Tigers’ hottest July farm team — the over-excelling Flying Tigers

Detroit News

Dunedin, Fla. — How a team with the worst pitching in the Florida State League, and the next-to-worst hitting, manages a 12-game June-July winning streak, including a 13-victories-in-14-games run, is a mystery for baseball’s statistics-and-probabilities crowd to ponder.

Andrew Graham might also be worth analyzing — and perhaps identifying as something of a miracle worker.

Graham, who skippers the low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers, was chewing on this improbable run by a statistically impoverished team following Tuesday’s game, which, of course, saw the Flying Tigers win, 4-3, with Luke Gold’s bases-loaded double to right-center qualifying as — news bulletin — a big hit for Lakeland.

“We’ve got guys saying, ‘So what, there’s a lot of baseball left to play,’” Graham said, explaining how his team has snorted at a 40-48 record and has decided these steamy summer games are worth playing at full-throttle.

Graham wasn’t convinced this was his team’s mentality during a wickedly tough spring. He let his players, uh, know a skipper wasn’t having any of it, and neither were bosses in the Tigers front office who took Lakeland’s games — and efforts — seriously.

“The guys weren’t performing, weren’t performing as a team,” Graham said in his melodic Sydney, Australia accent, while sitting behind a desk in the visiting manager’s office at TD Ballpark.

“Our pitching was inconsistent early. We couldn’t shut the door. But, the guys have since bought into the development, which has brought confidence, and confidence is a huge part of the game at this level.

“This is the first time some of these guys have played under lights, the first time some of them have faced adversity.

“Guys can go into the depths, and they need to stay positive and get out of them.”

It can be rugged, that staying-positive thing.

It has helped that Gold has been something of a one-man band on offense: He has hit .306 since June 1, with five home runs, and has looked much like the right-handed batter and infielder from Boston College the Tigers made a fifth-round pick in 2022.

The Tigers worked this spring to get Gold more through-the-zone with his swing and more on top of velocity a tick above what Gold had seen at Boston College.

“As soon as he began getting some confidence,” Graham said, “I put him in that two-hole (No. 2 spot in the order), and he hasn’t looked back.

“He’s still learning how to play positions,” said Graham, a one-time catcher in the Tigers farm system. “The professional game of baseball is a lot faster than college. He played a lot of second base in college, so he’s more comfortable there, but he’s been playing third base for us, too.

“He’s going to continue to work with his pre-step, being on time so he can be more athletic and have more range. Also, the speed of the ball, the speed of the runner, being aware of the runner before the pitch happens. Little things. He’s making strides.

“But, he’s totally the hardest-working kid I’ve ever seen. I just hope he continues to swing the bat the way he can.”

Pitching-wise, a nice addition came a month ago, when Jackson Jobe returned from a three-month layoff due to lower-back ills.

He’s been fine, as Saturday night’s effort against Dunedin confirmed: 3.2 innings, three hits, one run, one walk, seven strikeouts, with his fastball hitting 99, all as Detroit’s first-round prize from 2021 continues with what, for him, amounts to spring training.

“Stuff’s there,” Graham said, referring to a right-hander’s repertoire that tends to light up the metrics columns. “He’s just got to get more consistent in the zone.”

Short hops

Colt Keith had what, statistically, appeared to be his first “slump” of the season, a 3-for-26 stretch only a couple of weeks after checking in at Triple-A Toledo.

“We don’t use that word,” said Mud Hens manager Anthony Iapoce, with a laugh, as he Saturday talked about the Tigers’ blue-chip infielder. “He’s been good, still giving good at-bats. He’s just not getting the hits right now.”

Iapoce was on to something. A few hours later, in Toledo’s game against Lehigh, Keith blasted a 406-foot rocket off the center field fence, then later added a hard RBI single to left-center.

▶ The work being done by Erie’s bullpen remains as strong as any story on the Tigers’ farm.

Andrew Magno, a left-hander from Ohio State (15th round, 2019) has been right there with Tyler Mattison as a SeaWolves shutdown reliever. Magno has not allowed a single earned run since June 8.

Key there has been a curveball with a spin rate of 2,800-2,900 rpm, his out-pitch that helps a 93-96 fastball. In a combined 28 games at Toledo and Erie in 2023, Magno has a 1.30 ERA (1.50 in eight games for the Mud Hens) and 1.22 WHIP. His only issue: 4.8 walks per nine.

Justice Bigbie keeps slugging at Erie. His move from West Michigan, where he was on fire, to Double A continues in its scorching numbers to make him the Tigers’ certified breakthrough tale of 2023.

Bigbie, an outfielder and right-handed batter, arrived Sunday batting .381 in 28 games for the SeaWolves, with follow-up lines of .445/.610/1.055, including five homers.

“Great approach at the plate,” Erie manager Gabe Alvarez said. “He’s able to handle multiple pitches, and his power is what’s been impressive.

“The fact he can hit the ball the other way, as far as he can pull the ball — that’s been impressive.”

▶ Erie catcher Dillon Dingler continues to heal at the TigerTown complex in Lakeland, Fla., from elbow inflammation that is not — for now — considered serious.

Articles You May Like

Tigers select IF Jack Penney with 147th pick in 2024 MLB Draft
Pennsylvania Lottery Online Plays
Tigers select SS Bryce Rainer with their first pick of the 2024 MLB Draft
Tigers 3, Dodgers 4: A late-inning Ohtani hit changed the Tigers’ night
Tigers select pitcher Ethan Schiefelbein with the 72nd pick in 2024 MLB Draft

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *