Tigers claim infielder Buddy Kennedy, trade Andre Lipcius to the Dodgers

Bless You Boys

The Tigers under Scott Harris have a well-earned reputation as a restless organization, and with the spring well underway, they haven’t slowed down trying to improve around the edges. First, they signed pitching prospect Thomas Bruss to a minor league deal last Tuesday. Then, on Friday, they claimed infielder Buddy Kennedy off waivers from the Cardinals. To make room for Kennedy on the 40-man roster, infielder Andre Lipcius was designated for assignment, and today traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for cash considerations.

Kennedy was a fifth round draft pick of the D-Backs in 2017, and worked his way steadily through their farm system, ultimately debuting as a 23-year-old in 2022. In that first taste of major league action, he struggled a bit and only hit for a 72 wRC+ in 30 games. He spent the 2023 season on the roster bubble, and despite hitting well in Triple-A, he wound up playing just ten MLB games before being put on waivers in September. The infielder has been claimed and subsequently DFA’d by Oakland and St. Louis since then, landing in the Tigers’ on leap day after the Cards signed Brandon Crawford.

Among Kennedy’s skills that likely piqued Detroit’s interest are elite plate discipline, positional versatility, and surprising speed. In 90 games with Arizona’s Triple-A team, Kennedy hit .318/.444/.481 with a whopping 33.5 percent line drive rate. He’s always has a healthy walk to strikeout ratio, but took it to a new level in 2023. During those same 90 games, he walked 70 times and struck out just 68 times. That extrapolates to a league-leading 116 walks had he played a whole season uninterrupted at that pace.

There is a legitimate concern that Kennedy’s patience has bled into passivity. It’s a reasonable explanation for the trouble he’s had at the highest level, and similar notes were sounded about Tigers prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy after he led the minors in walks in 2023. The major league sample size is small, but Kennedy had just a 53.3 percent Z-Swing rate last season, meaning he watched a higher rate of pitches in the zone than all but four qualified hitters in 2023. You can’t tell the difference by looking at a raw stat sheet, but it’s an important distinction that often isn’t exposed until the major leagues. With a few rare exceptions, MLB arms just won’t respect a passive hitter.

Wanna feel icky about that in a way percentages just can’t manage? Here’s a clip of him watching an 89 mph cutter right in the wheelhouse in a perfect hitters count.

In his dry way, Tigers manager AJ Hinch told the media he likes Kennedy on defense. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise; Kennedy can be plugged in at four positions and hold his own. His natural position is third base, but he’s been primarily a second baseman over the past two seasons and has tinkered at first and in left field as well.

Granted, his defensive actions leave something to be desired and Statcast measured his arm strength significantly below average. However, for a Tigers team that won’t be counting on Kennedy to be a key cog, that doesn’t really matter all too much. He serves to bolster depth at a multitude of positions without reducing the team’s flexibility in the event that he does play MLB games.

Interestingly, Kennedy was a 95th percentile sprinter according to Statcast last season. Throughout his minor league career, the thickly built infielder was tabbed as an average runner or slightly below. In this case, though, I’m more apt to believe that scouts brandishing their stopwatches got this one wrong that the most advanced baseball tracking tech on the planet.

Small samples don’t invalidate a high sprint speed — it’s not a rate, an average, or a cumulative stat. He did rip off a top speed faster than 19 in 20 major leaguers last year, and that’s a fact. Whether he’s able to do that with any consistency is a bit more questionable.

In a corresponding move, the Tigers DFA’d and then traded utility infielder Andre Lipcius to the Dodgers for cash. In many respects, he and Kennedy are similar players. They are intelligent hitters who play the same array of defensive positions and have yet to get a firm toehold in the majors. We’ve been pulling for Lipcius, but he’s yet to have the offensive breakout needed to elbow his way to the front of the pack. The Dodgers aren’t an easy team to break in with.

Realistically, the edge goes to Kennedy for two reasons. First, Kennedy has had more offensive success than Lipcius in the high minors. Neither of them does a heck of a lot with the glove, but Kennedy hit the snot out of the ball while Lipcius was just average with the Mud Hens the past two seasons.

RHP Thomas Bruss

Though Kennedy is more likely to see the field for Detroit this season, signing pitcher Thomas Bruss is a far more interesting move in my opinion.

Bruss is a 24-year-old relief arm whose contract with Detroit is his first with an MLB organization. He went undrafted out of Augustana College, who have a DIII baseball program, and pitched in the Frontier League in 2022-23. His results were mixed last summer. He struck out just a whisker under a batter per inning and limited hard hit balls as well as anyone, but he also gave up 21 walks and carried a 5.06 ERA through 32 appearances.

Ultimately, though, a team isn’t going to be signing a player out of independent ball for their stats. It’s talent that attracts the attention of MLB scouts. After being passed over once before, Buss has put in the work at Tread Athletics’ pitching labs to get better. He comes to the Tigers as a 2.0 version of himself.

With a listed size of 6’8” and 280 pounds, Bruss is a mammoth presence on the mound. He puts that size to good use, throwing a big-time fastball that reaches all the way up to 99 miles per hour. According to Frontier League Savant, a soon-to-be-public Frontier League data tracking site that mimics the Statcast website Baseball Savant set up by fellow baseball nerd Jack Kelly, Buss’ velocity was in the 100th percentile. In other words, no one in the league threw faster than he did.

We reached out to Craig Stem, Bruss’ coach at Tread, who provided us with a bit more information on his fastball metrics. Stem said that his fastball routinely measures at 17-19” of induced vertical break, with a small cautionary note that the portable Trackman units Tread uses sometimes run a bit hot. However, if that’s what he’s really packing, it’s something like plus movement on an already blazing fastball and lines up with the fastball characteristics of other recently acquired pitching prospects, such as Blake Dickerson, or Drew Anderson, the veteran minor leaguer the Tigers picked up this offseason after he’d gone to Japan for two successful seasons with Hiroshima.

Bruss backs up his heater with a slider and splitter that look pretty nasty at times. The bullpen video Tread put on Twitter also came with an explanation that he switched from a traditional slider to a gyro slider, which is a shorter, harder version of the pitch. It’s akin to the “slutter” that was adopted by much of the Mets’ pitching staff in the late 2010s.

If Frontier League Savant is to be believed, the splitter is also a newer addition to Bruss’ game. Its tracking system had him throwing a fastball or slider nearly exclusively in game situations. Until we get some kind of Statcast data or video on the pitch it’ll be tough to provide an evaluation of whether it can be an effective third pitch in his repertoire.

Either way, I’ll be excited to follow his progress throughout the season. Detroit has had an astonishing amount of success finding relief pitchers on the cheap. Handpicking Bruss out of a sea of pitchers looking for a contract as the season is about to begin is a massive vote of confidence in his revamped arsenal. Hopefully he can find the command to go with it.

Articles You May Like

Game Preview: Detroit Tigers at Atlanta Braves for 3-game weekday set
Tigers 0, Astros 4: Tigers shut out in the Lone Star state
GameThread: Tigers vs. Braves, 12:20 p.m.
Rayner Castillo pitches well again but the Flying Tigers get walked off in 10 innings
Senator Mark Huizenga Visits LMCU Ballpark Amid Construction Updates

Leave a Reply

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