LAKELAND, Fla. — Ryan Kreidler spent most of the Tigers’ Minor League minicamp working on his game at shortstop. On Thursday, the final day of the minicamp, Kreidler rotated around short, third and second base during an intrasquad scrimmage, getting a few innings at each.
“It was fun. It was interesting,” said Kreidler, Detroit’s No. 10 prospect. “Called it the infield carousel.”
With the Tigers set to open their Major League camp next week, it probably wasn’t a coincidence.
For most prospects, the minicamp was a head start on their Minor League seasons. For some, it was preparation for their first full seasons as professionals. For Kreidler, Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene and perhaps others, minicamp was a jump-start on what is expected to be a chance in Spring Training with the big club, and an opportunity to begin staking a claim on a spot in Detroit, either as part of the Opening Day roster or during the season.
“It’s nice being able to be in Lakeland and put in work here and get live at-bats and just keep working on the all-around aspects of the game,” Torkelson said Wednesday. “That’ll help me to be even more ready when the time comes.”
It’s a unique situation created by roster status and experience level. While the trio is expected to be part of Major League camp as non-roster invitees, none of the players are on the 40-man roster. Since they were all drafted since 2019, they didn’t have to be added last fall to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft.
Thus, while Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association worked on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, finalizing a deal this week, Torkelson, Greene and Kreidler were eligible for the minicamp, which began last month. They had the same daily work as dozens of other prospects in camp at various experience levels.
That included exposure to some of the new fundamental drills being used by the player development department. One drill featured two baseballs being fired out of a pitching machine at different times as an exercise to focus on hand-eye coordination and swing timing. Another featured multiple pitching machines — one in the middle, another on the sides — to work on a hitter’s swing path.
Before the workouts, Detroit’s top prospects were getting early-morning sessions in Tigertown’s batting cages. Afterwards came weight work.
Hitting-wise, Torkelson said, he’s encouraged.
“I’d say I’m right where I want to be right now,” Detroit’s top-ranked prospect said. “I’m seeing the ball really well. I’m finding the barrel. The outs are just a matter of timing. And in the next couple weeks, that’s going to click, and then it’s going to be full-go.”
Maybe more importantly, the trio received a head start on live at-bats and game action. They’ve seen live pitching for two weeks in a camp setting. They’ve played in five scrimmages since last week, including one against the Phillies.
“These back-field games are so interesting,” Kreidler said. “There’s no scouting report. You don’t know the velo [at which a pitcher is throwing]. It’s kind of like old-school baseball.”
It’s a reverse order of the long spring they had last year. While Torkelson and Greene, the Tigers’ No. 2 prospect, were non-roster invitees to Major League camp in 2021, Kreidler was brought along for several Grapefruit League games as an extra player to be used in the later innings.
Once Torkelson and Greene were reassigned, they essentially had to go through another full camp. Since the Minor League season was delayed until May, Minor League camp didn’t begin until late March, right around the time Major League camp was ending.
“That was a lot,” Torkelson said. “I really had to learn how to recover even better and come to the yard feeling as good as I can. Those are long days. These are pretty short days [in minicamp], and your body’s not super banged-up. But when you go out there in the morning and you have to bus to the game and you play a full game and then you bus back, I think the bus ride makes you feel it the most.”
That might not be quite as much of an issue this year. The Tigers’ new Grapefruit League schedule, which begins March 18, includes 18 games in 19 days, but with relatively short bus rides.
Still, as the prospects try to make the case that they’re ready for the big leagues, they have the advantage of being ready for the Grapefruit League. While most players don’t play more than six innings in early Spring Training games, Kreidler, Torkelson and Greene have already played nine.
“I feel prepared,” Kreidler said. “I think all the guys would agree that it’s awesome that we have game reps already. It’s a huge advantage, I think. But again, they’re going to give the 40-man guys time to prepare and acclimate to the new environment. They’re not going to be surprised by games. Everyone’s a pro.
“At the end of the day, it’s a good opportunity for us, and we’re looking forward to those guys getting here.”
If they don’t make the club out of camp, it shouldn’t be for lack of playing time.
“Any amount of time is an opportunity,” Torkelson said. “That’s the way I think all of us are looking at it. Give us an opportunity. Give us a little bit of time to show ourselves, and then the rest will take care of itself.”