He’s ready and willing, but do the Tigers have a roster spot for Kody Clemens?

Detroit News

Detroit —  Most days, Kody Clemens can be found working out inside the spacious, turf covered office building that former big-leaguer Kip Wells has transformed into the KW32 training center in west Houston.

Other days, he’s taking batting practice or doing fielding drills at Houston Memorial High School. But every once in a while you’ll catch him in the batting cage in his father’s back yard, taking his hacks against a somewhat aging right-hander who was part of two World Series championship teams, amassed seven Cy Young Awards and 4,672 strikeouts in his time.

“He’s still trying to throw BP,” Kody says with a chuckle.

So, at age 59, Roger Clemens is still bringing it up there at what, 92 mph?

“He wishes,” Kody said. “He says he’s getting a little too old for that.”

More: Refreshed and refocused, Tigers’ Casey Mize working to build on solid rookie year

Mostly what Roger Clemens is these days is proud of his youngest son. The two shared a hug back in November when the Tigers added Kody, the club’s No. 18-ranked prospect, to the 40-man roster, three years after they drafted him with the first pick in the third round of the 2018 draft.

Getting that 40-man spot was far from a certainty. Clemens was the last player added before the deadline to protect players from the Rule 5 draft.

“Just the way Detroit has handled my whole career, how good they are to me and how they’ve treated me and how positive they’ve been about me, I felt like I had a good shot to get put on,” Clemens said. “But I was looking at it all the way up to the deadline. That roster was at 39 and I didn’t know what their plan was.”

The day before the deadline (Nov. 19), Clemens and his agent Scott Lonergan met for lunch.

“He comes in and says, ‘I’ve got good news,’” Clemens said. “I said, ‘Scott, I beat you to it. They just called me.’ We had a good hug. I was pretty fired up and my parents were really excited, too.”

Clemens had things in good perspective, though, even before the Tigers made the call.

“I basically had three options,” he said. “One, they’d put me on the 40-man. I was all for that. I love being with this organization. They’ve been awesome to me. Two, they don’t put me on the 40-man and I probably get taken in the Rule 5 draft. It’d be like starting fresh with another team, but I’d be in a good position.

“So, two of the three options were good. The third option would be to go back to Toledo and try to work my way up again.”

The thing is, despite being in the Tigers’ system just three seasons, he’s going into his age-26 season. He’s no spring chicken and he’s coming off a productive Triple-A season where he hit 18 home runs, knocked in 61 runs and posted a .458 slugging percentage and a .767 OPS.

His time is now. The question is, where does he fit?

One of the first things manager A.J. Hinch did last spring was to test Clemens’ defensive versatility. He had only played second base in his first two pro seasons, but Hinch had him play first, third and right field.

Clemens passed that test. Aced it. He played 576.2 innings at second base and made three errors on 281 chances. He played five innings at third base (no chances), 167 innings in right field (38 chances) and 55 innings at first base (53 chances) without making an error.

Three errors in 372 chances.

“That was so under the radar,” Clemens said of his defensive work. “It was like no one even saw that stat. That’s something I’ve really worked on because I will always remember when I got drafted, they rated my fielding ability below average. I’ve also told myself that I was going to work my tail off to be really good defensively.”

Coming into camp — whenever that might be — Clemens will be in a scrum of versatile players fighting for one of the final roster spots. In that scrum will be veteran Harold Castro and younger players Willi Castro, Isaac Paredes, Zack Short and two X-factors of sorts -—  No. 1 prospect Spencer Torkelson and veteran catcher Dustin Garneau.

If Torkelson wins the first base job this spring, then Jonathan Schoop will be the primary second baseman and the Tigers would perhaps keep just one utility player from that scrum. Same if the Tigers decide to keep Garneau and have three catchers on the roster, one of whom would be Eric Haase, who can also play left field and first base.

“I’m just going to take it the same way I have my whole career,” Clemens said. “Just keep my nose down, keep grinding my way and let everything fall into place. I’m sure I will be fighting for a job and I know I will be playing in a bunch of spring training games. So I am excited for that.

“They know what I have to offer, for sure. And I know I am going to be out there competing against those guys. That’s how it goes. We’re all fighting for a job in the big leagues.”

Clemens, truth be told, thought he was going to get his first taste of that last year. That the call never came, well, that was one of the few disappointments he endured last season.

“There was a point in the year where I was really hot at the plate and feeling really good, barreling up balls,” Clemens said. “I was like, all right, they’re going to call me. I could just feel it.”

From July 20 through Aug. 1, Clemens was straight raking. He hit .353, with a .397 on-base average, slugging .765 with a 1.161 OPS. He hit four doubles and five home runs in that stretch. And that hot streak coincided with the Tigers losing Niko Goodrum to injury and sending down Willi Castro to Toledo.

Paredes got the first call, but when he went on the injured list July 22, the Tigers recalled Castro, just five days after they’d sent him down.

“It’s not that, I don’t want to say I was disappointed, but I wanted it so bad,” Clemens said. “Everything happens for a reason. I’m just going to keep working harder and harder every day to fulfill that goal of mine.”

That he hits left-handed is a plus. The Tigers struggled against right-handed pitching last season. That he has some extra-base and home run power is a plus. That he can play infield and outfield, and play it well, is a plus. That, like his father, his work ethic and competitiveness are off the charts, is a plus.

Like always, it comes down to two things: getting an opportunity and making the most of it.

“Whether that comes this year, we’ll see,” Clemens said. “The best-case scenario would be to make the team out of spring training, obviously. But if that’s not the case, then I go to Toledo and I get hot at the plate and they bring me up there. I’m just going to let everything happen and keep working as hard as I can to make that dream happen.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”


Twitter: @cmccosky

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