Chicago ― It’s probably not who you wanted or expected, but it certainly offers more evidence that things are operating differently these days under Tigers president Scott Harris.
A September call-up isn’t a public-relations move. It isn’t necessarily just a reward for a job well done in Triple-A. It is part of an organizational development plan. It is about bringing players to the big leagues who have taken their development at the Triple-A level as far as it can go, players who have earned the opportunity to prove they are ready to come up to the big leagues and stay there.
Thus, it was not top prospects Colt Keith and Justyn-Henry Malloy who were summoned to fill out the expanded 28-man roster. It was 25-year-old infielder Andre Lipcius and 28-year-old right-handed reliever Miguel Diaz.
This move further amplifies a point Harris has made several times throughout the season: He will serve no prospect to the big leagues before his time.
“As a general point, we’re going to prioritize in this organization seeing different types of pitching,” Harris said back in June. “We’re going to prioritize getting as many reps in as many different game situations and against as many different pitchers as possible.
“If you study offensive performance around the game right now, especially over the last four or five years, this level is littered with players who raked throughout the minor leagues and got to this level and struggled. The gap between Triple-A pitching and big-league pitching has never been wider than it is now.”
Look around the league. Oakland’s Tyler Soderstrom, Atlanta’s Vaughn Grisham, New York Mets’ Brett Baty, St. Louis’ Jordan Walker, even Detroit’s Spencer Torkelson — strong cases could be made that all of those players were rushed to the big leagues too soon.
The Tigers resisted and delayed calling up Parker Meadows, even after center fielder Riley Greene was injured, because they didn’t think he was ready. He was struggling to hit high-velocity fastballs and had other things to work through.
Once they were convinced his incubation process was finished, they, as Harris said, hit the button. Meadows played 419 games in the minor leagues and accrued 2,103 plate appearances.
His transition to the big leagues has been seamless.
Cause and effect.
Lipcius has played 421 games in the minor leagues and accrued 1,170 plate appearances. He’s as ready as he’s going to be, as he proved convincingly by slashing .343/.438/.419 with a 1.049 OPS in August.
Diaz has already pitched parts of five seasons in the big leagues, including with the Tigers last September. It’s been a minor mystery why he hadn’t been called up sooner.
With his mid-90s four-seamer and changeup mix, he nearly made the squad out of spring training this season. He hit a rough patch in the middle of the season but has been lights-out this past month, allowing two earned runs in 11.2 innings with 18 strikeouts and four walks.
Diaz will have to be added to the 40-man roster, which will require a corresponding move.
Keith’s time is coming. Malloy’s time is coming. Both are expected to compete for a roster spot next spring. Harris said in June that their offensive game is big-league-ready right now. But their defense is still a work in progress. Their positions are still undefined. Malloy’s base running, too, needed work.
There’s no need to rush them up until those things get ironed out. Maybe there was a need to rush Torkelson and Riley Greene before the 2021 season. The organization had been marketing the hope of their arrivals, as well as the arrivals of starting pitching prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo, for two years.
There isn’t the same need now. It’s more important the Tigers use this last month to exhaust their evaluations of younger players like Zach McKinstry, Matt Vierling, Andy Ibanez, Zack Short and others — players who have already initiated their option cycles — than it is to give prospects like Keith and Malloy a gratuitous month in the big leagues.