Lakeland, Fla. – Everything about Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario seems older than his years.
He just turned 24 and yet his body already seems fully matured. His demeanor around the clubhouse is that of a seasoned veteran, yet he’s played parts of just two seasons in the big leagues, a total of 43 games.
There is nothing wide-eyed about him; maybe that's because he's been around big-league baseball players most of his life and was mentored by Robinson Cano from the age of 10. Regardless, his approach, for lack of a more clever way to say it, is all business.
“Always in my mind, I am fighting,” he said. “It’s in my mind every day that I have to fight for a spot on this team. It’s better for me. I can’t get too confident. I have to be able to work harder and try to win a spot.
“That’s what’s in my mind.”
The Tigers sent Justin Wilson and Alex Avila to the Cubs last season for Candelario, with the idea that he would be the club’s third baseman of the immediate future. When he was summoned from Toledo in September, the Tigers moved Nick Castellanos to right field, cementing their commitment in him.
It's been clear from the start that the third base job was Candelario’s to lose. And he is seizing the opportunity. He’s got four hits in 10 at-bats thus far, with two doubles and a home run. He’s also been steady defensively.
“I like him,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after the game in Tampa Wednesday. “He’s going to be just fine. He can hit. I really believe this guy can hit.”
Like everything else with Candelario, who is a switch-hitter, his approach to hitting is solid and stable, beyond his years.
“I always work hard at driving the ball the other way and driving the ball into the gaps,” he said. “If the pitch is inside (batting left-handed), I drive it to the right side. If it’s away, I drive it the other way.”
He’s clearly spent a lot of time studying the hitting approach of Miguel Cabrera, which is never a bad idea. All three of his extra-base hits have been to the opposite field.
“Just calm my body,” he said of his approach to hitting. “You see Miggy, he always slows down his body and just uses his hands. That helps you a lot. It helps you see the ball. If you can see the ball, you are going to do well.”
He’s talking about seeing the spin on the ball and recognizing pitches quicker. If your body is jumpy or you have a lot of moving parts in your swing, it’s more difficult to keep your head still, which would obviously make picking up the ball more difficult.
“I am working right now at just using more hands than body,” Candelario said. “That way I can control my bat, control the zone and see the ball really well. You do that and you have a lot better results.”
His command of the strike zone is yet another thing that’s more advanced than his years. His walk rate last season in 106 plate appearances was 11 percent. He didn’t chase a lot of bad pitches, which is impressive for a guy who was seeing American League big-league pitching for the first time.
“I don’t want to have a hole in the zone,” he said. “I want to be able to control the zone and try to be aggressive in the zone all the time.”
So far, so good.