Detroit — If you are in the market for an autographed, game-worn outfielder’s glove or maybe a first baseman’s mitt, keep an eye on Niko Goodrum’s Instagram account.
He’s not likely to need his extra gloves this season. Goodrum, who has served the Tigers as a super-utility player the last two years, playing every position except pitcher and catcher, is going to spring training next month as the club’s starting shortstop.
“The only difference is I just need the one glove,” Goodrum said on Thursday. “I do giveaways on Instagram, so those are definitely going. I’ll sign them and do that. I will find someplace to give them away.”
Goodrum, entering his age-28 season, came up playing shortstop in the Twins organization. After five seasons, though, he realized he could hasten his ascent to the big leagues by playing multiple positions.
But last season, after an injury to Jordy Mercer and inconsistent play from Ronny Rodriguez, manager Ron Gardenhire was forced to plug Goodrum back in at shortstop.
The results were eye-opening. He ended up playing 38 games at shortstop, including the entire month of June, and ended up saving three runs and was a plus-11 over average. When the team was in Anaheim at the end of July, Gardenhire pulled Goodrum aside.
“We talked about me playing shortstop next year,” Goodrum said. “We talked about how I felt back with the Twins, how did I feel then and what he thought. I’m just going to try to make this happen.”
During the off-season, general manager Al Avila seconded Gardenhire’s plan to let Goodrum run with the shortstop job.
“He’s still valuable because he can move all over the place, but I did tell him last year he was going to get a good look at shortstop,” Gardenhire said. “I told him, ‘I know you want to play every day and this will be a good opportunity for you. Take advantage of it.”
Taking advantage of opportunities is exactly what Goodrum has done since the Tigers claimed him off waivers from the Twins, where he’d toiled for eight seasons before getting his first call-up to the big leagues.
He came to the Tigers as a non-roster invitee in 2018 and not only did he win a job he ended up playing in 131 games, hitting 16 home runs. He was on his way to besting his numbers and solidifying his role as an every-day utility player last season when an adductor strain in his groin ended his season on Aug. 23.
“We got a lot of calls on Niko from teams this off-season,” Avila said during the winter meetings in December. “There’s a lot of people think he can really play. And so do we. We’re going to give him an opportunity.”
His rare blend of athleticism, speed and power is enticing. In his two seasons with the Tigers, the switch-hitting Goodrum slashed .247/.318/.427. He’s hit 28 home runs and stolen 24 bases. He’s hit for a higher average from the right side of the plate (.361 compared to .215), but all his power comes from the left (26 of the 28 home runs).
Just as he played every position in the field last year, he also hit in every spot in the batting order. Mostly, though, he hit fourth. But with veteran hitters C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop in the lineup, plus, hopefully, a healthier and more fit Miguel Cabrera, Gardenhire has the flexibility to use him as a table-setting high in the order or as a run-producer in the middle of the order.
“I’m just looking forward to getting down there (to spring training) and getting started,” Goodrum said. “Excited about it.”
Goodrum will be pressed this spring by prospect Willi Castro, who got his first taste of the big leagues last September. The Tigers may extend a camp invite to another veteran, as well. But it’s clearly Goodrum’s job to lose at this point.
“I’m fine with him there,” Gardenhire said. “He had that stint last year where we played him exclusively there and he played the heck out of it. He can do a lot of different things, but I’m confident if you give him one job to do, he’s going to go out there and give it everything he has.
“I can’t tell you he’s going to be a Gold Glover, but I know he can play it consistently, can cover a lot of ground, the whole package. And he’s always had a big arm. He can do a lot of things.”
Goodrum’s groin was healed by the time the season ended and he was able to enter the off-season at full strength. In addition to his normal strength and conditioning work, he’s also done more mobility and flexibility exercises.
“I’m to get more mobility in my hips so I’m able to move either way,” he said.
He also spent a lot of time back in 2018 studying shortstop Jose Iglesias.
“I watched him prepare and saw how he went about his early work, fielding ground balls and stuff like that,” Goodrum said. “I have a pretty good routine. A lot of people don’t know that I’ve played shortstop my whole life, through the first five years in the minors.
“This is not a new position for me.”
No, but his position on the club and in the clubhouse might be. As his role has grown, so too have his leadership responsibilities. He’s quiet externally, but there is fierce competitor inside. There were few on the club last year who took the losing harder than Goodrum.
That experience should serve him well as he moves into more of a field general role.
“Just being more vocal,” he said. “I’m more of a show-you guy. I can show you better than I can tell you and you can learn by that. If someone is slacking, if I think you can do more, just letting them know we’ve got to pick things up.
“But it’s also holding up my end, showing how it’s supposed to be. Just going out and working hard, making sure the effort is there. It doesn’t always go your way. This is a tough game. But just trying to lead by example.”