LAKELAND, Fla. — The chirps of the birds that have called Joker Marchant Stadium home all winter blended with the pop of pitches hitting catchers’ mitts, both at home plate and in the bullpens. Between, music from the stadium sound system was just loud enough to notice, but not loud enough to drown out the conversations from the scattering of fans and Tigers officials that had made their way into the stands.
The intersection of sounds fit the laid-back scene of a Thursday morning Minor League intrasquad game that was opened to the public on short notice. No tickets, no concessions, just show up if interested.
Suddenly came the crack of the bat, and an opposite-field loft from Detroit’s No. 22 prospect, Andre Lipcius, off Garrett Hill, a hitter and pitcher who were teammates at two levels of the Tigers’ system last year. Right fielder and No. 8 prospect Roberto Campos went to the fence before the ball cleared for a solo homer and the first run.
“Yeah, it’s a Spring Training at-bat,” Lipcius shrugged when asked about the at-bat afterward.
More accurately, it’s a scrimmage set up in Minor League minicamp, meant largely to break up the monotony of daily workouts and live batting practices that can settle in. After nearly two weeks of training for hitters, and even longer for pitchers, the change of pace was appreciated.
“It’s exciting to do something a little different, other than train, like we were the whole offseason,” Lipcius said. “Everyone was just having fun out there and excited to be out there again.”
For Lipcius, a third-round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft who split last season between High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie, the scrimmage was a preparation for what should be a critical season for the former University of Tennessee infielder.
“I’m just really excited to get back because I think I did a lot of stuff in the offseason that is beneficial for me,” said Lipcius, who added an RBI single later. “Some changes to the strength program, but mostly just tweaking some swing changes that I had a problem with last year. I wasn’t able to do a couple of things last year that I wanted to do, and I made those changes and feel good.”
At the other end of the prospect spectrum was Cristian Santana, the Tigers’ No. 9 prospect according to MLB Pipeline — and for Thursday, the starting shortstop for Team Horton. For the 18-year-old, who has yet to play a Minor League game in the United States, Thursday’s scrimmage was a preview. It was also a chance for team officials to see how Santana handles getting off the back fields and into a stadium, albeit a mostly empty one.
He had his moments of inexperience, like a Kreidler ground ball that went under his glove for a run-scoring error. But Santana gave glimpses of his relative maturity and his ample potential. He drew a pair of walks — one off of supplemental first-round pick and No. 5 prospect Ty Madden to drive in a run, the other off 6-foot-8 hurler RJ Petit. Santana followed the latter with a steal of second base on Petit’s next pitch.
“This is what I’m working on,” Santana said through a translator. “For me, it’s like the best thing ever just to play on the field, more than just BP and live practices.”
The big-name prospects had their turn as well. Torkelson had a slick turn at first base and throw to Kreidler at short to start a double play on second-round pick Izaac Pacheco, the organization’s No. 6 prospect. Daniel Cabrera (No. 16) hit a drive out of Greene’s reach in center for a ground-rule double. Campos didn’t get a chance to show off his power, but the Cuban outfielder legged out an infield single.
Top pitching prospect Jackson Jobe battled command in his inning, falling behind Dillon Dingler (No. 4) and Josh Lester for back-to-back singles, but induced a double play from his good friend and roommate Pacheco.
“I’ll get another chance,” said Pacheco, who struck out against Jobe in live batting practice on Monday.
Double-A outfielder Eric De La Rosa might have been saying the same thing after striking out in the sixth and final inning. Minor League Rule 5 Draft pick Nick Kuzia was effectively wild, losing a pitch behind De La Rosa’s back before firing a fastball by him to begin a perfect inning.
More than competing, however, the main theme from Thursday was a chance for prospects to play rather than train. They’ll have another intrasquad scrimmage in the stadium on Friday morning, giving other players a chance to put what they’ve been working on into action while experience a little bit of game adrenaline again.