SEATTLE -- As they attempt to allocate at-bats to hitters they hope to develop, the Tigers are creatively exploring an avenue for slugging third baseman Dawel Lugo to return from Triple-A Toledo. They broached one possibility on Thursday at T-Mobile Park, where everyday third baseman Jeimer Candelario completed a fielding workout at first base.
If Candelario can show enough aptitude to man the other corner, Detroit may be inclined to recall Lugo and install him at third in a more prominent role. The reasoning is to ensure that Candelario, who is hitting .213/.310/.362, retains everyday at-bats.
The transition is logical for the short- and long-term. Isaac Paredes, Detroit’s No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, profiles at third, as does Nick Quintana, who are both developing in the lower Minors.
“I feel comfortable with whatever I have to do. It's almost the same thing,” Candelario said. “It's just the glove. the glove is bigger and I've got to get used to it. But it's almost the same thing. You're just not throwing to first. You've just got to toss it or walk it back to the base.”
Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said that the front office presented him Candelario’s case for first recently, noting that the four-year veteran had been exposed to the position while playing in the Minors with the Cubs. Candelario has played in just 35 games at first, including one game at the Major League level, but none in Detroit’s organization.
On Thursday, he used catcher John Hicks’ spare first-base glove to field grounders, with Gardenhire watching from behind in the first-base coach’s box. Gardenhire called Candelario’s “soft hands” conducive to the demands of seeing more direct action to the baseball than any other position but catcher.
“I'd play him tomorrow if I'd want to,” Gardenhire said. “I went and took the throws with him. I acted like a pitcher covering first for him today. He didn't make me blow a hamstring out. … We just want to make sure on the fine points. Keep your eye on the bag, ball and take the ball to the pitcher.”
Lugo slashed just .207/.233/.317 over 86 plate appearances in a 28-game stint with the Tigers before he was optioned back to Toledo on June 26. Lugo’s 51.6 percent ground-ball rate ranked in the 83rd percentile during his time on the roster, and given the incredibly wide margin of defensive play between MLB and the International League, his struggles to keep the ball off the ground correlated to a wildly low BABIP, at .254, which in turn translated to poor offensive numbers.
Since being optioned, Lugo is slashing .343/.368/.565, with 16 extra-base hits and 16 strikeouts in 108 at-bats. The Tigers rank last in MLB or near the bottom in just about every offensive statistic -- their minus-1.2 Wins Above Replacement are MLB’s only in the red -- and Miguel Cabrera is playing roughly only twice every three days and limited to DH duty. So the club is taking somewhat of a “why not?” approach to creating more defensive versatility.
“[Candelario] is better at third base, and now you ask him to do something, but that's kind of a rebuild,” Gardenhire said. "That's what happens in this stuff. We're going to have to be flexible to find the right guys in the right places and give people chances.”
Tigers bring back former second-round pick
The Tigers on Thursday brought back a familiar face when they signed right-hander Jake Thompson to a Minor League contract. Thompson was Detroit’s second-round Draft pick out of Heath, Texas, in 2012, though he never pitched for the Tigers at the big league level. Thompson was pitching for the Lotte Giants in the Korean Baseball Organization earlier this season, where he went 2-3 with a 4.74 ERA in 11 outings before being released on June 9.