AJ Hinch trying to keep expectations in check for young Tigers arms
Lakeland, Fla. — Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning — the fifth- and third-ranked prospects in the Tigers system per MLBpipeline.com — were throwing off neighboring bullpen mounds on the back fields of Joker Marchant Stadium on Wednesday.
Skubal, 6-3, left-handed, coming almost old-school over-the-top with mid- to upper-90 mph heat and an array of developing secondary pitches. Manning, 6-6, with that long, athletic delivery also bringing mid- to upper-90s gas with two different breaking balls — one floppy and vertical, another biting and horizontal.
It had to look a lot like a bright future to new manager AJ Hinch.
“It was fun to watch them throw,” he said. “I mean, there is a reason to be excited about these guys. But I just let them know, you’re not going to make the team today, but what you guys do today can build towards making the team.”
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Skubal made his big-league debut last season and, though he had some dynamic moments, he took his lumps. Last season was mostly a wash for Manning. He developed soreness in his forearm at the alternate site in Toledo and was shut down for the rest of the summer.
Hinch, who oversaw the Cy Young seasons of Dallas Keuchel (2015) and Justin Verlander (2019) in Houston, is working to balance the weight of expectations with realistic goals for Skubal, Manning and No. 2-ranked Casey Mize.
“There’s been a lot talked about and written about these guys,” Hinch said. “I told them, ‘You can use it as motivation. But if you use it as comfort, it’s going to come back on you and you’ll regret it because it’s going to be a distraction.
“I love the reputations. I love the prospect ratings. I’ll love the production on the field more.”
Missing in action
Right-hander Jose Urena, whom the Tigers signed for one year and $3.25 million this offseason, was among four players snagged by work visa issues.
Urena, lefty reliever Gregory Soto, right-handers Franklin Perez and non-roster invitee Gerson Moreno have yet to be cleared to enter the country. Perez is expected to be in Lakeland on Thursday. The others still have to go through COVID-19 intake testing, which will delay them another few days.
Right-hander Rony Garcia is in camp, but he is unable to participate in baseball activities. Although he went through all the meetings, he is still recovering from an appendectomy. Hinch said he’d be out “for the foreseeable future.”
Still waiting on Perez
Perez, No. 14 on the Tigers’ prospect list, came to the Tigers from Houston in the Justin Verlander trade in 2017 — so Hinch is familiar with his talent. He is also familiar with his hard-luck recent history. Perez, with a battery of injuries prior to sitting out last year, has pitched in just nine games, 27 innings, since being acquired by the Tigers.
“We have to get him on the field and into competition,” Hinch said. “He was one of the players really hurt by the pandemic and not having a season last year. I know this organization has been waiting for that breakout where his stuff maintains and he’s able to post and be an active participant.
“His stuff is real when he’s right. I’ve seen it. We just have to keep encouraging and keep running him out there. But it’s hard. When you can’t be on the field, you can’t ever quite make that next jump.”
Hinch’s one lasting memory of the brief time he played at Joker Marchant Stadium was back in 2003. He was trying to win a backup catcher job with the Indians, who were playing the Tigers in Lakeland that day. He was in the bullpen when he got the word he'd been traded — to Detroit.
“I was actually traded to Toledo,” he said. “I was walking back to the visiting clubhouse and Al (Avila, general manager) met me and told me I’d been traded to the Tigers and I’d be reporting to Toledo.”
That forgettable Tigers team in 2003, of course, lost 119 games.
“(Hall of Famer) Alan Trammell was my manager and Kirk Gibson was the bench coach,” Hinch said. “And now I have this Hall-of-Famer in my clubhouse every day helping the players and coaches. If that doesn’t speak to full-circle from the first time I was here till now on my first day as manager.”
Trammell, a special assistant to Avila, also serves as an on-field instructor and helper. He was taking throws at second base during pitcher’s fielding practice on Wednesday.
“I’ve apologized in a couple of staff meetings to Tram for what we did to his managerial record that year,” Hinch said, laughing. “It’s incredible to have him around. I put my coaches into categories, like pitching coaches, hitting coaches, infield and outfield coaches.
“Over there in one little corner is another category — Hall-of-Fame coaches.”
Around the horn
.The on Tigers Wednesday signed right-handed pitcher Cale Coshow to a minor-league contract. Coshow, 28, is a 6-5, 270-pound right-handed reliever who spent seven seasons in the Yankees system.
In three Triple-A seasons, he struck out 92 in 77 innings. He is coming off Tommy John surgery.