Players who stood out and other observations from Tigers minor-league minicamp

Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Perhaps the most written-about minor league minicamp in Tigers history ended in the rain Thursday afternoon on the back fields at Joker Marchant Stadium. The killing blow, as it turned out, was a line drive, opposite-field home run by outfielder Jacob Robson in the top of the ninth — umpires and club officials waving off the rest of the inning before he even crossed home plate.

The full minor league spring training will commence Saturday, but it was a heck of a month for a collection of 62 minor leaguers and prospects ranging in age from 18 to 30 and in experience from first time ever in the United States to players, like Robson, with big-league service time.

It was part instructional league, part development camp. The only competition component came in the final week, with four intrasquad scrimmages and another against the Phillies camp team in Clearwater.

Normally, a camp like this operates in near obscurity in the shadow of Major League Baseball’s spring training. But until Thursday, big-league camp was shut down, a victim of the lockout. And the media, rooms paid for in advance, were already here.

It helped, too, that nearly all the Tigers’ top prospects were participating in the minicamp, including Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene, Ryan Kreidler, Dillon Dingler and most recent top draft picks Jackson Jobe and Ty Madden.

It was a good opportunity to catch an early glimpse of what the future might look like.

And, if you can trust the small sample and this old ballwriter’s subjective opinion (we weren’t allowed to interview coaches or instructors), it looks encouraging. Here’s a short list of players — an extremely unofficial all-camp team, if you will — who made a favorable impression:

Shortstop Cristian Santana. There was a barrage of home runs hit in the final scrimmage Thursday, but it was a couple of eye-popping defensive plays by this 18-year-old Dominican that had the place buzzing. He made a backhanded stop of a ball that was smoked by Andre Lipcius. Then, with his momentum going backwards from the force of the drive, he was able to throw Lipcius out from his haunches.

He also made a terrific diving stop of a ball hit up the middle by Torkelson. He wasn’t able to throw him out, but the range he showed was impressive.

That’s how it’s been with him since the first round of infield drills. So smooth for his age, quick feet, great hands. He showed some pop in his bat, too. Looked worth every penny of the Tigers’ record-high $2.95 million signing bonus.

More: Teens Santana, Sequera show flashes of Tigers’ future at shortstop

Shortstop Ryan Kreidler. He seems big-league ready to me. So smart. So steady. Has good range to his right. He blasted a three-run home run off right-hander Chavez Fernander on Thursday and hit the ball well throughout the camp. He’s probably going to spend most of the season in Triple A, but I don’t think the Tigers would be afraid to bring him up if Javier Baez had to miss some time.

Outfielder Eric De La Rosa. He’s fast, he seems to have some base running savvy and he showed some power— hitting a long, three-run home run to the back of the bullpen beyond the left-center field wall in Clearwater. Most likely he will start the season where he finished last year, at Double-A Erie. But entering his age-25 season, he’s poised to ascend quickly.

More: Late-bloomer Eric De La Rosa gains traction in Tigers’ system

Outfielder Parker Meadows. If there was a most-improved award for this camp, here’s your winner. After struggling at High-A West Michigan last season (.209, 99 strikeouts in 408 plate appearances), he worked hard on his swing mechanics and was stinging the ball as good as anyone in camp once the scrimmages started. He’s got all the other tools, glove, arm, speed, makeup. And he’s just going into his age-22 season.

More: The positivity of Tigers prospect Parker Meadows: ‘For me, it’s just fun’

RHP Beau Brieske. He struck out five of the six outs he recorded against the Phillies in Clearwater, showing good command and ride on his mid-90s four-seam fastball. The change-up is his primary weapon, and his slider seemed much-improved. He, along with Reese Olson and Garrett Hill, could make up the heart of the rotation at Triple-A Toledo this season. All three could be options for the Tigers later this summer, too, if needed.

More: Fast-rising Tigers prospect Beau Brieske sharpening tools for next part of the climb

RHP Keider Montero. Very intriguing guy with a mid-90s four-seam and some of the nastiest spin in the organization (over 3,000 rpm on his breaking ball). Hitters did not enjoy their at-bats against him. He’s been a starter, making 15 starts at West Michigan last year. But with his stuff, especially with the fastball playing up in short stints, his fastest path to the big leagues might be out of the bullpen.

RHP Drew Carlton. Didn’t see him much this week, but earlier in camp he was touching 94 with his fastball. Even if he can sit at 92, that’s big for him. He got to the big leagues last year barely touching 90. The 26-year-old reliever knows how to pitch. He’s posted a sub-1 WHIP in four minor-league seasons. Right-hander Will Vest, who made his big-league debut with the Mariners as a Rule 5 pick last year before coming back to the Tigers, also seemed to up the wattage on his fastball over the offseason. Both these guys will be options in Detroit as the season goes on.

RHP Nivaldo Rodriguez. He’s had two short stays in the big leagues with Houston and could be in the Tigers plans for later in the summer. He’s coming off a strong winter in Puerto Rico and has been stretching out to start, presumably at Toledo initially. Command issues have been his bug-a-boo and the Tigers worked hard to simplify and streamline his delivery.

Some other observations:

► We didn’t see a whole lot of Jobe outside of a couple of live batting practice sessions. But hitters in camp raved about his maturity, his strength and his high-revolution slider. He and fellow first-round pick Ty Madden both struggled a bit with control. Madden walked three straight hitters in Clearwater before the inning was stopped. Lot of upside to both of these guys, but it would be grossly unfair to judge them off of anything we saw this past month.

More: Tigers’ prospect Jackson Jobe gets a fast lesson in pitch-tipping during live BP

► Same can be said of outfielder Roberto Campos. He had his struggles during the scrimmages and live BPs. He’s still very raw, still learning the strike zone. He has no real approach at the plate yet. That will all come. One thing for sure, though. If he gets a pitch in his wheelhouse, he can do major damage.

► Greene and Torkelson set a tone for this camp just with their work ethic. They were among the first players at the facility every day, they didn’t miss a drill or live BP and they played every inning of every scrimmage. Greene looks comfortable in center field. His pre-pitch setup is pro grade, better than most we saw in the big leagues last season. Both started a little sluggishly with the bat, but by Thursday, they were barreling balls up. Greene and two hits and Torkelson one in the final scrimmage. Both will be moving down the hall to the big league locker room for the belated start of spring training.

More: On the cusp: Tigers prospects Torkelson, Greene primed for pivotal spring

► The Tigers second-round pick, infielder Izaac Pacheco finished camp strong. He had a nice 11-pitch at-bat and then a long home run Thursday. He got a lot of reps early at shortstop but seemed to settle in at third by the end of camp. Doesn’t seem to move well enough to play shortstop.

► Felt bad for right-handed pitcher Wilmer Flores. After some eye-popping bullpens early, he tweaked his hamstring and didn’t get to compete in the scrimmages. Pitcher Billy Lescher (ankle) and infielder Manuel Sequera (shoulder) were also held out of the scrimmages.

Twitter: @cmccosky

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