These prospects are making noise at Tigers camp

Detroit Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. — A.J. Hinch has been through this cycle before: Young player makes a big impression in the first couple weeks of Spring Training, then cools off down the stretch. The opposition gets tougher as players go from “working on things” to getting into regular-season shape. The pressure mounts with each round of roster cuts as the locker room gets less crowded. Players start having to make plans for wherever they’re headed when the season begins.

That’s among many reasons why Hinch puts limited stock into raw results in Spring Training.

“To be honest, I don’t really look at the numbers in the spring,” Hinch said before Sunday’s 8-7 win over the Twins. “They’re used as a reference point, but there’s so much that can mislead you. … It’s a much deeper evaluation.”

Impressions, he said, matter more than results. It could be something Hinch or coaches observe as a player goes through his daily work and what he takes into games. It could be a nugget from the metrics that have become increasingly available in Spring Training, either publicly through Statcast or privately through internal data.

That extends from proven Major Leaguers to prospects, some of whom are in Major League camp for the first time. A strong camp might not change their long chances to make the Opening Day roster. It might not even delay their trip across the street to Minor League camp. But it could accelerate their timeline to reach Detroit. Just ask Ryan Kreidler, whose strong Spring Training in 2021 helped him jump both levels of Class A ball and open that regular season at Double-A Erie, setting up his debut in Detroit last summer.

With the Tigers at the midway point of their Grapefruit League schedule, here are five prospects who have made an impression in camp:

What began as a cool story about a Tigers prospect getting to play with his older brother for the first time in his life has become a better story about a former second-round Draft pick continuing to blossom. Meadows entered Sunday tied for the Grapefruit League lead with four home runs and one off the lead with six extra-base hits. He also has played some fairly impressive defense in center field.

“When he’s in the strike zone, he can do a lot of damage,” Hinch said. “He’s getting a lot of experience.”

No, it probably won’t lead Meadows onto the Opening Day roster. But it should lead him into a strong position at Triple-A Toledo and a spot near front of the line for a callup if the Tigers need outfield help.

While Lipcius fits the profile of a hitter who dominates the strike zone, something the Tigers have been preaching since late last season, there was still some question whether he could be an impact hitter at the advanced levels. With three homers and two doubles so far, he’s doing damage, picking his spots to be aggressive early in counts while still limiting his strikeouts. The Tigers have been moving him around the infield to test him, a dress rehearsal for his potential role in Detroit if he can keep hitting.

“What he needs to do to be a factor is continue to get better on defense and sharpen up some areas,” Hinch said. “We still want to figure out where he can best fit on that side of the ball.”

Wentz is a case of performance being better than the numbers. His 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings this spring include six strikeouts and 12 swings-and-misses in 2 2/3 innings against the Yankees on Friday. His cutter is showing good numbers early, including ticks up in velocity and spin rate, while he’s working in his curveball a bit more. He’s likely ticketed to start at Triple-A Toledo, but considering the Tigers used 17 starters last year, he might not be there long.

White has opened eyes in this camp with his combination of high-spin slider, fastball and cutter. His last two outings have been in non-Statcast ballparks, but the metrics before that were outstanding, with his slider already looking like a standout Major League pitch. How well he can locate his fastball and slider will likely determine how quickly he can advance to Detroit.

Keith was among the first round of camp cuts, but he continues to impress as an extra player brought over from Minor League camp. He has generally maintained his plate discipline against Major League opposition. His home run into the wind March 3 against the Phillies was a feat of strength.

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