Meet Justice Bigbie: The sizzling hot Detroit Tigers prospect on a team of studs

Detroit Free Press

MIDLAND — Meet Justice Bigbie.

Trust me. Remember that name.

After playing just 154 games in the Detroit Tigers minor league system, Bigbie has improved tremendously, impressed his bosses, put up some ridiculous stats and turned himself into a bonified Tigers prospect.

Even if he’s not even mentioned on top 30 lists. Yet.

The first clue: Look at the batting order.

The West Michigan Whitecaps, the Tigers High-A affiliate, have a fascinating group of prospects in their lineup.

Roberto Campos, the 19-year-old phenom, bats leadoff. You see him in person, just walking to the batter’s box, and look at the way he carries himself and the way he swings his bat, and you think: This kid is huge. Yes, this is what a future MLB player looks like.

Jace Jung, who was recently named the top prospect in the organization by MLB.com, bats second in the Whitecaps order. He can’t get to Detroit soon enough.

Izaac Pacheco, who is so talented, so important to this organization that he got at-bats with the big-league club in spring training — while drawing rave reviews from A.J. Hinch — hits cleanup for the Whitecaps.

Do you want to know who is wedged between Jung and Pacheco?

None other than Bigbie. Another stud among the studs.

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Stats don’t lie

The second clue: Look at the stats.

There are so many sizzling hot numbers, it’s almost ridiculous.

After 25 games this spring for the Whitecaps, Bigbie had a .360 batting average. He had five homers and seven doubles with a .426 on base percentage and a crazy 1.055 OPS. He had struck out 18 times with 10 walks.But ask him how the season is going, and he immediately talked about the team.

“I think our team has been playing really well, been playing some good baseball lately,” Bigbie told me, standing outside the Whitecaps clubhouse on Tuesday in Midland. “We’ve been hitting the ball really well. Our bullpen has been amazing, starting pitching been amazing. I think it’s been going well; we’re playing some good baseball right now.”

Well, so has Bigbie, this 24-year-old outfielder taken in the 19th round (555th overall) in the 2021 MLB draft out of Western Carolina. That year, there were only 20 rounds, so he wasn’t sure if he was going to be selected.

“I wasn’t really quite sure on when or if I would go,” he said. “I was very, very thankful that Detroit took a chance on me. I think I’ve been seeing the ball seeing the ball fairly well, getting some good swings off in good counts.”

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But that’s too much about him.

He quick started talking about the team again.

“I think our whole team’s done a great job of that and we’ve been hitting the ball really well,” he said.

Developing on farm

More than anything, Bigbie is a tremendous success story for the Tigers developmental staff.

The longer Bigbie works with these coaches, the higher he climbs in the system, the better he seems to get.

“As organization, we really like his talent,” manager Brayan Peña said. “We believe in his power. We like his swing, and we love the way he plays. So, you know, kudos to (Tigers vice president of player development) Ryan Garko and (player development director) Kenny Graham and our hitting department to create a player plan for him. We want him to be able to drive the ball. We want him to go out there and swing at pitches in places where he can do some damage. And that is exactly what he’s doing. So kudos to him also to understand the message and to understand that.”

His progression is easy to track. Bigbie hit .253 in 29 games of rookie ball and .258 in Single-A Lakeland.

But he’s been tearing it up in West Michigan.

He finished 2022 in West Michigan, playing in nine games, and he hit .387.

So in 34 games at High A, he’s hitting .387 with six homers. Those homers represent an improved technique and approach.

“I think I’ve grown a lot,” Bigbie said. “You learn a lot playing every day. I mean, credit to all our coaches. They’ve done an unbelievable job, getting us prepared and getting us ready.”

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Bigbie is an example of the type of player the Tigers are trying to find, as well as develop.

“Going back to college, Justice has always done things we value highly very well,” Garko said. “He has controlled the zone and hit the ball and used the while field. This year he’s made some small adjustments to increase his contact point and get the ball out in front, which has helped get the ball in the air more.

“I am most impressed by Bigbie’s ability to increase his power numbers this year while continuing to use the whole field. He’s increased his walks and continued to control the strike zone as well. He’s also changed positions and looks like a capable defender in the outfield.”

The Tigers had three hitting sessions during the offseason, bringing in players throughout the system, working in small groups and putting together individual programs for them.

“Justice deserves all the credit for performing the way he has, and so does Kenny Graham, he has been a big believer in Bigbie from the day we signed him,” Garko said. “Kenny and the hitting department put the program together for him in the off season to help get the ball in the air more and Justice was all in on the process.”

Bigbie was quick to credit hitting coach C.J. Wamsley and informational analyst Michael Piletich.

“C.J. does an unbelievable job and Michael has been getting the scouting reports and doing all that sort of stuff with the technology side,” Bigbie said. “I think it’s been a huge help having those guys. There’s a lot of work done behind the scenes that a lot of people don’t see. They’ve just done an unbelievable job getting us prepared and ready to play.”

He is playing mostly left field and occasionally right.

But he has experience at third in college.

“I still want to continue to work to keep getting better every day,” he said. “On both sides of the baseball.”

He’s not a finished product.

But he’s already a success story — a talented player who has improved.

His rapid improvement is a tremendous early sign for this new Tigers regime, which has pumped more money and resources into the minor league system.

Isn’t this exactly what Tigers fans have been longing for?

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Contact Jeff Seidel at jseidel@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

To read Seidel’s recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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