Around the Tigers’ farm: Detroit keeping eye on Tyler Nevin, Justyn-Henry Malloy

Detroit News

Because the Tigers could use a ton more ballast in that daily lineup, it’s easy to peek at Triple-A Toledo and ponder what might be brewing in the persons of Tyler Nevin and Justyn-Henry Malloy.

Nevin, 25, is a right-handed handyman the Tigers bought — bought — from the Orioles 100 days ago in a New Year’s Eve deal. He mostly plays third base and he mostly has been shredding pitches from opposing pitchers in the first week-plus of the 2023 season.

Nevin, through the Mud Hens’ first seven games, was batting .519, with an equally stupefying 1.351 OPS, thanks in big part to a home run, double, and triple being included as part of his 14 hits in 27 at-bats.

Malloy, 23, was the primary cargo Detroit received in its December deal that sent Joe Jimenez to the Braves. He, too, is a right-handed batter and, he, too, plays third base, along with left field, if necessary — same as Nevin.

As with Nevin, he had a marvelous first week with Toledo: .346 batting average, and of particular note: a .528 on-base average, thanks to 10 walks in eight games, compared with six strikeouts.

Nevin had a lovely shot at making the Tigers’ roster out of spring camp until he ran into one of those miserable oblique strains. He is playing his way into shape at Toledo and hitting his way into possible instant duty in Detroit if his health holds and his bat continues to blaze.

“Really a great pickup by Scott,” Ryan Garko, the Tigers’ head of player development, said Sunday, with a bow to Tigers front-office chief Scott Harris. “Nevin goes with the idea of raising the club’s talent level everywhere.

“Getting him healthy has been the goal, and he’s really driving the baseball. It’s a small sample, sure, but he’s driving the baseball in the air and doing it very consistently.”

Toledo manager Anthony Iapoce agreed during a Sunday conversation.

“Swinging at good pitches,” Iapoce said of Nevin, who he has used at third base, first base, and left field. “And he’s so versatile. And super-competitive.”

Malloy? The Tigers got him from the Braves for a reason. They liked his strike-zone wizardry, his knack for making contact, and his seeming ability to play third base, or left field.

“He hits every pitch,” Iapoce said, “even as he’s looking out for walks. He goes from 0-2 to 3-and-2 and grinds out a walk. He really battles at the plate after two strikes.

“And his third-base (defense) has been pretty good.”

The Tigers could use fulltime or part-time help from either player.

“They both control the strike-zone and both hit the ball really hard,” Garko said. “I think the thing with both of them is they have not played a lot of minor-league games yet (Malloy, particularly, who has played only 178), so we’ll continue to work with them.

“They’ve both had promising starts in the field, moving well, being real good at all the simple things, being fundamentally sound and making the routine play. It boils down to ‘catch the ball’ and ‘play catch’ and they’re doing that.”

In an ideal Tigers scenario, each of these gents continues to raise a ruckus at Toledo. Tigers manager AJ Hinch then plugs them in as needed, in Detroit, where, as big-league students have observed, the Tigers need a lift.

But history is reality and there is history here, as well as current truths, that complicate the picture.

Nevin was a cash transaction by the Orioles, not so much because of his glove, but because his first-round draft status in 2015 (Rockies) has been belied by his big-league numbers: 64 games, .205 batting average, .604 OPS, 51 strikeouts in 171 at-bats.

Malloy’s data, by comparison, glitters — at least offensively: In three seasons of minor-league ball, he has batted .288, with a knockout .410 on-base percentage and .855 OPS.

Malloy’s defense at third is regarded as, in coach-speak, a “work in progress.” Still, as of Sunday he hadn’t made an error at third base through five games (he had three games as designated hitter). What’s needed is sustained proof he can stick at third in the big leagues.

And yet, how many lustrous two-way players, adept with the bat and at a position as complex as third base, dot rosters across the big leagues?

The Tigers are content to let this play out. They need muscle and good at-bats in Detroit. Two guys at Toledo are working to deliver each.

Marco making a mark

It can be easy for Tommy John recuperations to last so long pitchers can be forgotten about.

Marco Jimenez probably qualifies. He was a 21-year-old, right-handed reliever in early 2021 who ranked as one of the brighter lights on the Tigers farm. Then came TJ surgery and the usual year-plus layoff.

He pitched last season, but it was typical of just-back pitchers who often spend their first months on the mound trying to find their old magic.

Jimenez might be showing that old wizardry, already, in 2023.

He pitched two innings Saturday against Tampa, his first game in 2023 for Single-A Lakeland, and struck out five. He walked a pair of batters but didn’t allow a hit.

“Another one we’re really excited about,” Garko said of Jimenez, who is 5-foot-11, 239 pounds, and who, Garko acknowledged, is looking more like the fireballer of 2021. “Sometimes, it takes a little longer (Tommy John bounce-back);

“But he had a great (spring) camp, and it’s nice to see him holding velocities, with really good health and his arm fully back.”

Jimenez’s fastball Saturday cruised from 94-98 mph, with an average velocity of 96.8.

Short hops

▶ The Parker Meadows Watch continues. Those forecasting a summer arrival in Detroit might be onto something.

Meadows’ first seven games at Triple-A Toledo featured a homer, two doubles, and six walks as part of an .811 OPS.

“Good to see a good Triple-A start,” Iapoce said, putting into perspective a 23-year-old’s move from Double A to the Mud Hens. “He’s at the top of the lineup, really having some good at-bats.”

Reese Olson also has moved from Double-A duty a year ago to Triple-A life in 2023.

It’s been a transition. But the stuff is there, as it was at Erie.

Olson in two starts has pitched 5.1 innings, striking out nine and walking two. The problem has been too many hits: eight in 3.1 innings Friday at Omaha, which is why his early ERA is 15.19.

“Just got behind on some counts,” Iapoce said of a 23-year-old, right-handed starter who arrived with the Tigers two summers ago in a trade that sent Daniel Norris to the Brewers.

▶ Potential fast-mover in 2023: Troy Melton, right-handed starter the Tigers made their first pitching draft-pick in 2022 as a fourth-rounder from San Diego State.

Melton is breaking in with Single-A Lakeland and had a four-inning start Friday at Tampa.

He struck out seven and walked none.

“We were really excited about the way he came into camp and pitched in camp,” Garko said. “You find out why he was drafted where he was.

“Like Ty Madden (Erie starter), here’s a pitcher with a lot of college experience under his belt. We’ll take a measured approach — let him start in Lakeland.

“But it was a good first outing.”

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

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