remodeling job continues. Kreidler qualifies not only because of a roster vacuum at short, but also because a man 6-4 is such a fine defender and hits right-handed for power (13 home runs in 75 games).
As for concerns that could yet be disqualifying, at least in terms of regular big-league work:
Kreidler is batting .249 with a .315 on-base average at Erie. Part of the problem with those numbers is that he strikes out way too often: 103 times in those 75 games.
He needs to show he can hit the high fastball and lay off swerving stuff. Of course, that’s every hitter’s challenge, but in Kreidler’s case, if he can make any meaningful progress he’ll be Detroit-bound, with a chance to fill a hole begging to be patched.
The Tigers aren’t wishing and hoping as much as they’re trusting in their preliminary planning that Kreidler will benefit from a fall in Arizona. If he can gain at least a half-gear in chopping down his strikeouts, the Tigers believe they have a heavy asset in Kreidler, a fourth-round pick in 2019 from UCLA.
It’s possible one or more of the above will also head to the Caribbean this winter for time with one of the winter-leagues teams.
For now, they have a couple of big months ahead at Erie.
Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.