Lakeland, Fla. — Tyler Nevin was given a list of jersey numbers to chose from after he was traded to the Tigers from the Baltimore Orioles. He chose, for no real reason, No. 18.
On Thursday, he was made aware of the significance of that choice. The last man to wear jersey No. 18 in Detroit was Kimera Bartee, former Tigers’ outfielder and coach who died suddenly on Dec. 20, 2021.
“I’m honored to be the first one to wear it since his passing,” said Nevin, whose father Phil was a teammate of Bartee’s and is now managing the Los Angeles Angels. “I will wear it with pride.”
Having the name “Nevin” on the back of a Tigers’ uniform seems fitting. Phil Nevin played three seasons for the Tigers, he also managed at both Erie and Toledo. Tyler was 2 years old when he attended his first big-league game, watching his pops play at old Tiger Stadium.
“It’s kind of cool to see it come full circle,” Nevin said. “It’s funny how it all works out like that.”
He’s still got some work to do, though. Nevin, who will turn 26 on May 29, finds himself in a crowded battle to be in the third base rotation, competing against Nick Maton, Matt Vierling, Ryan Kreidler, Zack Short, plus non-roster invitees Cesar Hernandez, Andy Ibanez and Jermaine Palacios.
“When I got the news that I’d been traded, I was really excited for the opportunity to hopefully get some more consistent at-bats,” Nevin said. “Just to be able to show what I am capable of. That’s all I can ask for is to get the opportunity to earn my way into that spot.”
A first-round draft pick in 2015, the right-handed hitting Nevin put up good numbers through the minor leagues but didn’t get much consistent playing time in Baltimore. After a six-game audition in 2021, he played in 58 games last season, hitting .197 with a .560 OPS in 184 plate appearances.
“Phil (Nevin) and I texted back and forth before camp,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “I asked Phil his opinion. I know it’s his son, so he’s biased. But Phil didn’t hold anything back on Tyler’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Nevin has shown the ability to control the strike zone (10.9% walk rate in the short sample last year) and drive the ball into both gaps with some thump. Defensively, he was a minus-4 defensive runs saved and a minus-5 outs above average at third base.
He’s going to see playing time at third base, first base and possibly in left field in this camp, just to make sure he gets enough at-bats to state his case.
Haase in place
No detail goes unnoticed in Tigers’ camp these days.
Catcher Eric Haase hasn’t graded out well as a pitch-framer. His minus-5 catcher framing runs last season ranked in the bottom 18 percentile in baseball.
At least part of his issue, as Hinch explained Friday, was that he was setting up too deep behind the plate.
“That’s the beauty of technology, you can see where he sets up compared to the better pitch-framers in the league,” Hinch said. “He’s close to 12-inches deep. That’s a lot. We’re going to tweak where he sets up behind the hitter. Nobody wants to get hit with the bat, but if you cut off 12 inches of movement, depth-wise, from a pitch, you are going to be able to control the pitch better.”
Haase changed his catching technique before last season, putting more of an emphasis on extending his arm and receiving pitches in the strike zone, worrying more about stealing strikes than blocking balls in the dirt.
“With the receiving stuff, it’s really easy to get extended through the ball and I’m not trying go through the guy’s bat path,” Haase said. “You start finding yourself getting a little deep. With the way I used to catch, with minimal movement, I used to be very close.
“It’s not really an issue as far as getting back to the proper technique.”
Haase allowed six passed balls and 34 wild pitches last season. Setting up a little closer to the plate could help in that area, as well.
“A lot of the balls you should be able to pick through on suddenly become hops that are hard to handle,” Haase said. “The ball is spinning the hardest when it is at the plate.”
Around the horn
… Right-handed starter Spencer Turnbull threw his first official bullpen of camp on Friday. After missing a year and a half recovering from Tommy John surgery, Turnbull was hitting 94 mph with his fastball. “I never throw 94 in my bullpens,” he said. Said Hinch: “I locked in on how he was moving, how comfortable he what his reactions were. I wasn’t focused as much on execution. He holds himself to a pretty high bar, which means he’s feeling great.”
… Kerry Carpenter had a couple of bags from Detroit-based Shinola in his locker Friday, courtesy of Matthew Boyd. Carpenter agreed to give Boyd back No. 48 and in exchange, Boyd bought him a Shinola watch and bag. “I appreciate it a lot,” Carpenter said. “When he thanked me for giving the number back, I told him, ‘You earned that number, man.’ That’s all his.” Carpenter will wear No. 30, formerly the property of Hittin’ Harold Castro.
… There is another left-handed reliever in camp. The Tigers claimed Tyler Holton off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks Friday. Holton, who will be 27 on June 13, made his big-league debut last season, allowing three runs in nine innings with six strikeouts. He has an above-average changeup and a high-spin curve ball that he throws off a 90-mph four-seam fastball. He joins Tyler Alexander as the only lefty relievers on the 40-man roster. Lefties Miguel Del Pozo, Chasen Shreve, Jace Fry, Zach Logue and Adam Wolf are also in camp.