Why the Detroit Tigers like the work Isaac Paredes is doing in Mexican winter league

Evan Petzold
Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers are watching from afar.

And third baseman Isaac Paredes — the team's No. 6 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline — continues to impress them while playing for Venados de Mazatlán in the Mexican Pacific Winter League.

Through Wednesday, the 21-year-old is 27-for-78 (.346) with two homers and 17 RBIs in 23 games, adding 13 walks to eight strikeouts. This type of offseason success bodes well for Paredes, but he still has adjustments to make before the Tigers can rely on him as an everyday infielder.

[ Detroit Tigers in winter leagues: Jeimer Candelario debuts soon, Isaac Paredes won't slow down ]

"For this kind of scenario, it's all positive," Tigers vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said. "He's getting more at-bats. "The continued practice that he's getting in the game is definitely beneficial for his career."

The Mexican Pacific Winter League has plenty of experienced pitchers, Littlefield said. They throw better breaking balls (and do so more often) than many of the starters and relievers in the minors. Most hitters know how to connect with a fastball, but they struggle to keep their timing when a breaking ball approaches.

Paredes, however, isn't having any trouble with his plate discipline, which is a skill he showed while making his MLB debut in 2020.

Through Paredes' first week in the majors, he didn't swing and miss at a pitch in the strike zone, and his 22.8% chase rate (swinging at pitches outside the strike zone) was below MLB average.

After that, he became too cautious, forcing former manager Ron Gardenhire to encourage him to make mistakes. His low swing-and-miss rate continued, but he swung at the first pitch just 15.7% of the time. Last season's league average was 28.3%. His absence of aggression turned into a problem.

[ How Detroit Tigers' Isaac Paredes was discovered in Mexico: 'This guy's got it' ]

"The biggest thing is this year we lost a lot of at-bats and innings," Littlefield said. "With position players, it's a great opportunity to get some competitive at-bats. This guy's young. The more at-bats you can get, considering those scenarios, being young and the way the season played out this year — it's a great opportunity to improve."

Detroit Tigers' Isaac Paredes watches his two-RBI single during the fourth inning against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Chicago.

Parades went 22-for-100 (.220) with one home run, six RBIs, eight walks and 24 strikeouts across 34 games in 2020.

But the Tigers know he has the tools to be a productive offensive player.

[ Detroit Tigers prospects: Tarik Skubal jumps Casey Mize in Baseball America's rankings ]

For proof of this, Littlefield shared a fascinating piece of information: In 2018, Paredes became the first teenager to collect double-digit homers (12) in the High-A Florida State League since Giancarlo Stanton and Matt Dominguez in 2009. Also, there's the fact that Paredes' bat carried him through the minors rather quickly.

It's why the Tigers felt comfortable calling him up last season to fill the void at third base. The organization hopes his approach in Mexico translates to spring training and beyond.

"He's an advanced guy, an advanced hitter as we've seen through the years," Littlefield said. "(Playing this winter) is only going to help him."

Where Paredes must improve

There’s no doubt Paredes passes the eye test — projecting as a solid contact and power hitter — in the batter’s box. His next step is improving in the weight room.

Paredes is listed at 5-foot-11, 213 pounds on the Tigers’ most recent depth chart.

When the Chicago Cubs discovered him as a teenager in Mexico, they figured he would be a shortstop. After they traded him to the Tigers in July 2017, along with infielder Jeimer Candelario, his new organization made Paredes a third baseman.

[ How Isaac Paredes adjusted to lift Detroit Tigers with grand slam ]

Detroit Tigers third baseman Isaac Paredes (19) fields a ground ball Sept. 27, 2020, during the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Missouri.

"Most all infielders that are advanced, they start at shortstop,” Littlefield said. “It's hard to play shortstop at the major-league level, so a lot of them move. He's got actions to play shortstop. Second base would be similar. Obviously, we'll see how the power goes, whether you want a third baseman with power as the profile. If the power doesn't develop, maybe that bat fits better at second."

Third base. Second base. Shortstop.

All three are potential fits for Paredes, but two — second base and shortstop — won’t happen unless he gets in shape to be a middle infielder. Dropping 20 pounds would significantly upgrade his first step, mobility and agility.

[ Detroit Tigers' Willi Castro hasn't heard if he will play shortstop in 2021 ]

In the majors last season, Paredes made two errors in 80 chances, with 22 putouts and 56 assists, for a .975 fielding percentage. In the Mexican Pacific Winter League this offseason, he has made three errors, 16 putouts and 36 assists in 55 chances (.945 fielding percentage) at third base.

"He can hit everywhere, and his defense is good," Littlefield said. "This guy's got a chance to be a good player."

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