LAKELAND, Fla. — AJ Hinch just wanted Eric Haase to bat in spring training a year ago. The Tigers skipper didn’t see left field as a way for Haase to launch his Major League career.
A year later, not only is Haase a hero in his native Michigan, he’s an established member of Detroit’s roster. For the first time in his career, he is not fighting for a place, but trying to find a role. Instead of trying to make a list, he focuses on finding ways to win matches.
“I’m really excited about this,” Haase said last week. “I know exactly what the staff are looking for with me. I know what my role will be, and it’s very easy for me to fit in and do what I have to do.
Haase is also an example of the value of versatility and why it’s a widespread theme for the Tigers under Hinch – not only when they’ve built up an opening roster, but looking to incorporate players. prospects in a roster that has established hitters.
While Spring Training is a rehearsal for players to prepare for the upcoming season, it’s also a kind of lab for Hinch to explore potential additional player positions. A look around the Tigers’ defensive lineup against the Orioles on Sunday revealed plenty of examples, despite Haase getting a rare day at the designated hitter:
• Willi Castro, who spent spring training trying to earn the starting position at shortstop, started in left field. Castro has already moved into a utilitarian role on the pitch with the arrival of Javier Báez, but the Tigres want to further explore the on-field experience he started last season.
• Harold Castro, who forged a career in Detroit with his versatility, started at first base, where he made seven starts and eight late game appearances last year.
• Isaac Paredes, who could be an option at third base if Jeimer Candelario is injured, started at second, where Hinch started playing him during spring training. Paredes left the game after being hit by a right-handed throw.
• Ryan Kreidler, who powered the Tigers farm system last year as a shortstop, entered the game in second position.
• Gage Workman, who played third base at Arizona State before returning to his more natural shortstop position after Detroit drafted him, ran for Paredes and stayed in the game at third overall.
• Ryan Lavarnway, a well-traveled catcher who signed a minor league contract a few weeks ago, made his second appearance at first base in as many days. It’s not a sign of a change in position, but if he can play there he can give Toledo’s Triple-A manager Lloyd McClendon more options if he ends up with the Muds. Hens.
Willi Castro is a prime example of additional positions giving a player another shot at a Major League spot. Once his stint at shortstop ended last summer, he was a full-time switch hitter without a position and he didn’t have much experience moving around. The Tigers tried it in the outfield on the volley. His spring training so far has shown his worth as a hitter. If he’s not a regular shortstop left, he needs playing time somewhere to get his bats.
“It’s unfair to him that we threw him in left field last year,” Hinch said. “But he still has one of the highlights from last year when he stole the home run. He’s sporty enough to do it. He needs representatives to do that.
If Castro ends up in Toledo, he could be part of a rotating infield. Kreidler, who has already been told he won’t be on Detroit’s opening day roster, is expected to move into the infield between court, second and third, much like Zack Short. Just like Paredes could do if he’s not on the Tigers roster. Kody Clemens can play first, second and third base, as well as outfield corners.
With Báez at shortstop in Detroit for at least two seasons and possibly six, Kreidler can’t just be the shortstop of the future.
“He has to be ready to be the answer in multiple positions,” Hinch said. “I don’t know where the place will open up because of injury, hopefully never. But the reality is he could be called up at any time at third, second or short. So we have to move enough in the infield at Triple-A for him to be comfortable.
Even Haase is still experimenting. He spent camp finding work at first base outside of games. Hinch isn’t looking for him to start games there, not with Spencer Torkelson and Jonathan Schoop available. However, if a few innings at first base keeps Haase and his right-handed power bat in the lineup late in a game after pinching, then it’s worth exploring.
“Overall, AJ is just, ‘When you get there, be athletic. Wherever you go on the court, stay athletic,'” Haase said. ball and just try to make a play.”
Versatility is crucial if Hinch carries three receivers. While Dustin Garneau’s presence allows Haase to pinch more often without risking being without a receiver on the bench, the flip side is that Haase can stay in a game in as many positions as possible.
“That’s what I love about being able to carry three receivers,” Haase said. “If I go in and hit for someone playing first base, I can stay on first base now. Where can I pick up Akil? [Baddoo] if I pinch hit, then I can go play left field. It gives you a lot more options on the bench without having to change guys twice.