Detroit— How about a tip of the cap to Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd and his big-league scouting staff — also throw a bouquet out to the club’s analytics staff.
Think about where the organization was this winter, embarking on a full rebuild. Their best prospects were still in A-ball and Double-A. There were huge holes at the Triple-A and big-league levels. And the budget restrictions were severe.
General manager Al Avila was determined to get the Tigers under the luxury tax threshold, by hook or crook.
It was Chadd’s task to fill those holes with competent, low-cost, sixth-year minor league free agents. Job well done. Chadd may be a guy you want to shop flea markets and estate sales with.
Look at the Mud Hens roster right now — the first-place Mud Hens, by the way: Pitchers Johnny Barbato and Ryan Carpenter (both on the 40-man roster), Kevin Comer, Mark Montgomery and Caleb Thielbar; catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, outfielders Chad Huffman and Jim Adduci, infielders Edwin Espinal and Ronny Rodriguez — all are veteran players brought in or brought back to the organization this offseason who are playing big roles at Toledo.
On the active roster right now, are three others signed by Chadd — Niko Goodrum, whose five home runs is tied for the team lead, defensive specialist Pete Kozma and right-handed relief pitcher Louis Coleman, who has yet to give up a run in seven innings since his call-up two weeks ago.
Maybe not diamonds in the rough; but veteran and extremely useful players.
“This wasn’t unexpected,” manager Ron Gardenhire said of Coleman. “He’s an experienced guy.”
Coleman, who spent parts of five seasons with the Royals (2011-2015) and 2016 with the Dodgers, throws from a three-quarter arm slot — a look the Tigers didn’t have in their bullpen.
“He changes an angle; you saw the other side (the Twins) had those guys, too,” Gardenhire said. “Sometimes it’s nice to bring in a guy who has a little bit of an angle to him. That’s what he’s giving us.
“He’s stepping up at big moments. We thought others would fit that role, but maybe he can be the guy to bridge the gap.”
Before Chadd called him up in late February, Coleman was thinking maybe the only gap he was going to bridge was between being a baseball player and an ex-baseball player.
“It was never, ‘I’d done all I can do and maybe it’s time,’” said Coleman, who is 32. “It was more, ‘I guess no one wants me.’ I was ready to go, ready to play. I just wanted a chance.”
He pitched in 152 games with the Royals and 61 for the Dodgers, and with the exception of some struggles in 2014, he’s been solid middle-innings reliever, especially stingy to right-handed batters (hitting .218 against him with a .389 slugging percentage over his career).
He had a stretch with the Dodgers — from April 25 through the middle of September — where he allowed runs in just eight of 50 games covering 39 innings.
Still, he was cut adrift. He spent the 2017 season in Triple-A first with the Reds and then the Diamondbacks. He was actually signed and cut twice by Arizona.
“I completely understand the way the process works,” Coleman said. “There are primary guys and secondary guys. At the end of the season, I was at best a secondary guy in a lot of people’s eyes, I guess. And that’s fine.
“I was just like, ‘Just give me a chance. I was hoping to get a Major-League invite and that didn’t work. Then it was like, ‘All right, let’s just get into a camp and pitch.’ I wasn’t ready to give up. I was just waiting for a door to open.”
He was brought into minor-league camp on Feb. 23 and he was invited to pitch in a couple of spring training games with the Tigers. That earned him a spot in Toledo, where he was closing games. He saved eight and allowed four runs with 15 strikeouts in 15 innings.
And here’s the thing: He is exactly the same pitcher, with the same three-pitch mix and the same funky arm angle, that he was in Kansas City and in Los Angeles. The only change, the way he sees it, is in the fates.
“It’s really a simple game plan — just attack the strike zone,” Coleman said. “I wish I could give you some big secret, but it’s just about getting ahead and throwing the pitches I want to throw, versus what the hitter wants me to throw.
“Just control what you can control. It sounds stupid, but if I try to do too much, it makes it even worse. I just throw my three pitches and try to locate them.”
He throws a 90-mph four-seam fastball and relies heavily on his slider. He also throws a change-up. Same as he has his whole career. Coleman was asked the obvious question — why, if he’s the same pitcher, was he unable to find a job for so long?
“I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes I felt like I was just as good or better before. I don’t know. It’s hard to explain. It’s baseball. It’s a game of inches. And these guys up here are really good hitters, too. You can make some good pitches and they can make you pay for them.
“So, in the paper the next day it looks like a bad day, but I look at the video and I pretty much did what I needed to do.”
Coleman, probably better than most, understands that his success thus far with the Tigers is based on a small sample size. He’s faced 25 batters, struck out five, walked two and allowed three hits. The opponents’ batting average on balls in play against him is .188. He knows that’s not sustainable.
But he’s not going to let himself look that far ahead right now.
“It feels good to be back, honestly,” Coleman said. “I’m excited to be here. When you get to play in the big leagues for a while and then you play in the minor leagues for a full year — you kind of start feeling you are far away from the Major Leagues.
“It’s not that you forget, but it gives you a sense of respect and you really appreciate it more when you get back. It’s not that I ever took it for granted. But now, it’s like, you never know when your last day will be, so you might as well enjoy it, instead of stressing.”