Tigers expected to give Riley Greene real shot to win roster spot in spring

Detroit News

Detroit — The Tigers are apparently leaving the door wide open for Riley Greene to win a roster spot next spring.

General manager Al Avila said during a season-ending press conference with manager AJ Hinch on Tuesday that pursuing an experienced outfielder was not a priority this offseason. Meaning, the club feels Greene, who just turned 21 on Sept. 28, is at least knocking at the door.

“AJ and I have talked about this a lot and outfield is an area we both feel OK with,” Avila said. “If there is an opportunity to capitalize on something (in free agency) maybe we look at it. But right now, it’s not an area of concern because we have Riley Greene coming.”

Going into spring training, Robbie Grossman will be the lone returning starter. Akil Baddoo, too, coming off an impressive rookie season, is expected to retain one of four or five outfield spots on the active roster. Victor Reyes, Derek Hill and Daz Cameron will be in the competition with Greene.

“You guys have written plenty about the possibility of Greene making the club out of spring training,” Avila said. “I’m not going to comment on that. At some point, you can count on Riley Greene being in our outfield next season. I’m not going to say when, but at some point in the not-too-distant future.”

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Greene played in 124 games and got 578 plate appearances between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo this summer. He slashed .301/.387/.534 with a .921 OPS, 25 doubles, eight triples, 24 home runs and 84 RBIs.

As impressive as his season was, Hinch isn’t handing out any free passes to the lineup.

“Everything matters,” Hinch said. “Performance matters. So we’re going to apply as much pressure on everybody, including ourselves, on when to make this decision, when to open the door. I think the offseason (what players the Tigers may or may not acquire) will dictate some of that. The performance of the season will warrant consideration.

“And I think what they do next spring is going to matter.”

Hinch did the same thing with pitching prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal last spring. He didn’t concede roster spots. In fact, Mize barely made the squad out of spring training. He applied as much pressure as he could on them throughout the process. He made them earn it.

He plans to do the same to No. 1 prospect, first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who pounded 30 home runs between Erie and Toledo this season.

“I’m curious how they’re going to respond when we get to camp and all eyes are on them,” Hinch said. “There’s going to be big drama. You guys are going to ask a lot of questions and I love that. I love the pressure on these guys.

“We’ll see where it takes us. But everything is going to matter.”

Torkelson, the first overall pick in the draft in 2020, is on a different path than Greene, the fifth overall pick in 2019. The Tigers still plan to alternate Miguel Cabrera and Jonathan Schoop at first base, at least initially.

Avila said Schoop could move over to second base if Torkelson forces his way in.

“One thing we’ve committed to is putting the best team on the field,” Hinch said. “They’re not finished products yet. No matter what you do in the minors, the step to the big leagues is the biggest step you’re ever going to make.

“I hope they put all kinds of pressure on us for Opening Day. But there’s a lot that has to happen between now and before we have to make a firm decision.”

Boyd decision looms

The future of veteran lefty Matthew Boyd, the Tigers’ Opening Day starter the last two seasons, is very much up in the air. So much that Avila mostly sidestepped the issue.

“I’m not going to get into it,” he said. “There is a decision to be made on our part and there is a decision to be made on his part, if it gets to that point.”

Boyd, 30, is eligible for arbitration this winter after making $6.5 million in 2021. He will be a free agent after next season. After undergoing surgery on his flexor tendon, he’s not expected to be ready to pitch until next June at the earliest.

The Tigers will have to tender him an offer before Dec. 2.

“It’s a two-way thing,” Avila said. “If we do go forward (and offer a contract) then he has to make a decision whether that’s going to be good enough for him, too.”

Prospects are sacred

Acquiring free agents isn’t the only way to add talent and Avila has talked about the possibility of trying to make trades this offseason, especially in the team’s pursuit of a more experienced catcher.

He was asked if the organization was in a position now to use some of their top-end prospects as trade bait?

“I’m still very sensitive to that,” he said. “We’re not looking to for a quick win and then we’re out. We’re looking to sustain this.”

More: Tigers 2021 season in review: Grossman’s growth emblematic of a team on the rise

Avila said with the overhauling of the minor-league system, with the influx of millions of dollars into the infrastructure of the organization (scouting, analytics and player development), it would be counterproductive to start peddling off the young talent.

“We have to be very careful on that,” he said. “I’m not going to rule it out. Anything that might make sense, obviously we’re going to look at it. And if we can, if there’s a trade to be made, we will. But I’d be very sensitive to trading guys we feel can be part of this winning organization in the future.”

Around the horn

Hill, Hinch announced, is having surgery to repair the meniscus on his left knee, an injury that ended his season on Sept. 18. “It’s today or tomorrow out in California, just to clean it up,” Hinch said. “He’s going to be fine. Everything was very positive.”

… Hinch had a good response when asked if he thought the Tigers could contend for a playoff spot next season. “I want to give you some bulletin board material and declare we’re going to be a playoff team,” he said. “But I’d like to meet my team again before I talk about where we’re going to be next October.”

… Hinch said his coaching staff will return intact with one except. Kimera Bartee, who joined the staff after Chip Hale left to coach University of Arizona, is expected to transition back into a role in player development. Hinch said he planned to interview candidates for the first base coaching job, and Bartee would be one of those interviewed.

… Hinch refrained from naming Gregory Soto the closer all year, though for most of the season he performed the typical duties of a closer. So on Tuesday, Hinch finally called Soto his closer — with a qualifier. “But our closer might pitch in the seventh, the eighth, the ninth and sometimes the sixth,” he said. “OK? So there, I said it. Go with it.”

… The Tigers named Gabe Ribas the organization’s director of pitching. Ribas, 41, will report to Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ new vice president of player development. Ribas spent the last four seasons as the pitching coordinator in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky

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