Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila didn’t leave any room for interpretation about Ryan Kreidler, a shortstop prospect and former fourth-round draft pick from UCLA who ascended to Triple-A Toledo last season.
“We like Kreidler a lot,” Avila said Monday.
Meanwhile, the Tigers are searching the free-agent market for a shortstop. The top five options — Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javier Baez — are worthy of multiyear contracts. If everything goes as planned, the Tigers will have one of those players on their Opening Day roster. (Don’t expect a $300 million contract, though.)
“I’m not going to get into what’s sustainable and what’s not sustainable, and what’s a good deal and what’s a bad deal,” Avila said. “Every club will make its decision on their own payroll. I really won’t make a comment on that. In our situation, shortstop is a need. Quite frankly, one big splash does not win you the offseason. It’s making some smart moves along the way and putting together a good 26-man roster.”
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So, what about Kreidler?
The 24-year-old hit .270 with 23 doubles, 22 home runs, 58 RBIs, 56 walks and 158 strikeouts over 129 games in 2021 between Double-A Erie (88 games) and Triple-A Toledo (41 games). The Tigers promoted him to the Mud Hens on Aug. 15, alongside top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene.
“I think the Tigers need to do whatever’s best for the team right now,” Kreidler told the Free Press in early November. “Whether or not that’s me, it’s their decision. All I can do is just keep playing, force their hand, and if we go get somebody this offseason, that’s great. Then that’s what we need to do, and I trust Al, AJ (Hinch, manager) and everybody in the front office to make a good choice there.
“They’re not waiting around for me. They’re trying to win now. I appreciate that. That’s what you want as a player. If we go get a big shortstop, that’s awesome. I’ll change my game. I’ll adapt to fit whatever the need is. When we go get a guy, whether it’s a long-term deal or a short-term deal, I’ll just adapt, adjust and keep pushing.”
Kreidler is the organization’s No. 10 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Torkelson and Greene, ranked Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, are expected to make their MLB debuts in 2022, and Kreidler isn’t far behind.
Upon reaching the Triple-A level, Kreidler shined with a .304 batting average, eight doubles, seven home runs, 22 RBIs, 24 walks and 39 strikeouts over 41 games, along with providing above-average defense as a shortstop. (He hit .256 with 15 homers in Erie.)
“I wouldn’t say that would be a situation where it would deter us from going after a shortstop or any other player,” Avila said of Kreidler’s 2021 performance. “In this case, there’s a lot of different moves that you can do with him. If he actually progresses at a good level and a good rate, you could always move him to a different position.
“You’re always looking ahead. You’re not just looking toward 2022. I’m looking at ’23 and ’24. We usually work over a five-year plan. Of course, those plans change, sometimes on a week-to-week basis. But you have to look ahead of time.”
Kreidler appears destined to start the season in Triple-A Toledo. If his hit tool continues to evolve, he is likely one year away from a starting role with the Tigers. If his offense has reached its peak, his defense should make him a serviceable utility infielder.
A strong showcase in spring training would accelerate his MLB arrival, which is why there’s a chance he plays for the Tigers this upcoming season.
Kreidler has experience at shortstop (381 games), third base (116 games) and second base (two games) in his college and pro careers. His defensive versatility gives the Tigers some flexibility.
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Other teams, too, have taken notice of Kreidler’s development.
But the Tigers plan to keep him.
“Actually, he’s come up in some interest of other clubs,” Avila said. “Some other clubs have raised his name in possible trades. I’ve mentioned that I’d be very hesitant to trade any players that we feel are going to be an impact in the very soon or immediate future.”