MINNEAPOLIS — Zack Short doesn’t know if his chances at the Tigers’ shortstop job has passed him by. He doesn’t know if Ryan Kreidler’s rise through the system puts his future in Detroit in question. What he does know are the lessons that he has learned from his ride on the Detroit-Toledo shuttle this year, a season that included not just his Major League debut, but a lengthy stint as Detroit’s starting shortstop.
“Obviously, I wish the year went a lot different,” Short said, “but I’m really excited. I had that taste in my mouth where I’ve been here for a little bit, and I’m hungry going into next year to get a spot. Whatever it is, if it’s a backup spot — obviously we’re going to try to get some guys to be here — but whatever spot I’m in, I’m going to be a completely different player than I was this year, I firmly believe.”
Short had a couple cups of coffee as an extra infielder early in the season, but his return in late June following injuries to Niko Goodrum and Isaac Paredes was when things took off for the 26-year-old. Short lived up to his defensive billing, but his offense was a bonus for a couple weeks, including three home runs in a 13-game stretch. His approach followed his Minor League skill set of three true outcomes – sneaky home-run power, high swing-and-miss rate, but also the ability to draw walks.
Through his first 19 games, Short had an .818 OPS on July 10, the next-to-last game in Minnesota before the All-Star break. From there, he batted .111 (11-for-99) with 31 strikeouts in 38 games until the Tigers optioned him back to Triple-A Toledo on Sept. 4.
“I came out of my approach, [including] working the walks,” Short said. “I’ll be the first to admit, as soon as I saw my average going down, it was like, ‘I want to get a hit here and I want to stay in the lineup.’ I didn’t realize what I was doing before, where I was working counts, having those gritty at-bats where I was fouling pitches off. I did that for the whole first month, month and a half [that] I was here. And then I can vividly remember when he came here, I just felt like I had to swing at everything as soon as I saw a pitch down, because I know I can hammer pitches down. …
“Especially when you’re number 59 up there and you don’t really have the stats, somebody looks up and says, ‘We might not give this guy a call.’ And then that gets in your head when you’re struggling. You don’t know what the strike zone is sometimes. It’s not me making an excuse, but you don’t trust yourself and then before you know it, you’re facing somebody in the eighth inning throwing 100 and then you don’t really have time to think about what the strike zone is. You don’t trust yourself and then you come out of your comfort zone and then before you know it, you’re spiraling downhill and it gets out of control really quickly.”
His return to Triple-A Toledo, he said, helped him catch his breath and slow things down. He hit .224 (13-for-58) over 17 games, and drew 10 walks to counter 16 strikeouts. When Derek Hill went on the injured list, Short returned.
He isn’t getting regular playing time this stint, not with Niko Goodrum at shortstop, but he’s at least getting a chance to try out some lessons that he has learned.
Short did not return to Toledo as the everyday shortstop, since Kreidler had been promoted from Double-A Erie. Instead, the two split the role while bouncing around the infield. Short even received some playing time in left field, which was an adjustment.
“I hadn’t played outfield since high school and I was having a blast,” Short added.
Whether that’s a preview of his eventual fit in Detroit remains to be seen. The Tigers will likely add somebody at shortstop, big name or otherwise in the offseason. If Short’s best hope of the big leagues is as a bench player, he’ll need to play around the field to stick in Detroit.
“Whatever it is, whether it’s with this team or somewhere else, I’m ready to compete for another job,” Short said. “Be ready to go whenever your name is called. Take whatever you learn from this year and bring it into next year.”