How Detroit Tigers prospect Gage Workman became the best kind of thief

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The thief does not look like a thief.

He appears to be a clean-cut, upstanding citizen. Because that’s exactly who Gage Workman is. A great guy who happens to be one of the Detroit Tigers’ top prospects.

Spencer Torkelson once described Workman in the most glowing way: “He’s literally the perfect human. That’s the guy that you want your daughter to take home and tell you that’s her boyfriend.”

But Workman has turned into a thief — the good kind.

No, the best kind, at least on a baseball field.

He stole 31 bases in 2021, which came out of nowhere.

“I love it,” Workman said. “It’s something I really enjoyed.”

Certainly, Workman is athletic and has a high baseball IQ. But he was not known as a base-stealing threat when he was drafted out of Arizona State. He stole just 15 bases in three years in college.

“For whatever reason, we didn’t do it a ton in college or even in high school,” he said.

But he was encouraged to start stealing by Low-A Lakeland manager Andrew Graham.

“I kind of started getting a couple bags and I enjoyed it,” Workman said. “Graham was actually really cool about kind of giving me the green light and kind of letting me figure it out, see what works, see what doesn’t work.”

MORE FROM LAKELAND: What trade return showed vs. Torkelson, Riley Greene

Studying for steals

Workman is the Tigers’ No. 14t prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

And now, he’s added a new skill — the ability to swipe a base.

“I enjoy it,” he said. “It’s another part of the game, to up your level of play, and it’s kind of fun to learn about it.”

Yes, this is still a thief in training.

He spent last year studying catchers and pitchers, trying to time their pickoff moves.

“Learning different things about the catcher, if they’re going to their knees, the throws back, just how they work together,” he said. “I’m watching the middle infielders seeing what they are doing between pitches, just kind of learning how to steal base a little bit more.”

He also learned something else: There is a wrong time to try to steal a base.

“I think just picking the right time, the right situation,” he said. “I mean, if you’re down by 10, there’s no reason to steal because the run doesn’t mean anything. So knowing the situation, knowing the counts, knowing the hitter at the plate, I think there’s a ton of things that go into it. It’s just knowing the situation.”

He admits he is not a master thief and has plenty to learn.

“There’s long ways to go,” he said. “But I think it’s definitely something new that I’m more comfortable doing.”

STARTING AT FIRST? Why Spencer Torkelson looks different

Workman’s 30-30

So he got his 30 steals. But he did something else.

He got 30 doubles.

Actually, 37 to be precise, which tied for second-most in the minor leagues.

“I just go up and try to put a good swing on the ball and kind of let it happen,” he said. “I mean playing in Lakeland and West Michigan, those are are some graveyards. Doubles are going to happen. Big fields.”

Yes, this 30-30 guy is humble by nature.

“Last year was just a learning experience,” he said. “For me, it’s learning what a full season is like and take that into the offseason and get ready for wherever I go this year.”

Workman played third base in college then played 112 games last year at shortstop and was tutored by Alan Trammell, the Hall of Famer.

“Alan Trammell came around all the time,” Workman said. “He’s awesome to have around.”

RELATED: Why this Detroit Tigers prospect says he’s ‘the steal of this draft’ already

Workman started 2021 in Lakeland, where he hit .256, including three home runs, in 51 games.

He moved up to High-A West Michigan and found his power stroke, hitting nine home runs in 67 games.

“It was just swinging at better pitches,” he said. “I think the power is there and I’m trying to consistently get to it, and it’s all about pitch location for me honestly and letting the bad stuff go and swinging at the good stuff. The ball jumps more when I’m swinging at good pitches.”

A switch-hitter, he is trying to become more consistent from the left side.

“That was a focus this offseason,” he said. “Try to be as comfortable equally from both sides as I can”

He has played both third and short during drills in minicamp, although there is nothing to read into that.

“Honestly, we’re kind of moving around a little bit,” he said. “We have a ton of shortstops here at this camp. So just as far as making lines even, we’re kind of bouncing around. We’re just working on some ground ball form. So it doesn’t really matter where we’re at.”

Some in the Tigers organization believe he could be used all over the field — short, third, first, left field or even right.

He’s a guy you want on your team. A Don Kelly type.

Full of character. Smart. Athletic.

And now a thief.

The kind who works right out in the open.

MORE: Prospect Izaac Pacheco resembles Nick Castellanos at 19 — only better

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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