Detroit Tigers prospects training in secret in Toledo: Here's how they're growing, bonding
It’s like they just disappeared.
After the Detroit Tigers ended summer camp in Comerica Park and started their season, about 30 players — including many of the organization’s top prospects — moved to Toledo to continue training in relative secrecy behind closed doors at Fifth Third Field.
No one is allowed to watch them. No media. No fans.
So what are they doing?
They are playing a whole bunch of baseball — doing drills, taking batting practice and holding scrimmages almost every day.
Hall of Famer Alan Trammell continues to work with Spencer Torkelson, the Tigers' No.1 pick, trying to teach him how to play third base.
Then, after the workouts, many of the players go to their apartments in Toledo and play Call of Duty, a video game.
“Oh, gosh, we grind Call of Duty,” Tigers prospect Riley Greene said. “Me and Frank (Schwindel) play a bunch. Derek Hill. Brady Policelli. (Jorge) Bonifacio is here. Jake Rogers. Tork is here. (Dillon) Dingler is here. Matt Manning. (Alex) Faedo. (Nolan) Blackwood. There is a bunch here.”
That list of players forms a foundation of the Tigers’ rebuild, which brings up another benefit to this unusual situation. These prospects are bonding and developing friendships. After Greene praised Torkelson’s ability on the field — “lots of power,” Greene said — he went out of his way to talk about Torkelson as a teammate.
“To be honest, what stands out to me (about Torkelson) is the guy he is,” Greene said. “I mean, he's a great guy. I don’t have my car here. He offers to take me back to the apartment. He’s like, ‘You want to go get some food?’ Just a good guy.”
Considering Torkelson and Greene could play together for most of the next decade — if everything goes as the Tigers hope — that’s probably as interesting a development as anything.
Who's on first?
Most of the work is done in the afternoon.
“We’ll get there around 12,” Greene said. “We’ll lift some days. We’ll hit in the cage and we’ll go to the field and start our day.”
The Tigers organization is trying to make this situation as productive as possible, getting pitchers enough work in case they are called up to Detroit and giving the prospects enough at-bats so that they can keep developing.
But at times, it’s like Little League baseball practice, when you don’t have enough players and some of the coaches have to play in the field, just to fill all the positions.
“Depending on what pitching we have, we may have five innings of game to play,” said Tom Prince, Toledo Mud Hens manager. “So we'll put all the players out there, and then (Tigers player development director) Kenny Graham will go out to right field and (Mud Hens hitting coach Mike) Hessman will play first and I’ll play second. I’m not putting the gear on anymore. I'm done with that.”
The coaches try to cover everything, including the new extra-inning rule, where a runner is put on second base to open any extra frames.
“We kind of alerted them that this is what could happen if you're pitching or if you're playing in the game,” Prince said. “It's extra innings. They are gonna put a guy out there now. Are they gonna bunt now? (Sergio) Alcantara did it outstanding the other day. He had two bunt attempts. The count went to 2-0. We let him swing. He was hitting left handed. We figured he was going to get a pitch and he tripled down the right-field line. You go from moving a guy to have a big inning and we tell them a little bit about that.”
While this situation — an endless string of workouts without any real games — has the potential to get monotonous, Dave Littlefield, the vice president of player development, has been stressing that the organization is watching and paying attention.
“Even though it's kind of a workout feel, with no fans, no opposing teams, this stuff's real,” Littlefield said. “And Detroit's interested. They are watching every day and there's going to be player movement, obviously, from now through the rest of the season. So, you know, put forth your best effort, have the focus, concentrate and work hard to try to get better because they're going to be calling. We've got to give them objective opinions on what we see and how we think people are progressing and how they're doing.”
The other day, outfielder Travis Demeritte looked impressive, hitting a single that he turned into a double, just from his hustle.
Then on Friday, Demeritte was called up after Cameron Maybin was put on the 10-day injured list.
So these workouts do matter.
Watch and learn
So some of the development is happening in Toledo.
And some of it already happened in Detroit, when these youngsters were given the unusual chance to spend time watching the veterans practice.
“Me and Derek Hill went down early to the cage and we watched Miguel Cabrera hitting,” Greene said. “It’s crazy the things they do every day. To get them better, and get them ready, the routines. And I mean, I wasn't really on a routine but now I'm starting to think about things I need to do, the things I need to get ready to play the games, like hitting wise. So yeah, I mean, the routines really stuck out.”
It wasn’t just Cabrera. It was how most of the veterans prepared.
“They work very hard every day,” Greene said. “They're all really good. Don't get me wrong, but the reason why they're there is because they're consistent. They know how to do it over and over and over, every single day and they know how to get it done every single day.”
More than anything, that’s what these guys are trying to practice in Toledo.