Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager AJ Hinch said last month, just as an aside, that when the camp roster is released, it might look like there aren’t a lot of outfielders.
He meant because players like Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, Tyler Nevin, Justyn-Henry Malloy and others will likely get as many reps on the dirt (infield) as they do in the grass (outfield).
And yet, the list of outfielders who are at least in the conversation this spring keeps getting longer. The Tigers added another on Wednesday, signing former Dodgers prospect DJ Peters to a minor-league deal. As of right now, Peters, 27, has not been invited to big-league camp.
But, he’s the second intriguing outfielder the club has signed in the past 10 days. The club signed veteran Jonathan Davis, entering his age-31 season, to a minor-league deal at the end of January. The former Blue Jays and Yankees speedster will compete in big-league camp.
Peters could hit his way there. Unlike four of the Tigers’ top five outfielders (Riley Greene, Austin Meadows, Akil Baddoo and Kerry Carpenter), Peters is a right-handed hitter. Vierling also bats right-handed.
And Peters, unlike Davis, has some thump in his bat. In 2021, after he was waived by the Dodgers, he hit 12 home runs with the Rangers in just 206 plate appearances. Last season, playing for Lotte in the Korean Baseball Organization, he hit 13 home runs in 85 games.
That, along with the 96 home runs he belted in six minor-league seasons (2,244 plate appearances).
But, he’s also whiffed a lot — a 34% strikeout rate in 240 big-league plate appearances. He cut that rate to 21% last season in Korea. Not exactly the hitting profile president Scott Harris has been seeking, but neither he nor anyone else needs to be reminded that the Tigers finished dead last in home runs hit last season.
Peters is considered a plus-defender at all three outfield positions. He has elite sprint speed (top-7 percentile) and a strong arm (top-8 percentile).
For now, the main position battle in the outfield looks to be between Baddoo and Carpenter. Greene (center field) and Meadows (right field), if healthy, are presumptive locks.
Vierling, though he will get some infield reps, would seem to have an edge over Baddoo and Carpenter. He’s a better fielder and he hits right-handed.
But, it’s not a stretch to think that Peters could force himself into that mix, if not this spring, then at some point this season.