North Port, Fla. – When Kody Clemens packed up and headed back to Lakeland earlier this month, he was braced for some long, grueling days of drill work, conditioning and endless reps in the batting cage. That’s what minor league mini-camp is typically.
But once in a while the fates align for you.
With free agent-signee Jonathan Schoop stuck in Curacao earlier in the week waiting for his work visa to get stamped, the Tigers needed a second baseman so they could run drills on three fields. And they put the call out for Clemens.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Clemens, who went through big-league practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. “Doing all the fundamentals with those guys, all the plays we need to learn and just seeing what they do up there, watching the veterans do what they do.
“Definitely a learning experience for me, something that’s going to help me in the long run for sure.”
Clemens was invited up to play in the first two Grapefruit League games, too. He was hit by a pitch and scored a run in three plate appearances, and he made a highlight-reel defensive play in the opener against the Phillies Saturday.
He ranged to the shortstop side of second base to field a softly-hit ground ball and made a quick throw across his body. The throw may have pulled the first baseman off the bag but he got the favorable call.
On Sunday, he got the start in the split-squad game against the Braves in North Port. He singled his first time up and scored. In his next at-bat he drove in Victor Reyes from third with a ground ball to first base.
Playing against Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman -- heady stuff for a young player barely in Double-A. Though, maybe less so for Clemens; as Roger's son, he's spent more time in and around big-league clubhouses than most kids.
“Coming out here and seeing all the guys, I’m just having fun with it,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for younger guys to be able to get a spot, or a start, or an at-bat up here.”
He wasn’t just a random choice by the Tigers.
Clemens, who turns 24 on May 15, is the 17th ranked prospect (No. 10 by The Detroit News) in the system and he could be on a fast track this season. He spent most of last season at High-A Lakeland, 115 games, before being promoted to Double-A Erie for the final 13 games.
“It was my first full season, so I took out of it how long it was,” he said. “I played like 130 (128) of 142 games, so I learned you have to keep your body in shape and maintain it, for sure. I learned a lot. I felt like any error or any type of mistake I made I learned from.
“With the bat, I feel like I am getting better every day.”
He's likely to start the season at Erie and it will be the offense that ultimately determines the speed of his ascent. He ended up slashing .231/.310/.397 with a .708 OPS (8 for 47 in his short time at Erie). But he did hit 12 home runs and drive in 63.
“Getting up to Erie was huge for me,” he said. “The higher you go the faster everyone throws. So you’ve got to be ready for the fastball, for sure. Everyone you face at Double-A has command of it. It was good to have that experience going into this season.”
In the meantime, he will take any and all opportunities to get out of minicamp.
“Oh yeah, we aren’t playing any games down there,” he said. “Just routine practices. It’s really good to get live at-bats.”