Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — On Monday, minor-league pitchers and catchers report to the back fields. Which means some of the prospects who were invited to big-league camp this spring will be packing up their lockers and heading down the hall to the minor-league clubhouse.
Casey Mize, the Tigers No. 1 pick last summer, and Dawel Lugo, who made his Tigers debut last September, already have made the trek. Others soon will follow. So, this is as good a time as any to assess the impression these players made this spring.
► Casey Mize, right-hand pitcher: He pitched against big-league hitters twice — two innings and one hitter in a rain-shortened outing against the Yankees. He showed poise, a five-pitch mix, and knowing he was only throwing one or two innings, he flashed a fastball that sat at 96 mph and hit 98.
His stuff is very close to big-league ready. He still needs some polishing, though. His mechanics still get out of whack when he works from the stretch. He’s not using the same delivery out of the stretch he used at Auburn, and it's clear it's not comfortable for him yet.
“He's on a mission," manager Ron Gardenhire said Tuesday. "He's going to push the envelope on our bosses here, because he's going to be a fast-track guy. He's got major-league stuff right now.”
► Daz Cameron, center fielder: Big-league pitching has not fazed him much. In seven games, he’s hit .400 with a .471 on-base average and slugging .733. It took him a minute to get accustomed to the high sky and swirling winds at Publix Field, but his speed, his athleticism and his enthusiasm left an imprint.
“He just keeps playing,” Gardenhire said. “He wants to play. He loves to play and wants people to know he can play, and he’s going to show it every time he’s out there. He’s a serious kid when it comes to wanting people to understand that he’s going to be a player.”
Cameron, who was part of the travel team here Wednesday, will be starting the season at Triple-A Toledo, but he is a good bet to make his Tigers debut this year — possibly before September.
► Willi Castro, shortstop: The trade that brought Castro from the Indians for Leonys Martin could go down as one of the slickest deals in Al Avila’s tenure.
At one point last year, Castro and Sergio Alcantara were considered equal in their bid to be the shortstop of the future. Castro has moved several paces ahead.
“He has no fear,” Gardenhire said. “He knows how to play baseball. He isn’t coming in here with his eyes real big or anything. He is going about it really well.”
He has shown good range, especially to his right and a plus throwing arm. He’s stung the ball, too, though he only has four hits to show — one of them was a home run.
After being blocked in Cleveland by Francisco Lindor, Castro knows he’s been put on a fast path to the big leagues.
“I didn’t expect (to be traded), but I think it was a better chance for me to get to the big leagues,” he said. “With so many good players there, I wasn’t going to have the chance I have here. I just need to keep working hard.”
►Franklin Perez, right-handed pitcher: It’s a very thin line you need to walk here. Yes, it’s frustrating that he’s missed so much time with injuries — big and small — since being acquired in the Justin Verlander trade. Any thoughts of trying to push him harder are tempered by the worry of doing major damage to a potentially elite-level arm.
Perez was eye-popping in his one inning of work, his fastball hitting 96 and getting a strikeout with a buckling curve ball. But it was just one inning. He’s been shut down after he had a spasm in his right trap muscle.
It’s uncertain where he will start this year, High-A Lakeland, probably. But he has the talent to ascend several rungs quickly. But he has to pitch. He has to find a way to get 80-100 innings this season to put him back on track.
► Kyle Funkhouser, right-hand pitcher: Like Mize, his velocity played up in the short innings, but his secondary pitches were just as impressive. He dominated his two innings against Southeastern University and pitched one clean inning with a strikeout against big-league hitters.
He will start in the Toledo rotation and could also make his debut in Detroit this year.
► Danny Woodrow, outfielder: He can fly, flat-out. He should never, ever be in a hitting slump because he can do so many things to get on base.
He covers a lot of ground in the outfield, as well, plays center field confidently. With JaCoby Jones, Niko Goodrum, Cameron and others, though, he’s facing some obstacles yet before he takes that final step.
► Jacob Robson, outfield: You can cut and paste the paragraph from Woodrow here. Same basic skill-set, though Robson is more powerfully built. His spring was cut short by a hip strain this week.
► Jake Rogers, catcher: He hasn’t really gotten much game time yet, only nine at-bats. But the Tigers don’t want to overwhelm him while he’s trying to make some adjustments at the plate. As far as his defense, he could play in the big leagues right now.
But the Tigers likely will start him back in Double-A and let him sort out his new hitting mechanics. The sooner he can do that, the sooner he move up to Triple-A and be in a position for a September call-up.
► Zac Houston, pitcher: You watch him, with his length, his extension to the plate and the way he jumps at the hitter on every pitch, and you wonder how anybody hits him. Except, big league hitters did this spring.
He gave up three runs and four hits in 3.2 innings, with four strikeouts. So, there’s some more seasoning needed here — especially in terms of pitch location. But, given the way the Tigers typically blow through relievers in a season, there is a good chance he will make his debut this season.
► Dawel Lugo, second base: Rough times for a talented player. As Gardenhire said Tuesday, he doesn't have much confidence right now, at the plate or in the field. The Tigers are hoping another strong run in Triple-A will revive him.