Dunedin, Fla. – Standing in front of his locker Wednesday morning, getting ready to get on the bus to Dunedin, Tigers’ outfielder Troy Stokes Jr., is first greeted by Hall-of-Famer Jack Morris. Then Kirk Gibson walks by, taps him and says, “Saw your stolen base yesterday. I got it on film. We’ll talk about it.”
A few minutes later, another Hall-of-Famer, Alan Trammell, his foot still in a cast, comes rolling by on a scooter. Stokes has seen Jim Leyland and Al Kaline roaming around and he’s been on the field with Miguel Cabrera.
Impressive stuff for a 24-year-old from Baltimore who may be one of more anonymous players on the Tigers’ 40-man roster.
“Being with the Brewers for however many years, we had guys who came through like that, big-time players,” he said. “But not as much as here. It’s pretty cool.”
The reason Stokes is relatively anonymous here is because the Tigers claimed him off waivers from the Brewers in September, after the Triple-A season was over. Nobody, other than the scouts, saw him until he reported to camp.
But he’s made a fast impression.
“He’s game-on,” manager Ron Gardenhire said after Stokes rapped a pair of doubles, knocked in a run, stole a base and made a diving catch in left field on Tuesday against the Mets. “Some of these guys come in here and they are not here just to be here. They want to do something, they need to make an impression and he’s playing hard.
“He’s a talented kid and he’s come to make some people notice some things.”
A second-round pick in 2014, Stokes steadily climbed through the Brewers system, reaching Triple-A San Antonio last year. He hit 20 home runs, stole 31 bases and knocked in 74 runs in High-A/Double-A in 2017 and followed that up with 19 home runs, 19 stolen bases and 58 RBIs in a full season at Double-A.
His production dipped in Triple-A last year -- nine home runs, 14 stolen bases and 40 RBIs – but a lingering lat injury was a mitigating factor. The last thing he expected was to be designated for assignment.
“I knew they had to make some roster changes in September and I didn’t think I would be going up (to the big leagues),” he said. “But I didn’t think they would DFA me. When they told me, it was kind of like a shock.”
Stokes said it took about a day before he could let go of the disappointment.
“After I thought about it, I was like, I’m pretty sure a team would claim me,” he said. “I think other teams have seen what I’ve done and what I can do. I went into it with a positive mind after day one. I wish it would have happened differently, but I’m happy being here.”
Getting traded would’ve hurt, but he could’ve lived with it. Getting DFA’d carries a stigma – like the team that drafted you gave up on you. That hurts.
“Getting DFA’d is a negative thing,” Stokes said. “I just feel like I wish it would’ve happened differently, that’s all. It is what it is. I’m happy to be here.”
The Tigers’ outfield was a lot less crowded in September than it is now. Veteran Cameron Maybin has been added to the big-league mix of Christin Stewart, JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes. Travis Demeritte, Derek Hill, a former first-round pick, and Daz Cameron were added to the 40-man roster.
Also, former Royal Jorge Bonifacio was invited to camp along with prospects Jose Azocar, Danny Woodrow and Jacob Robson.
“The group here is pretty good,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming over here. I knew a couple of guys (Demeritte and Cameron), but, first time changing organizations. But, you know, I’m pretty happy.”
Stokes is a relatively short (5-8) but powerfully-built athlete, who can play all three outfield positions, hit for power and steal bases. It’s hard not to notice him on the field.
“This is definitely not a situation I ever thought about being in before,” he said. “But it’s the same game. I come into it knowing what I can do, so I am pretty much just trying to play my game. Not trying to do too much.
“Trying to make a good impression, of course. But mostly, I am just trying to play the way I know I can.”
Willie got Tebowed
He could laugh about it a day later. Tigers veteran reliever Alex Wilson made all the sports highlight shows Tuesday for all the wrong reasons – he gave up a three-run home run to Mets’ minor-leaguer and former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
“My phone has been blowing up,” Wilson said. “That’s the most famous home run for a guy who’s not very good at baseball. But I’ve given up homers to way worse people than Tim Tebow.”
Truth is, Wilson has more pressing concerns. He’s in camp as a non-roster invitee after spending most of last season in Triple-A with the Brewers and Cubs. On top of that, he’s trying to add a sidearm delivery to his regular, over-the-top delivery.
There have been good days and bad days.
“Listen, I am notoriously horse(bleep) in spring training,” he said. “This is a very familiar place, unfortunately.”
The trouble has been commanding the strike zone. He has thrown one first-pitch strike in two outings. In the Tebow at-bat, he fell behind and ended up throwing six straight fastballs.
“Will I ever throw six straight fastballs in a game ever? Absolutely not,” he said. “This is about me figuring out me before I worry about who’s standing in there. Big Papi could’ve been standing in there and I would have done the same thing.
“The home runs don’t matter to me and the hits don’t really matter to me. It’s about locating my pitches and right now I’m not doing that.”
Long time coming
Tigers No. 6-ranked prospect Franklin Perez, who has fought shoulder injuries the last two years, made his spring debut Tuesday.
“Honestly, I felt the butterflies in my stomach from the first pitch,” he said through interpreter Carlos Guillen. “It’d been a while since the last time I’d been out there. I feel that today was a very special day.”
He gave up a double and a single to the first two batters he faced, but then settled in and closed out the game. His fastball velocity isn’t where it will be later this spring (92-93 mph) but his secondary pitches were effective.
“I’m not 100 percent right now,” he said. “I’m more working on strengthening my command. I know my velocity is right there. It will come. It’s right there. Right now I am working on locating my pitches, commanding my pitches and putting them where I want.”
Just being back on the mound in a competitive game, though, it was enough to nearly bring tears to his eyes.
“Today is very special,” he said. “No one wants to be hurt. But getting back on the mound, feeling the game, feeling the fans out there – it was something that was very emotional for me.”