Friday Links: Michael Pineda is on the way and we’re a week from Opening Day

Bless You Boys

Well it was a long, cold winter, particularly for fans of Major League Baseball. We’re really glad to be back. On top of everything else going on in the world, baseball fans watched their sport bury itself under a mountain of bad public relations and acrimony for three months before the new CBA was finally agreed to in the eleventh—really the twelfth—hour.

After a condensed spring camp that has made it particularly hard to assess players—always extremely difficult under spring training conditions in the first place—teams are finally going to start laying their cards on the table a week from today. In an interesting switch, the delayed start means that minor league action will get under way on Tuesday, April 5, so finalized rosters for the farm clubs should be out shortly. Meanwhile, Tyler Alexander will take the mound on Friday as just the fourth Grapefruit League turn through the rotation wraps up, and we’ll get one more look at the starters before Opening Day on Friday against the Chicago White Sox in Comerica Park.

The big news on Thursday was that free agent addition Michael Pineda will make his first appearance in a Tigers’ uniform on Saturday. The big right-hander, last with the Minnesota Twins, has been delayed by work visa issues, but finally cleared the red tape a few days ago. Tyler Alexander is still in line to be the Tigers’ fifth starter for the first turn through the rotation, but Pineda should be able to ramp up in time to take over by the 10th game of the regular season. With the bullpen missing Kyle Funkhouser, and new addition Andrew Chafin dealing with a groin strain, the pitching staff needs the reinforcement, though overall the injuries thus far have been blessedly minor. We’ll see if that holds up as the short camp and quick run-up to the regular season is going to test a lot of arms this spring.

New catcher Tucker Barnhart and the Tigers may already be considering an extension. Barnhart’s receiving and blocking this spring have been eye-opening. We knew he was good, but he’s really good back there. We’ll see if there are any actual talks on this issue. For his part, Barnhart is open to the idea, although what else is he going to say, honestly?

Jason Beck projects the Tigers’ Opening Day roster for You’ll be happy to note that Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson make the cut. The outfield competition has suddenly been simplified by a Derek Hill injury, presumably locking Victor Reyes in for a spot on the starting squad.

The Detroit Tigers have had plenty of interesting stories in camp. Perhaps none better than backup catcher Ryan Lavarnway. a Yale educated veteran of 15 pro seasons, who the Tigers added to provide depth at Triple-A Toledo this season. Lavarnway discussed his reasons for sticking around on the fringes of the major leagues long after most of his early teammates have retired in an op-ed for the Detroit News on Wednesday.

Understandably, prospective rookies Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson have gotten a lot of attention this spring. The duo have been among the most impressive players on the squad, game in and game out, making it obvious that they’ve earned their ticket to Detroit on the Opening Day roster. They’re also among the top five favorites for AL Rookie of the Year, with Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. the preseason leader in some informal Twitter polling. KC tends to get out the vote, so we’re unconcerned. Adley Rutschman, the consensus top prospect in baseball from the Orioles system, and outfielder Julio Rodriguez from the Seattle Mariners, round out the top five.

The pair of Greene and Torkelson were at it again on Thursday against the Blue Jays. We’ll note that while spring training numbers don’t matter—yeah we’re doing it anyway—Greene leads the potential regulars with a 1.430 OPS and six extra base hits, including two homers, in 23 plate appearances. Torkelson’s .837 mark with four doubles is just fine as well. They’re ready for their debut, and we remain confident the Tigers know it too.

Oh yeah, then Riley did this as well.

Baseball America has the lads on the cover this month in their season preview edition. With Casey Mize also features at Baseball America in a piece on the 20 players turning heads in spring camp.

Note to Spencer. If you have to run across the mound, as a first baseman? It ain’t your ball, babe. Torkelson and Báez did laugh about it afterward, and no harm was done, fortunately.

Who are these guys?

Early in spring camp, even before the major leaguers arrived, one common theme from the onsite reporting from beat writers were remarks on all the new faces. The Tigers cleaned house from top to bottom in their player development system over the past seven months. From leadership down to the individual coaches, a whole new breed, fluent in both modern and traditional coaching, and the use of data and technology to help players improve, have been installed. We’ve only been begging for this here at Bless You Boys for eight years or so. Great to see it finally happen.

