Ryan Kreidler is back from injury and packing a swing tuned for the pros

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When the Tigers drafted Ryan Kreidler with their fourth round pick in the 2019 draft, it mostly went disregarded by fans more interested in first rounder Riley Greene. Kreidler came out of UCLA with solid grades for hit tool potential, but below average power marks. Two years later, he turned heads by exploding into the high minors with a strong display of home run power and a rebuilt swing, eventually earning a promotion to the Triple-A Mud Hens.

His offensive performance made him impossible to ignore, especially since he mans a valuable middle infield position. There were still plenty of concerns about swing and miss, with Kreidler still largely relegated to utility infielder projections, but the potential for more was clear. Many fans expected to see his debut during the summer months of this season, but things got complicated. The Tigers signed Javy Báez to a massive contract, essentially locking him into the starting shortstop position, health permitting.

The road to major league playing time got even bumpier when a broken hand sidelined him in the final week of April. That kept him out of the action until late July, when he received a rehab assignment to High-A. This assignment marks his first time playing with the Whitecaps — he skipped over the ‘Caps due to the 2020 minor league season being cancelled. Tuesday in West Michigan, we caught up with Kreidler for a wide-ranging interview on the struggles of this season, the swing changes that made him a fast-rising prospect, and more.

“It’s very exciting, I think, for my first time here. I’ve enjoyed getting to walk around the ballpark a little bit. It seems like a great staff and a cool environment,” Kreidler said on Tuesday.

His excitement is understandable. Not only is he able to make a pit stop in one of the friendliest environments in the Tigers’ minor league system, but a broken hand can be especially mentally taxing, as every ordinary task becomes frustrating and painful. Getting back on the field after a long-term injury is a rewarding feeling.

“COVID, for me, it was being at home. Unfortunately, with no season that year, I felt like it was a good opportunity to work on some things individually,” Kreidler continued.

It wasn’t just the time off that fueled his breakout campaign, though. As he explained, he did some important work with well renowned swing doctor Doug Latta as well.

“I went to (Latta) in 2019 after the season ended with Oliver Dunn, who’s with the Yankees. We went together for about a week,” Kreidler explained. “I lived in LA at the time, taking some classes and trying to finish my degree at UCLA. It was just a short drive for me, you know, 30 minutes. He’s been super, super impactful in my life. It gave me the opportunity to try to do a little more at the plate.”

Although he took action to improve his swing well over a year earlier, he wasn’t able to debut his new look at the plate until the 2021 season. The numbers reflect the change. What exactly was the change, though? Kreidler detailed that for us as well.

“I wanted to understand myself better. I didn’t really have an end goal; obviously I wanted to produce more. I feel like the swing that I had in college was pretty tailor made for the college game — fastballs away, sinker/slider mixes, that sort of thing,” Kreidler said.

“Now, in pro ball, guys like to throw the fastball high,” he continued. “I feel like it was an opportunity to combat that stuff. It resulted in something that made it a little more easy for me out there.”

Jay Markle/Bless You Boys

Tuning up for pro ball was a decision that paid off in a big way for Kreidler. In Toledo, he became a pitcher’s nightmare, hitting for a .304/.407/.519 line and seven home runs in 41 games. Compared against the average hitter in that league, Kreidler was a whopping 48 percent above average, per wRC+. Impressive for any hitter, that showing is doubly as impressive for Kreidler, whose offensive game at the time of the draft was described as modest and conservative, and who lacked developmental time in the low minors.

With Javy Báez in the picture, though, Kreidler’s chances at major league playing time involves more than just overcoming his once-uninspiring bat. El Mago is in the midst of his worst full season offensively, making it look unlikely that he’ll opt out of his contract after the 2024 season. That means the shortstop position is likely to be taken for a good long while in Detroit. It’s not all bad — Kreidler pointed out that he “learned a lot from Javy” during spring training — but it’s clearly an obstacle in his path that will require developing more defensive versatility.

To that end, Kreidler has had to get some reps in at other positions on the infield, increasing his utility to the organization and widening his own road to Detroit. He played some third base in college, though only in a reserve role, but he’d never spent any time whatsoever at second base until pro ball.

“I think this has been a great opportunity for third and second base. With the shifts nowadays you’re kind of playing all over the infield no matter what position you’re playing,” Kreidler said.

Learning a new position as a pro comes with its own set of challenges. Primary among those, as Kreidler explained, is that players are expected to more or less learn on the fly.

“It’s not much practice. There’s a lot of games. You have to take every chance in early work and in batting practice to practice those things. The speed of the game is high. The complexity of the shifts are there. It’s definitely a challenge for anyone to learn any new position, let alone a hot infield position.”

In the end, Kreidler is confident in his ability to pull it off. “I think playing shortstop prepares you to play anywhere. I think physically, it hasn’t been too different. It’s just a different location,” he said.

Assuming all goes well as he eases back into playing the game full time, he could get the chance to prove himself before the year wraps up.

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