How Detroit Tigers' Jeimer Candelario plans to build on breakthrough 2020 season

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario became a father Nov. 12 when his wife gave birth to their daughter, Alaya, at 9:24 a.m.

So far, so good, he says.

"It's a blessing, man," Candelario said Wednesday. "We just want to enjoy my daughter and, you know, love her."

The next day, Candelario was named the 2020 Tiger of the Year —  voted on by the Detroit chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America — for his breakthrough season, hitting .297 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in 52 games. He joins Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Nicholas Castellanos and Matthew Boyd as Tiger of the Year winners in the past decade.

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So, Candelario is pumped about that, too. And now he is back to focusing on setting himself up for sustainable success in the 2021 season, with a new hitting coach in Scott Coolbaugh and new manager in AJ Hinch.

"I just want to (get to) know my new hitting coach, try to talk to him and build a relationship with him," Candelario said. "And work together. If you work together, and we talk a lot, it's going to be fine. It's going to be great."

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Tigers first baseman Jeimer Candelario hits a RBI single during the sixth inning of the Tigers' 7-6 win over the Cubs on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020, at Comerica Park.

Candelario didn't alter the mechanics of his swing last season and doesn't plan to do so in the future. But he did change his routine and mindset. He went to Triple-A Toledo for 39 games in 2019 because of his offensive inconsistencies, and something had to give.

His trick was spending more time scouting the opposing pitcher before each game. With the positive results that followed, he discovered a new level of confidence.

"Confidence gives you a lot of possibilities to do great things in baseball," Candelario said. "For me, it's keeping my mindset in a positive way. If you build that every single day, you're going to have success."

Candelario's  39-game stretch during the shortened 60-game season featured a .373 batting average and a .641 slugging percentage. But in July, he was 0-for-17 to start the season. And at the end of September, he was 2-for-26 (.077) to conclude it.

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He still needs to prove his consistency. In a 162-game season, he must have more than a 39-game hot streak. That's something Hinch, who already has reached out via text message to Candelario, wants to make happen.

"Obviously, the Candelario breakthrough," Hinch said Nov. 12. "I want to figure out how and why and what happened and continue to build off that."

Detroit Tigers first baseman Jeimer Candelario makes a throw to first base for an out during the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park, Sept. 19, 2020.

Expanding on improvements from 2020 is Candelario's focus entering the Dominican Winter League, which began Nov. 15. He is playing for Toros del Este but won't take the field until early December.

Right now, he is in Miami, Florida, with his personal hitting instructor. They're working to keep Candelario's head still throughout the trajectory of his swing.

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"Staying back on the ball all the time," Candelario said. "That gives me a big opportunity to put the swing on the ball. My swing is (good). My swing let me get to the big leagues. I don't have to change my swing, I just have to be in a good position seeing the ball. When you see the ball well, you're going to put the barrel on the ball most of the time."

By the time Candelario gets to the Dominican Winter League, he expects the Tigers to inform him of his on-field position moving forward with the organization.

He is better at third base but had no problem shifting to first base for 43 games last season after C.J. Cron went down with a season-ending knee injury. In his five-year MLB career, he has spent 258 games at third base and 64 games at first base.

"If the Tigers tell me I'm going to play third base, I'm going to play third base over there in the Dominican," Candelario said. "If the Tigers tell me I'm going to play first base, (then) I'm going to play first base in the Dominican. I just got to listen to what they're going to tell me and go from there."

The Tigers could sign a first baseman, as they did with Cron last winter, on a one-year contract in free agency. If Candelario moves to first base, however, they won't have to add another player — giving way to prospects Isaac Paredes and Spencer Torkelson (No. 1 pick in 2020 draft) at the hot corner.

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Either way, Candelario knows his defense won't keep him in the majors, and that reverting back to his poor performances of 2018 (.224 batting average) and 2019 (.203) would not be ideal under a new regime. That's why Candelario is refining his skills to make sure his numbers never dip that low again.

"I want to win," Candelario said. "I want that attitude. If I got that attitude, and am building that attitude of winning, a lot of good things are going to happen. A lot of good things are going to happen like last year."

Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.