LAKELAND, Fla. -- Isaac Paredes finally found an opponent this offseason that he couldn’t hit.
As the Tigers’ infield prospect (their sixth-ranked per MLB Pipeline) waited for visa processing and intake testing, his batting title in the Mexican Pacific Winter League couldn’t help him. Once Detroit finished its formal Spring Training workouts for the day, Paredes could hit the back fields to work out on his own.
“I arrived down here last Sunday,” Paredes said through translator Carlos Guillen. “I was at the hotel waiting for the test results. And obviously, I was excited to be ready.”
His listing on the lineup card for the Tigers' spring opener on Sunday was a false alarm; he still had to go through a physical exam, and that couldn’t be done on Sundays. He finally debuted in Wednesday’s 4-2 loss to the Phillies, arriving to a new manager and a fresh outlook -- and a process that could actually play out in his favor.
Once a pure hitter without a clear position, Paredes is now potentially a player who could take on a couple of infield spots under A.J. Hinch.
“Paredes can be a complete player,” Hinch said. “We’re always watching what he can do with the bat, but what he can do defensively as well. He’s coming off of an extraordinarily successful winter ball season. I know he’s got a lot of confidence, and he knows the opportunity in front of him to make our team is real.”
The numbers stood out, even for winter ball standards. Paredes’ .379 average (55-for-145) for Mazatlan topped his closest competition by 26 points, the same margin by which his 1.060 OPS led the league. His 17 doubles also topped all hitters.
Just as impressive, Paredes drew 27 walks while striking out just 12 times, good for a league-best .480 on-base percentage. That’s the type of hitter that impressed coaches and scouts in 2019 at Double-A Erie, where Paredes' 57 walks and 61 strikeouts in 552 plate appearances showed an approach at the plate well beyond his age. Then 20, he was four years younger than the Eastern League average.
Paredes would have been tested at Triple-A Toledo last year, but the cancellation of the Minor League season limited him to intrasquad games in Summer Camp and the alternate training site before he debuted with Detroit in August. After a hot opening week and a grand slam in his fourth game, Paredes wavered from his approach and chased as teams scouted him.
Paredes batted .220 for the season with six RBIs, a .568 OPS and more strikeouts (24) than hits (22). He struggled particularly against breaking pitches, with a .107 average and a 29.2 percent whiff rate according to Statcast. But he took those lessons back to Mexico.
“I was able to recognize the fast pitches,” Paredes said. “Here, they’re very fast, and back in Mexico they use more breaking balls. So it helped me a lot to recognize the pitch that was coming and also work to hit the ball from the middle to the other side. I worked on that, and I feel like I’m good at it.”
Paredes drove in Detroit’s first run Wednesday that way, working a 3-0 count, taking a called strike, then hitting a high fastball for an RBI groundout up the middle to score Kody Clemens. A couple of innings later, he again centered a line-drive single through the middle to start a seventh-inning rally.
Those are the kinds of at-bats Hinch has talked about since joining the Tigers. It’s partly why he is open to keeping Paredes at the Major League level.
“Because he can play,” Hinch said. “I’m not sure Triple-A is the best for his development, because the adjustments that he’s going to have to make, with his contact being a premium skill that he has -- and his hands are really, really good -- that might have to happen in the big leagues for him to get the full development at the end of his ascent to the big leagues.
“I want him to play with some urgency and a chance to make this team. I’ve said it to him. I’ve said it publicly. I think he can help us win.”
This is where Paredes’ versatility on his way up the farm system could help. Primarily a shortstop through 2018, he still played there some two years ago after converting primarily to third. His body frame would put a premium on positioning, but he has the instincts to give second base a shot.
“The coaches have helped me a lot,” Paredes said, “and I’m pretty sure with their help, I’m going to be learning real quick to play second base.”
With Núñez awaiting clearance to join camp and second baseman Jonathan Schoop not yet in Lakeland, Paredes should get plenty of chances in the coming days.