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Tigers getting a good look at Jones in infield

OF takes ground balls; move may help 'tremendous athlete' earn a roster spot
MLB.com @jonmorosi

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When JaCoby Jones stepped into the Dunedin Stadium batter's box at 1:06 p.m. ET Saturday, he did so as the Tigers' leadoff hitter and center fielder.

Five hours earlier and about 60 miles away, you would've found Jones working on a different craft: Alongside infielder Kody Eaves, he took ground balls on a TigerTown practice field in the early-morning quiet.

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DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When JaCoby Jones stepped into the Dunedin Stadium batter's box at 1:06 p.m. ET Saturday, he did so as the Tigers' leadoff hitter and center fielder.

Five hours earlier and about 60 miles away, you would've found Jones working on a different craft: Alongside infielder Kody Eaves, he took ground balls on a TigerTown practice field in the early-morning quiet.

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Jones, 25, started 42 games for the Tigers in 2017, all of them in center field. But Tigers general manager Al Avila acknowledged Saturday that Jones' ability to play the infield could help him earn a Major League roster spot.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"That's true," Avila said. "Whether it would be to make the team out of Spring Training, or further down the road, I think it's actually a good idea for him to take ground balls."

Jones went 1-for-3 in Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Blue Jays, leaving him with a 1.150 OPS in 10 Grapefruit League games.

"He's a tremendous athlete," Avila said. "If he hits, he's going to be an All-Star at the end of the day.

"The guy's a toolsy player. He runs like the wind. He's got a great arm. ... Like all players, just because you're a tremendous athlete doesn't mean you're going to hit. But right now, in this Spring Training, he's actually hit very well."

Video: DET@KC: Jones makes a nice running catch in the 3rd

Avila pointed out that Jones was a shortstop in the Pirates organization when the Tigers acquired him for Joakim Soria in 2015. Avila said the Tigers moved him to third base and eventually the outfield "out of necessity."

Ramon Santiago, the longtime Tigers infielder and new first-base coach, said Saturday's session was the first time he worked with Jones on ground balls. And Santiago was encouraged by the results.

"I need more time to work with him later, and we're going to see how it evolves, but it's nothing new for him," Santiago said in Spanish. "He played shortstop and third base [in the Minors]. We're going to see how it proceeds. But he wants to practice on the infield, so that's very good."

Video: Top Prospects: Franklin Perez, RHP, Tigers

Minor matters
• While no final decisions have been made, Avila said it's "likely" that right-handers Franklin Perez and Beau Burrows will begin the regular season at Double-A Erie, with 2017 first-round Draft pick Alex Faedo at Class A Advanced Lakeland. Tigers officials are still weighing whether right-hander Matt Manning will begin at Lakeland or Class A West Michigan, where he finished 2017.

Tigers' Top 30 Prospects

Avila knows where he doesn't want those top young arms to appear in 2018: Comerica Park.

"One of the main goals here is, with our premium pitching prospects, to not use any of those guys this year [at the Major League level]," Avila said. "They're still developing."

Avila said the organization does not have innings limits in place for the four pitchers, although team officials ultimately may do so with Faedo, since he did not pitch in the Minors at all last year. Avila mentioned left-hander Ryan Carpenter, whom the club signed to a Minor League contract in November, as an option to start in the Majors if a rotation need arises this year.

"He's done very well in Spring Training," Avila said of Carpenter, 27.

Video: DET@NYY: Stewart lifts a sacrifice fly to left field

• Avila is taking a patient approach with 24-year-old outfielder Christin Stewart, the team's first-round pick in 2015. Stewart is 2-for-3 in two Grapefruit League games, despite not being a formal invitee to Major League camp.

Avila said Stewart will "probably" start the season at Triple-A Toledo but won't necessarily reach the Majors this year, because the Tigers want to make sure he continues playing on an everyday basis.

"It all depends," Avila said. "There's a lot of different circumstances we have to look at. Right now, we have a starting left fielder in Mikie Mahtook. We've got a starting right fielder in Nicholas Castellanos. We have a starting center fielder in Leonys Martin. We have a Rule 5 pick [Victor Reyes] we want to give a good opportunity and look at. We've got a couple other guys -- Niko Goodrum and Ronny Rodriguez -- who play all over the infield and outfield. We've got other guys who are young and can cover all these positions, [so] we don't feel the need right now to have [Stewart] up here."

Up next
Left-handers Francisco Liriano and Daniel Norris are competing to be the Tigers' No. 5 starter, and Liriano's next chance to leave an impression is Sunday's 1:05 p.m. ET start against the Braves. The game marks the first 2018 Spring Training telecast on FOX Sports Detroit. The game can also be seen on MLB.TV. Tigers fans should expect to see most of the team's regular position players in Sunday's lineup -- including Castellanos, whom Hall of Famer Al Kaline described this week as "the leader of the team." 

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and covered the Tigers on Saturday.

Detroit Tigers, JaCoby Jones