Around the Tigers farm: Those Ks keep coming, as do Gage Workman’s skills

Detroit News

There is no one like him, not statistically, not skills-wise. There is no apt comparison.

Gage Workman, who plays shortstop and third base at Double-A Erie, begs critics to dismiss him. Mostly, it’s because a strikeout rate of 41% is what might be termed “disqualifying” for any remotely serious big-league prospect.

But it’s not that easy, as Erie manager Gabe Alvarez testified Sunday.

“He’s second in the Eastern League in doubles, he’s second in the Eastern League in triples,” Alvarez said a few hours before the SeaWolves were to wrap up a series at Harrisburg. “He’s fourth in stolen bases — and he’s the best defensive infielder in the Eastern League.

“He has 27 doubles, seven triples, 11 home runs, and 61 RBIs.

“He hits it hard. The numbers on the balls he’s put into play (exit velocity) are the highest of anyone on the team and the best in the whole organization.”

Not that 178 strikeouts in 109 games can be discounted.

“I just told our hitting coordinators — stop looking at the strikeout numbers,” Alvarez said. “He’s going to strike out twice a game. Let’s look at the good things he does.”

In fact, the “good things” have been on the increase — even those strikeout numbers, at least until he had a run of five whiffs in back-to-back weekend games, which dropped his August OPS a tad beneath .900, while leaving him with a .296 batting average for the month.

“He has been more selective at the plate,” said Alvarez, even if Workman had only seven walks in 23 games this month. “He’s cut down his swing. Little by little, he’s going to work on that.

“Look, at the end of the year, it’s still going to be astronomical,” Alvarez said of Workman’s punchout proclivity. “But as long as we’re making progress, that’s key.”

The Tigers are not expecting miracles from a man who played third base, opposite Spencer Torkelson at first base, when both were at Arizona State University. But neither are they sour on a gamble.

Detroit’s scouts liked that Workman was a player who was 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, with a blinding-fast right-handed bat. The Tigers were not the only big-league team that believed Workman should and would go relatively early (fourth round) and that he might be a long-term payoff, particularly if he were moved to his old and natural position, shortstop.

What a man who is still only 22 has bought is time. The Tigers know enough about baseball players and evolution to contentedly give Workman all the leash he needs as some of the most colorful numbers anywhere on the nation’s farm-team terrain are further crunched.

Workman, it seems, is a piece of — yeah, Workman.

Dingler’s not done

There is so much to dissect when dealing with Dillon Dingler.

Position, first and foremost: He is a catcher. The usual offensive numbers, which might be considered ho-hum for other defenders, take on added sheen, especially when he has gotten stronger later in the season, at a point most catchers are melting like candle wax.

Factor in his age (23), the fact he is only two years into professional ball, his 14 home runs, and — above all — his escalating defense and already-fearsome arm, and you have a prospect who has gotten way above passing grades during a 2022 at Double-A Erie.

Now, for that other data:

He was batting .247 heading into Sunday’s game at Harrisburg. He had a .775 OPS on the season, but more to the point, his OPS for July was .913, and .815 for August. His ISO power metric (FanGraphs) was a sturdy .189. His wOBA (weighted on-base average), a solid .343.

Yes, there was a 31.8% strikeout rate, which needs to come down. But, again, this is a catcher. A talented catcher. A likely everyday catcher if a few areas of offense can tick upward in 2023, which is what the Tigers anticipate.

“He’s really a guy who of late has taken a big step with everything,” Alvarez said Sunday. “His receiving has gotten really, really good.

“His blocking has taken a giant leap forward. And he still has that rocket of an arm. It just seems like teams don’t run against him, and when they do, there’s a pretty good chance (37%) he’ll throw ‘em out. Teams take notice when he’s back there — he kind of shuts down their running game.”

Yes, he has had too many passed balls, but the SeaWolves feature a knuckleballer in J.T. Hintzen and Alvarez says you can pretty much write down two misses a game for a catcher handling Hintzen.

Back to his offense, since that’s what will determine whether Dingler’s a starter or a standby big-league catcher.

Alvarez and the Tigers see an upward arc. Not dramatic, but upward, including fewer whiffs, which is something that will be worked upon heading into 2023. Note that in his last 10 games ahead of Sunday, Dingler was batting .324, with three doubles, three homers, and a 1.039 OPS.

But this is a process, catching. A difficult, energy-sapping, mentally punishing process.

“That position he plays — it’s very demanding and your body really wears down,” said Alvarez, noting Dingler’s offensive uptick has been particularly strong as the summer has ground down prospects en masse. “He’s done a good job putting himself into position to feel this strong this late.”

Erie odyssey continues

Every week, the Parker Meadows Meter surges.

“Most of the nights here, he’s been the best player on the field for either team,” Alvarez said Sunday as Meadows was in the final days of a big August (.995 OPS, seven homers). “He’s really taken a giant leap forward — in all facets of the game.”

The Tigers after a beleaguered year of baseball in Detroit could use a few breakthroughs.

Meadows qualifies.

He is yet 22, bats left-handed, was a second-round pick (44th overall) in 2018, stands 6-foot-5, weighs 205, runs like a frustrated Olympics track star, and plays a marvelous center field.

Unlike his star-crossed older brother, Austin, who has had setback after setback for the Tigers since coming aboard in April, good health has also been part of Parker’s 2022 portfolio.

But it’s the manner in which his bat has come around that has been Meadows’ spotlight story.

It began in late May, a month after he was promoted to Double A after an encouraging April at West Michigan.

Meadows settled in. He had an .891 OPS in June, dipped a bit (.778) in July, then heated up during the past 30 days.

“Swinging the bat really well, and his power has really started to come,” Alvarez said. “People always said his power would come along, and it has.”

Alvarez couldn’t help but repeat a few hosannas he earlier had sent Meadows’ way.

“His defense is Gold Glove-caliber,” the skipper said of Erie’s everyday center fielder, mentioning again the “unbelievable catch” Meadows made two weeks earlier at New Hampshire.

“Had to go a long way, crashed into the wall — then hits a homer off the top of the scoreboard,” Alvarez said.

If this indeed is a prospect figuring out professional pitching, he will find there is room in Detroit. The Tigers have Riley Greene shaking off his rookie wrappings and becoming the prize they were sure would grace AJ Hinch’s lineup.

But the future cast at Comerica Park is unclear. His older brother should be back to health in 2023. It’s possible Akil Baddoo will rebound. Kerry Carpenter?

No one knows. But what the Tigers can at least think about is a player with Parker Meadows’ gifts further finding his footing as the Tigers ponder years that, they hope, put 2022’s trauma to rest.

Short hops

Brant Hurter has scored the old three-jumps-in-a-year hat trick on Detroit’s farmlands. A left-handed starter who runs 6-6, 250, Hurter began the year with Lakeland, was pushed to West Michigan, and now is finishing the summer at Double-A Erie.

Hurter was a seventh-round grab in 2021 from Georgia Tech. His numbers for the Whitecaps that earned him a ticket to Erie: 11 games, 50.2 innings, 1.09 WHIP, 44 hits, 11 walks, 62 strikeouts.

Roberto Campos has only a .254 batting average and .705 OPS at Single-A Lakeland. But, at 19, this has been anything but a ho-hum summer for one of the Tigers’ potentially best young talents. Consider, as but one window into Campos’ profile, August numbers that in 22 games include 13 walks and 13 strikeouts.

Campos, a 6-2, 200-pound outfielder, was handed $2.85 million three years ago to sign with Detroit. There has been, to date, no buyer’s remorse.

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and retired Detroit News sports reporter.

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