Lakeland, Fla.— On a Tigers team where infielders can have the turnover rate of fast-food employees, it’s OK to be Kody Eaves.
He can play third base, as he did in Tuesday’s game at Clearwater against the Phillies. Or he can play second base.
He swings a left-handed bat, which doesn’t hurt on a roster loaded with right-handed hitters. It can help especially when Eaves, 24, last season had a .271 batting average and .804 OPS, playing mostly at Double A Erie, all before he headed to the Arizona Fall League where in 22 games he smashed the ball to the tune of .337 and .943.
Eaves has played in three of this month’s Grapefruit League games. He has a pair of singles, one of which came during a three-run Tigers rally Wednesday that helped the Tigers spank the Yankees, 9-6, at Steinbrenner Field.
He is batting .400 by way of a small sampling that confirms nonetheless why Eaves is in big-league camp. It’s all about his bat, and the Tigers’ somewhat fluid infield.
Eaves came to the Tigers two years ago in a trade that sent one-time Tigers third baseman Jefry Marte to the Angels. He is a suburban Houston native, 6-foot (maybe generously), 175 pounds, and was a 16th-round pick in 2012 out of Pasadena High.
Whether he brings an overnight bag to Comerica Park this year depends, as always, on how he’s swinging that left-handed stick and any injuries or trades that on this year’s Tigers team figure at some point to be realities.
“I want to get the walks up and the strikeouts down,” Eaves said Wednesday, sitting in the Tigers clubhouse ahead of the team’s bus trip to Tampa and their duel with the Yankees. “Other than that, I just want to stay consistent.”
The walk-rate needs less work than his whiffs. He had 31 free passes in 88 games at Double A Erie in 2018, which helped him to a .343 on-base average. He struck out 74 times — not bad, if not the kind of upper-tier contact an infielder hopes to wield.
He made his big splash last autumn in those 22 games at Arizona, playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. He batted .337, with three home runs, two triples, five doubles, a .389 on-base mark, .554 slugging percentage, and that gaudy .943 OPS.
“Really, it was just a lot of things, critiquing the swing,” Eaves said. “Trying to get more consistent with my load. Making better pitch-selection.”
The work came alongside Phil Clark, a minor-league hitting coach now working alongside Lloyd McClendon on manager Ron Gardenhire’s staff.
Eaves, who in July turns 25, is hardly a sure thing when it comes to big-league projections. The Tigers, in fact, didn’t protect him in December on their 40-man roster when Eaves could have been swiped by another team in the Rule 5 draft.
But he won’t go away. He refuses to spin wheels. He continues to get better, which is why no one’s looking dismissively at Eaves.
“There’s always an opportunity,” said Eaves, who says little but has a way with irrefutable views.