Cody Stavenhagen for The Athletic Detroit, has a great piece on the overhaul with a lot of telling quotes from new Vice-President of Player Development, Ryan Garko. It’s really unfortunate that the organization was so slow to get on the ball with this when they had no intention of winning at the major league level anyway. Instead of getting ahead of the curve, they may just be keeping up, but we’re happy to see this finally happening anyway.

Garko discusses the importance of getting more out of the Tigers’ international academy in the Dominican Republic, under new management of Director of Latin America player development, Euclides Rojas. He also discusses the need for a more horizontal structure of information floor, rather than the top down hierarchies that have always insisted, insuring that best practices and up to date information flow both ways throughout the system. He also has a lot to say about being honest with players and tailoring coaching approaches to each individual, top prospect or not. It’s well worth a read.

This quote in particular stood out as it’s been a constant topic regarding the international kids in our comments for years.

“It’s not just teaching them English, either,” Garko said. “It’s teaching them how to function in the United States, whether that’s how to eat, how to do their taxes, everything, everything that they’re gonna need to know. … We’re gonna try to surround those guys with as much support as possible. We put real resources into the academy and in Lakeland to surround those guys with as much help as we can.”

Follow that up with Evan Petzold’s piece on Dr. Georgia Giblin, the Tigers director of their new performance science department, for the Free Press.

Farm clippings

This is going to be a huge season for a couple of Tigers prospects who’ve stalled out the past few seasons. 2018 top second round pick, Parker Meadows, has all the physical tools in the world, but has struggled mightily with his swing mechanics and has yet to gain traction in the lower minors. Finally this spring he’s showing some real improvements. Whether it will translate into success remains to be seen, but he’s having a good spring at least.

Thanks to our friend and former writer, Kenon Carter, who has been on the scene in Lakeland with his Detroit Tigers Minor League Tracker accounts.

Meanwhile, an important 2021 season for left field and first base prospect Bryant Packard was derailed by some back issues. Still only 24, there’s still time for the smooth swinging left-handed hitter to make some noise, but with a thoroughly bat dependent profile, he needs to get it going at the plate and hit his way into the upper minors this year. There have been some positive early signs in minor league camp.

As typically happens this time of year, there have also been some tough cuts to make. Long-time farm hands, catcher Gresuan Silverio and infielder Daniel Pinero were released. Hugh Smith, the 6-foot-8 right-hander drafted in the sixth round back in 2018, also retired from pro ball this week.

Alex Faedo has started his rehab assignment in Lakeland, where he can be closely monitored as he builds up his arm in his return from Tommy John surgery.

Season Preview Stuff

FanGraphs’ Paul Sporer has his usual brilliant and comprehensive guide to the top 100 starting pitchers for fantasy baseball up. It’s well worth a read even if you don’t play fantasy baseball. No the Tigers do not feature prominently yet. Also at FanGraphs, Ben Clemens looks into Chris Archer’s chances of helping our hated foe, the Minnesota Twins this season after they picked him up in free agency a few days ago.

USA Today has their season predictions post up, with their six person panel of writers pegging the Tigers at 80 wins, and a third place finish in the Central behind Minnesota. Pretty reasonable, but we think the Tigers can do better. Also, that Twins pitching staff…idk guys. Ben Lindbergh considers whether Shohei Ohtani has even peaked yet for The Ringer. Also at The Ringer, Zack Kram examines which teams won and lost the offseason. Meanwhile, Anthony Castrovince at had two Tigers on his 2022 MLB All-Underrated Team. You can guess who they are.

Finally, our buddies over at Motor City Bengals had the voice of the Tigers, Dan Dickerson, on their podcast Friday. It’s a really interesting conversation as always.

Justin Verlander is still awesome

If you doubted JV, I don’t know what to tell you. There are no comps.

Random Non-Baseball Tweet of the Day

Consider that the sequel to this recent National Geographic image. Perspective is everything, as they say…

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