Chris McCosky checks in from Lakeland with Bob Wojnowski on the start of spring training, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, and more. The Detroit News
Sarasota, Fla. — Tigers outfielder Jason Krizan was perched on the top step of the dugout at Ed Smith Stadium on Monday morning while the Orioles were taking batting practice.
In the cage was former Tiger Alex Presley, whose big-league experience could serve as a cautionary tale for Krizan, if he thought about it.
Opportunity. For guys like Krizan, Presley and hundreds of other talented professional players, opportunity is a most elusive currency.
Presley got labeled as a “Four-A” player after the 2012 season and spent the next five years looking for a true chance to shed that label. He got it with the Tigers last season and hit .314 with a .354 on-base percentage in 71 games covering 264 plate appearances.
And for his troubles, he was designated for assignment and signed to yet another minor-league, make-good contract with the Orioles.
“Still, he took advantage of his chance,” Krizan said. “That’s part of the game. Whenever you get the chance, you kind of have to dive in. You can’t tip-toe in.”
Krizan is so ready to dive in.
He will be 29 on June 28. This is his fourth big-league camp with the Tigers, and he has yet to get as much as a September call-up. The Tigers DFA’d him after last season and he re-signed back on a minor-league deal.
“Last year I was a little frustrated by it,” he said. “And it hurt me. But the main thing I learned from that is, I can’t let things outside affect me. I just have to keep playing my game.”
Krizan’s game is hitting. He’s hit at every level — .273 average and .393 on-base percentage in seven minor-league seasons. In his first taste of Triple-A in 2016 he hit .300. In his first three months last season, he was hitting .310 with a .375 on-base and a career-best .488 slugging. He’d hit seven homers and 39 RBIs to that point.
And still he kept getting passed over by the big-league team. Presley, Jim Adduci, Matt den Dekker, Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones all went up and down while Krizan stayed put in Toledo.
He perhaps gave into the frustration and had a miserable month of July (.190).
“You just have to keep going,” he said. “I can’t try to do too much. I think that’s when I get into trouble. Just keep hitting and keep doing what I know how to do and I feel like everything will work itself out.”
Krizan is an outfielder by trade, but in the last few years he worked to make himself a utility option. He can play second base and first base. Never a big power guy, he’s added strength to his 6-0, 190-pound frame and the ball has been flying off his bat this spring.
He homered in the game against the Pirates on Sunday and was in the starting lineup here Monday. He walked and scored a run, was hit by a pitch and had a home run bid thwarted in left field by a leaping catch from Orioles outfielder Colby Rasmus.
He also made a hit-saving, sliding catch on the right field chalk line on a ball flared by Adam Jones.
“I’ve never really been a big launch-angle guy,” he said. “The swing-path stuff that they are talking about now, I did that in college. Playing for Dan Heefner (Dallas Baptist), who I think is the best college baseball coach in the country, he always preached staying flat through the zone for as long as possible.
“They are teaching that now. I don’t even think about upper-cut. I just want my barrel to be in the zone as long as possible.”
Krizan was kicking himself after striking out in his first at-bat Sunday.
“It was a really passive at-bat,” he said. “The next at-bat I told myself to just let it fly. And the ball went out (of the park).”
It was a bit surprising Krizan opted to sign back with the Tigers after they released him. He was free to seek an opportunity in another organization.
“Actually I was thankful for the opportunity to come back here,” he said. “I felt like this was the best situation for me, with everybody new coming in and a lot of fresh faces. It’s like coming to a new team. I am actually one of the older guys he camp (laughs).
“I enjoy this organization, even though I haven’t been to the big leagues yet. I trust the process. I have learned a lot, a lot about myself and a lot about the game of baseball.”
Krizan is in that large pool of players, capable professional players, who if given 250-300 at-bats could contribute at the big-league level. He’d love the chance to prove that.
“I think I would,” he said. “You have to have that confidence. If you don’t have that going in, you won’t perform. Whenever it happens, I am going to be ready. But you know what, in the meantime, I am just going to keep going about my business.”