Lakeland, Fla. – Here’s something that might take some of the edge off another arduous rebuilding year. The three prospects the Tigers got back from Houston in the Justin Verlander trade may all end up playing together at Triple-A Toledo this summer.
Pitcher Franklin Perez, after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, has the farthest to go. He may start the season in Class A – either at West Michigan or Lakeland.
But the other two – catcher Jake Rogers and center fielder Daz Cameron – will almost certainly spend a good chunk of the summer in Mud Hens uniforms, pushing ever closer to their debuts in Detroit.
All three are in big-league camp this spring. Rogers was here last year, but this is a first for Cameron. Although, you’d never know it by talking to him. He carries himself, at age 22, like a man who has been around big-league camps his whole life.
(This is where we mention his father is Mike Cameron, who won three Gold Gloves in his 17-year big-league career.)
“He just told me not to try and be something I’m not,” Daz said of his father’s advice before coming to TigerTown. “He said to play hard, be yourself and everything will take care of itself.”
Cameron jumped three rungs of the Tigers' system last year – High-A Lakeland, Double-A Erie and finishing up at Toledo. His combined slash-line was .264/.343/.406. But it was during his stint in the Arizona Fall League that his stock spiked.
Against some of the best pitching prospects in the game, he hit .342/.435/.468 with a .903 OPS.
“That gave me the confidence that I can play with these guys,” he said. “I can play with anybody – that’s the mindset I take toward the game. You have to have that confidence to play up here, to play anywhere, really.
“But for me, it was really good to play against those great players and those good players that are going to be in the Major Leagues soon. That was good to experience.”
Cameron doesn’t want to think about where he could end up this season – Triple-A, maybe even a September call-up to Detroit. He said he prefers to keep his focus simple, just come every day ready to play hard and get better.
That said, as he sat in the big-league clubhouse here in Lakeland, he knows how close he is to realizing his dream.
“I want to be here,” he said. “I want to be in the Major Leagues. I want to be on this ballclub. But I know there are things I have to go through. I have to enjoy the process. I have to stay within the process, work hard in the process and have the right mentality to get where I want to be – which is right here.”
Changing the change-up
The change-up has been Jordan Zimmermann’s personal white whale. Try as he might, and he has tried mightily just about every season, he is still trying to conquer and incorporate that pitch into his arsenal. It didn’t use to matter, when his mid-90s fastball and slider where enough to dominate hitters.
It matters now.
“I’ve always had a fairly decent change-up early in spring, and it goes away by the time I get into the season,” Zimmermann said. “I don’t throw it and then I just kind of lose it.”
His problem with the change-up, typically, is keeping the velocity down. He ends up throwing it too hard, in the mid-80s, which doesn’t contrast effectively with his low-90s fastball. This spring, though, he sought advice from veteran Matt Moore, who has an above average change-up.
“I’ve always thought you go with a quick arm all the way through the delivery,” Zimmermann said. “(Moore) was telling me that he goes, slow, slow, slow, then he accelerates at the end. I’ve been doing that and it feels like the pitch has more depth and it’s slower.”
Zimmermann used his change-up 5.6 percent of the time last year, throwing 112 of them to left-handed hitters and only five to right-handers. Opponents hit a gaudy .432 with a .506 slugging percentage against it.
“My first start this spring is just going to be all fastball and change-ups,” he said. “As long as I keep throwing it and throwing it, it has to get better.”
Manager Ron Gardenhire wasn’t about to announce the opening day starter this early in camp, but he got off a pretty good line when asked if he might use an opener – a reliever to work the first inning or so before bringing in the primary pitcher -- to start opening day.
“We will use an opener on opening day,” he said, with a glint in his eye. “He will be our opener, our starter, and hopefully he’ll last five, six, seven, eight innings.”
Last year, in the final week of spring training, Gardenhire announced that Zimmermann would start opening day.
It’s not just the pitchers who are benefiting from digital monitoring devises like Rapsodo and Trackman. The Tigers hitters are also able to use the technology.
Gardenhire explained Thursday that by using pressure plates, hitters are being measured for balance, weight shift, swing plane and bat speed.
“There’s all kinds of machines, all kinds of pictures being taken and all kinds of data,” Gardenhire said. “It’s flying all over the place.”
Outfielder Victor Reyes has already benefited from it.
“The data showed he was landing on his toes when we swung,” he said. “He was falling on his toes too much. They showed him that and he corrected it and he has better balance already – just by showing him.”
Gardenhire said the Tigers are still playing catch-up in terms of using this technology, but they have committed to it financially and philosophically.
“There is so much out there and we’re trying to get involved deeply into it,” Gardenhire said. “Let’s see if we can help people. That’s what it’s all about. Maybe we can use this date to make them better and make our ballclub better.”
Decision expected Saturday
The Tigers and pitcher Michael Fulmer expect to receive the arbitration panel's ruling on Saturday. Both presented their salary arguments on Wednesday -- Fulmer asking for $3.4 million, the Tigers offering $2.8.
"We just sat across from each other and talked," Fulmer said of the process. "I didn't say a single word. Just sit there and act cool, I guess. But until the ruling, I can't talk about it."