Jorge Bonifacio had more hits and runs scored against Detroit than any other opponent in his rookie season of 2017. Three years later, the former Royals outfielder will try to resurrect his career in Tigers camp.
The Tigers, in their search for offensive production, have signed the 26-year-old Bonifacio to a Minor League contract, the team announced Sunday. The deal includes a non-roster invite to big league Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla., where he’ll try to crack a corner outfield that has a need for more offense.
The deal comes less than two weeks after the Royals released their onetime prospect, having already designated him for assignment to drop him from the 40-man roster. He played in just five games for the Royals this past season, going 7-for-20, while hitting .222 (100-for-451) for Triple-A Omaha with 20 homers, 62 RBIs and a .701 OPS. It was Bonfacio’s second consecutive disappointing season. He had a .225 average and .672 OPS in a 2018 campaign that included an 80-game suspension for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substrance.
It was a quick fall from 2017, when he hit .255 (98-for-384) with 17 homers, 40 RBIs and a .752 OPS for the Royals as their regular right fielder. But the Tigers are hoping they saw the early signs of a rejuvenation in winter ball.
Bonifacio hit .346 (36-for-14) with 11 doubles, four homers, 22 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 28 games for Licey in the Dominican League. One Major League evaluator said he looked in shape.
The Tigers annually scout the Dominican League, usually in search of pitching. But with Detroit needing help in the infield and outfield corners, plus catcher, hitters have a solid opportunity as well.
Right field is particularly open after last summer’s Nicholas Castellanos trade. Former Braves prospect Travis Demeritte was an everyday player there after arriving from Atlanta in the Shane Greene deal, but Demeritte batted just .225 (38-for-169) with a .630 OPS in 48 games. Christin Stewart returns in left field, while former Rule 5 Draft pick Victor Reyes is expected to compete for playing time all over the outfield.
With 40-man roster spots tight in order in protect prospects from Thursday's Rule 5 Draft, non-roster invites are Detroit’s best chance to bring in players for a look, at least for now.