In a shortened 60-game season, Tigers fans came in hoping for the best and not necessarily expecting the worst. I think it’s reasonable to suggest that this season sits somewhere in between the two.
Although now 5.5 games back of the playoffs, a few ballplayers emerged from the depths this season, offering a flash of what we may see for the team’s future.
Here are my top five bright spots so far this season. If you want to argue the order, be my guest, I’ve been impressed with all of them anyway.
#5 - Victor Reyes
A waiver claim from Arizona in December of 2017, Victor Reyes now looks like quite the steal.
What’s incredibly surprising is before heading to Detroit’s organization, his minor league numbers indicated some promise. He batted .311, .303, and .292 from 2015-2017 with some speed on the basepaths.
In 2018, he batted just .222 in a full season with the Tigers, which warranted multiple call ups and send-downs between Detroit and Toledo in 2019.
His final line that season finished at .304/.336/.431, including a .321 average in August and .330 in September. In 2020, he’s proving it again, and his numbers are just as similar as they were in 2019. Currently, Reyes’ line is at .301/.335/.449, and he looks like he could be a contributor when the Tigers begin to compete with the best of the best again.
#4 - Gregory Soto
An international free agent signing back in 2012, Soto finally hit the major leagues in 2019.
Underwhelming described his rookie year, posting a 5.77 ERA in 57.2 innings. His K/BB ratio ranked 5th to last with a minimum of 50 IP, and his fielding was subpar.
This year, Soto took a giant leap. His K/9 rate moved from 7.02 to 12.10 and his BB/9 from 5.15 to 3.72.
As a result of the upgraded strikeout and walk rates and a vastly improved hard-hit rate, Soto remains a dependable bullpen piece this season.
#3 - Daniel Norris
Traded to Detroit before the 2015 deadline in the David Price deal, Daniel Norris headlined the Tigers’ return.
Norris graded out as a top-three prospect, and like Soto, the Tennessee native has also been a bit underwhelming. In his first full season with Detroit in 2016, he reported a valuable 3.38 ERA in 14 games. But from 2017-2019, the former Blue Jay never finished with an ERA below 4.
However, this year, Manager Ron Gardenhire threw Norris in the bullpen, where he appears to be much more comfortable.
His hard-hit rate dropped immensely, and his groundball/flyball rate has improved by almost 3x from just two seasons ago.
Norris sits in a great spot as there’s no immediate need for another starter, and he can continue building confidence in the pen this year.
#2 - Willi Castro
From a 2018 trade for Leonys Martin, the Tigers received Willi Castro, who ranked as one of Cleveland’s top-10 prospects.
After stints with Toledo and Erie, Castro earned a call to the majors in 2019. His numbers weren’t great, but he got his feet wet for 2020, and it worked.
Castro leads the team in BA at .337, and like Reyes, he also appears to be part of the Tigers’ future. Currently, poor plate vision is a flaw in the 23-year old’s game, but I’m okay with his current numbers anyway.
#1 - Jeimer Candelario
What happened to Jeimer Candelario?!?!?! I’m still shocked at what Jeimer’s contributed this season.
Coming over in a trade with the Cubs in 2017, Candelario started strong, batting .330 in 94 at-bats. He fell off a cliff after that, batting .224 in 2018 and .203 in 2019. He even spent some time with the Mud Hens last season.
Then after an 0-17 start to this season, I thought his career was over. No way did I think he’d succeed, let alone given another chance. Then the calendar turned to August, a switch flipped, and then I was wrong.
Candelario’s OPS sits above 1.000 for August and September and owns the Tigers’ most reliable bat. So what’s different from years past? Jeimer now annihilates fastballs. In 2019, he hit a measly .212 against the pitch compared to a whopping .386 this year.
Due to crushing the fastball, he’s seeing more breaking balls, which he’s only hitting .150 against. It’ll be interesting to see how Candelario adapts when pitchers inevitably continue throwing more and more sliders and curveballs to him.
My hopes are up. A year ago, I could give you maybe one or two current players I expected to be on the roster a few years from now. Now I can provide you at least the five guys above, plus a few young arms that also look promising. The Tigers probably won’t be World Series contenders next season, but things are looking up for this organization.
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