These new Tigers are ready to make waves

Detroit Tigers

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It only got them more excited for the opportunity that presented itself with the trade that sent two-time All-Star closer Gregory Soto and utility infielder Kody Clemens to the Phillies for Vierling, Maton and Triple-A catcher Donny Sands.

“I would say it took me about half a day to come down from realizing what had happened, and then I got the chance to talk with [manager] A.J. Hinch and [president of baseball operations] Scott Harris, realized how good the opportunity was and just now really excited to get started,” Vierling said over the weekend on a video call with reporters.

Harris felt like he got the right value in return for Soto and Clemens, with three young hitters who have shown good plate discipline and could have more to unlock. With Vierling and Maton especially, the Tigers gained versatile position players who can play all over the field and young players who helped the Phillies’ postseason run last year.

That experience is valuable to a team like the Tigers, looking to turn the corner with their young talent.

“I think it just showed me what a team needs to be able to do to get to that point,” Maton said. “Being on those teams and watching everything go down and being part of it is a great experience for me and to share with people.”

Maton and Vierling talked with Hinch and Harris after the trade and learned they will have every opportunity to become everyday players for the Tigers in 2023. Because of their versatility, Hinch can plug them in around the field to maximize the lineup. Harris said both players will be factors in filling Detroit’s third-base opening, and both players are open to playing anywhere.

Vierling, an outfielder who also played first, second and third in the Majors, has all the tools to become a productive Major League bat. He hits the ball hard (he ranked in the 86th percentile among MLB players in average exit velocity), has a strong arm (80th percentile) and elite speed (97th percentile). Vierling’s 83 OPS+ was below league average in 325 at-bats for the Phillies last season, but the right-handed hitter batted .295 against lefty pitching.

The Tigers’ job now is to unlock Vierling’s bat more so his defense and baserunning can shine.

“When COVID hit, I worked on getting more athletic in my swing, being able to be adjustable with all kinds of pitches,” Vierling said. “I was a little bit bent over, and I stood up a bit more and had a little bit more rhythm, I’d say. Really just worked on hitting more line drives, getting the ball in the air a little bit more, and most importantly, trying to get the ball more out front. It’s all about trying to get my contact point out and just being more athletic in my swing that seems to have helped me the past couple years.”

In Maton, the Tigers now have an up-the-middle infielder who can also play in the outfield and at third base. The 25-year-old had a 138 OPS+ in 34 games last season, and Detroit was impressed with the adjustments he made during the season last year.

“I started to [work] more in my legs and down through the ball, and I figured out some things working with the hitting coaches over there that I’ll carry on over here,” Maton said. “It’s helped me out a lot, and I hope the people here can help me out so I can continue to get better.

“My time with the Phillies has been, if someone got hurt, I’d be able to come in and play. And if I succeed or don’t succeed, I might not be there in a month if that guy gets back. I’m pumped to be able to, hopefully, get a shot with the Tigers and prove what I can do and stick somewhere.”

Sands, the third player in the field, was ranked as the Phillies’ No. 21 prospect and has been considered a bat-first catcher — although Harris raved about Sands’ defense after the trade. Detroit has been looking for catching depth behind Eric Haase and Jake Rogers, and if the club can unlock more with Sands’ bat, he also could help upgrade the Tigers’ offense.

Time will tell if these three players turn into the big league hitters Detroit needs. But acquiring the left-handed-hitting infielder in Maton, the right-handed outfielder in Vierling and the catching depth in Sands helps the Tigers’ roster picture come into focus as Harris pushed the Soto deal — a trade candidate he’s been having conversations about for months — over the finish line.

“I think it’s a compliment, especially to me, Nick and Donny,” Vierling said. “Being traded for a two-time All-Star is credit to all the hard work we’ve put in. It definitely makes you feel pretty good when you’re in a trade like that. I know we’re all excited.”

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