Sarasota, Fla. – Not surprisingly, Tigers prospects Kody Clemens and Brock Deatherage were both called over from minor-league camp and had lockers next to each other in the visiting dugout here at Ed Smith Stadium Sunday.
“Yeah, that’s kind of how it is,” Deatherage said. “Everywhere we go, we’re always together. Kind of a duo package there.”
They were extra players for this split-squad Grapefruit League game Sunday -- Deatherage threw a runner out at third from center field in the eighth inning and Clemens flied out to the fence in left -- but the Tigers envision this duo may one day hit at the top of their big-league batting order.
Deatherage, speedy outfielder who gets home to first in 4.1 seconds, is a prototypical, scrappy, pain-in-the-neck leadoff hitter. Clemens, a second baseman, puts the ball in play to all fields and projects some gap power as he grows into his body.
But that’s all hopes and dreams right now. They are just starting their journey.
“Nowadays, I feel like everybody has to take the minor leagues step by step,” Clemens said. “There are so many good players now, that you have to prove yourself at every single spot. I just have to keep my head down and grind until they come calling me.”
Both were drafted in 2018; Clemens in the third round, Deatherage in the 10th. Both spent most of their first pro season at Low-A West Michigan. Both hit over .300 with an OPS over .800. And they were both promoted and put on the same 5 a.m. flight, to finish their seasons at High-A Lakeland.
“We were both in the lineup that first day and we were pumped to do that,” Clemens said. “It’s the experience you need to get better. Once you get your feet wet, you know what to expect.”
It took Clemens a few games to get acclimated back to High-A, but he finished strong, hitting .345 and slugging .517 over his last eight games.
Deatherage hit .333 with a .404 on-base average in 45 plate appearances at Lakeland.
“It was huge, just to get my feet wet,” Deatherage said. “That probably where we’re going to start the coming season, so just to get to experience the Florida State League, get back down in that heat and get 40-50 at-bats, that was huge.
“It just showed me what I’m looking forward to seeing this year.”
Deatherage is 23 and played four seasons and earned his degree at N.C. State. Clemens will be 23 on May 15 and played three seasons at Texas. You don’t have to talk to either long to sense that their maturity level is higher than the level of ball they will play this season.
“My main goal is to win,” Clemens said. “My dad was an intimidating pitcher, right? But he always asked me, ‘Why do people think I’m intimidating? It’s because I won.’ He was intimidating because he won. So, that’s what I want. I like to win.
“That’s always the first goal of mine, wherever I am at.”
Clemens father, you may have heard, is Roger Clemens.
“I just love the process,” Clemens said. “I love being able to do what I can for each team that I am on. …That’s the big difference between college baseball and pro ball – pro ball is so much more individual-based. It’s fun, but it’s tough. Everybody is just grinding to get promoted.
“I like the team-chemistry, like fighting with your best friends to win a baseball game. I think that’s the joy I have in it. It’s a grind, but I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love it.”
There will be heartbreaks and setbacks along the path, and both understand that. But baseball has already punched Deatherage in the heart. In his junior season, his draft season, he fell into the first and worst hitting funk of his life. And as his batting average sunk below .220, his stock fell from the top of the draft to the 29th round.
“It was a big-time humiliating process,” he said. “It was something I never experienced before my entire life, dating back to little leagues. I always had success at the plate, I was always very comfortable and consistent.
“But it felt like I would never get another hit. I couldn’t catch a break. And when you get so deep down that hole, you can’t dig yourself out. Going through that was humbling. But being able to work my way through that and bounce back my senior year was big for me.”
He went back to the basics, simplified his swing and started to rake again. He improved his draft position by 19 rounds and then put an exclamation point on his recovery by going 5 for 9 with four home runs in the Gulf Coast League.
“Being able to carry what I experienced in the Midwest League and what I brought with me from playing four years of college ball brought some value for me,” he said. “My focus is just to continue to be consistent.
“That is pretty much the entire goal – in the little stint I’ve had in pro ball and all the way through, just try to be consistent.”
They both are well aware of the talent that surrounds them as they start their climb. They are aware the odds are long, even for players as skilled and driven as they are, because there are so many variables beyond their control.
“It’s more about timing and opportunity, than being really good,” Clemens said. “One of my good friends, Ryne Birk, is a second baseman (at Double-A) in the Astros system. He is grinding, but Jose Altuve is up there. It’s going to be tough to somehow get up there.
“It’s all about opportunity and timing. But if you are putting up numbers and doing your job every single day, then you have a chance.”
Deatherage and Clemens have shared bus rides and plane rides, dorm rooms, hotel rooms and now an apartment in Lakeland. They seem to be on this ride together, both chasing a shared dream – to play in the big leagues.