Cleveland — The tools are obvious. They are what scouts and coaches praised as third baseman Jeimer Candelario shot quickly up the prospect rankings in the Chicago Cubs organization: Strong arm, quick bat, potential to hit for high average and power.
But what has stood out more than that in his brief time with the Tigers this month has been his poise.
“He doesn’t seem awed by the big-league environment,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “That’s something that can take sometimes seasons to get over.”
When Candelario, 23, walked into the Tigers clubhouse, from Day One it felt like he belonged, like he’d been here for a couple of years.
Maybe it’s because he grew up around big-league players at his father’s baseball academy in the Dominican. Maybe it’s because he’s had a lifelong friendship with Robinson Cano. Maybe it’s because he came to the Tigers with something few in the organization have — a World Series ring.
Or, maybe it’s none of that. His poise comes from a much higher place.
“I’ve changed my life,” Candelario said before Tuesday’s game. “I’m a believer. I’m a Christian. God gave me a lot of faith in what I am doing. God gave me priorities and an opportunity to know what I am doing and to know what I want and how to take care of my work.
“If I have faith, I am going to do good. If I keep the faith, I keep the confidence all the time. I work hard every day and God is going to help me do what I’m going to do.”
Candelario, acquired from the Cubs in the Justin Wilson-Alex Avila trade, is making the most of a month-long apprenticeship as the Tigers’ everyday third baseman. The club moved Nick Castellanos to right field to facilitate his indoctrination.
And the early results are encouraging.
After going 2 for 4 on Monday, Candelario has hit safely in nine of the 10 games he’s played. He’s hitting .382 (13 for 34) with a .962 OPS and four doubles. He’s also walked five times.
He battles,” Ausmus said. “He stays within himself, even in big situations. I’ve been impressed by that.”
A switch-hitter, he seems equally comfortable hitting from both sides. He’s made productive outs, purposely hitting the ball to the right side with a runner at second and less than two outs. He’s shown the ability to hit in both outfield gaps.
He also has shown good plate discipline and approach that seem beyond his years.
“The umpires up here are pretty good; they have a pretty good zone,” he said. “So I just have to think middle of the plate and try to recognize the pitches. The pitchers up here don’t throw the ball straight too often. They spin it a lot, throw two-seamers and things like that.
“So you can’t be like, ‘I’m going to pull this ball.’ My approach here is, just try to look at the sequence, watch the pitcher’s delivery and don’t try to do too much. Just see the ball and hit the ball. That’s what I am doing now and it’s helped me to recognize whether it’s a curveball, change-up or fastball.”
He hasn’t been tested enough for one to form much of an impression about his defense, although he has started a triple play, and the arm strength is evident. He’s made just about every throw sidearm, though, which was initially surprising.
“I can throw it sidearm or over the top,” he said. “When I want to get rid of the ball fast, I throw it from the side. When I need to really use my arm, I throw over the top.”
You don’t make hard-and-fast judgments off 10 games, or by one September. There’s going to be more growing pains. The jury is still out on his range at third base. There’s going to be inevitable hitting slumps that will test his mettle.
But, whether it’s his faith or his unmistakable self-belief, you don’t feel like Canderlario will be easily deterred or defeated from what clearly he sees as his destiny — to be a productive fixture at third base for the Tigers.
“When I came up for those two days earlier (Aug. 8), everybody welcomed me and made me feel comfortable,” he said. “That helped me a lot to have confidence. Jesus Christ gives me faith and the strong heart to work hard and do my best.”