Toledo, Ohio — Detroit Tigers shortstop prospect Ryan Kreidler shines pretty brightly for someone who’s always billed as a co-star on baseball teams.
The Tigers drafted him in the fourth round in 2019 out of No. 1-ranked UCLA, where first baseman Michael Toglia was taken in the first round by the Colorado Rockies, infielder-outfielder Matt McLain had been the Arizona Diamondbacks‘ first-rounder the year before, and pitcher Ryan Garcia (Texas Rangers) and second baseman Chase Strumpf (Chicago Cubs) went in the second round.
Now, while continuing his quick rise through the minors, Kreidler was assigned to the Toledo Mud Hens on Aug. 15 along with first baseman Spencer Torkelson (MLB Pipeline’s No. 1 Tigers prospect) and outfielder Riley Greene (No. 2 on that list). Kreidler is No. 10, according to that ranking service.
And yet, eight games into their Triple-A debuts, Kreidler is off to the quickest start. He’s batting .458 with two homers and four RBIs, and has an eight-game on-base streak.
“This year, people want to say, ‘He came out of nowhere,’ ” Kreidler said after Wednesday’s batting practice at Fifth Third Field. “But, man, it’s taken a ton of work to get here. Still, I don’t take any of that for granted, and I love it when people say, ‘Oh, he came out of nowhere.’ ”
Kreidler paused, smiled, and added, “No, I didn’t. Nobody was paying attention, but I’ve been the same guy all the time. Whether I’m the guy or I’m on a team where other guys get more shine than I do, it doesn’t affect me one way or the other. I just go out and play. The more I can do behind the scenes is better for me. That’s what I enjoy doing.”
What’s enabled him to go from the Class-A Connecticut Tigers for two months in 2019, sitting out competition in 2020 during COVID-19 restrictions, and Double-A Erie all the way to Toledo this fast?
“It’s a results business,” said Kreidler, “and this year’s just been a good year for me. But what I can do off the field that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is important, too. I think that’s appreciated in this organization. I try to be a team guy, which can kind of get lost in the minor leagues.
“One of the reasons they trusted me with the promotion is I can play defense.”
Kreidler, 6-foot-4, 208 pounds, made a sensational diving catch in the hole Tuesday night to rob rehabbing Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton of a single. The athleticism was evident, but mental preparation also made that play possible.
“It’s a lot of homework,” said Kreidler. “I’d seen him play on TV and did the homework on where to play him. You watch his swings in the game and have to know what pitch is coming.”
A changeup was called and he expected the ball to be pulled, which it was. “He was a little out front,” said Kreidler. “I was anticipating a hard-hit ball coming to me. Whenever I can make a good play like that, it’s pretty fun because I work real hard at it. I had (third baseman) Isaac (Paredes) clapping for me and (pitcher Matt) Boyd smiled at me.”
Toledo manager Tom Prince said, “That’s an ESPN play. But he puts himself in a position. … And he makes the routine play look easy, too.”
His teammates also rave about him.
“He’s a baseball player — a great team guy,” said Torkelson, a fellow Pac-12 product from Arizona State. “UCLA always produces guys like that, but he’s special in that regard. He grinds, he works hard. He’s obviously very talented, but he works even harder than anyone.”
Greene, when asked what most impressed him about Kreidler, said, “Just him as a person on the field — his attitude every day. He’s got that leadership attitude. He’ll tell you what’s up. He’ll be the first one there if you hit a homer. He’s an amazing teammate and an incredible shortstop. He takes control of the whole field.”
When those comments were read to Kreidler, he said, “That means a lot. Those guys are great players, and so that’s kind of awesome. To play shortstop, you’ve got to be vocal, and that’s my role on the teams I’ve been on — kind of bringing that attitude and the energy and hard work and playing every day. I’ve only missed one game all year.”
It’s way out of line to compare Kreidler to New York Yankees’ Hall of Fame shortstop Derek Jeter, who just happens to be his favorite player, but there are similarities that point to his potential.
“I watched Jeter all the time,” Kreidler said. “My grandfather’s a Yankees fan, and he’s the exemplary shortstop, especially for a tall guy. He made every play and was in the right spot all the time. Baseball instincts, that’s right up my alley.”
It’s only natural that Kreidler has come under the tutelage of Detroit Hall of Fame shortstop Alan Trammell, a special assistant to the general manager for the Tigers.
“When you’re around him,” said Kreidler, “you learn what it takes to do this for 20 years He has all these tales about how him and Lou (Whitaker) did it up the middle together.”
His mother, Colleen, and father, Mark, influenced his strong work ethic. Mark was a San Diego Union-Tribune baseball beat writer when Hall of Fame outfielder and hitter supreme Tony Gwynn played for the Padres.
“Both of my parents, and my dad in particular, impressed me,” Ryan said. “My dad was a journalist and that’s a grind. He was away from home, making things happen for us and covering these athletes. He wrote about wrestlers from Iowa, surfers from around the world, the Sacramento Kings and all these great MLB players.
“But the one thing they all had was this one common trait, working hard. I’m from a town, Davis (California), that doesn’t produce a ton of major-sport athletes, but does swimmers and track athletes. Baseball, football and basketball have been pretty dry. So, I’ve always thought of it as an underdog mentality. And the only way to make it through that is grinding.
“It’s something I take pride in, and it’s something I try to take with me where I go. So far, it’s helped me out a lot.”
And he got to meet Gwynn once.
“My dad was close to Tony Gwynn when he covered the Padres,” Kreidler said. “I met him when he was coaching San Diego State, and that was a cool one. My dad would tell me about him watching video when nobody was watching video, and have the video guy whip up a VHS (tape) that he would take with him to the hotel.
“He was awesome, and kind to me and my brother, who went to San Diego State.”
Kreidler was a 35th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs after his senior year at Davis High but elected to go to UCLA, where he developed slowly before batting .300 with nine homers and 45 RBIs as a junior and going to the Tigers.
He’s done nothing but make that pick look pretty good ever since.
Steve Kornacki is a freelance writer.