5 players to watch in Tigers camp this spring

February 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck's Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click hereAnd subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

The Tigers have had some Spring Trainings over the years with so many non-roster invitees -- either prospects getting experiences or veterans trying to win jobs -- that they’ve had to add lockers in the clubhouse. Before renovations six years ago, some invitees would have lockers in the hallway of the old clubhouse.

This year’s Spring Training, now just two weeks away, will not be one of those crowded camps. Maybe they’ll need an extra locker or two, but with 22 non-roster invites -- at least for now -- the Tigers are on track for 62 players in camp, not their highest number. Part of that lower number reflects the presence of so many multi-positional players on the roster, and the Tigers’ need to see them at more than one spot. Part, too, reflects a fair number of prospects already on the 40-man roster: Just four members of MLB Pipeline’s Tigers prospect list received non-roster invites.

Still, don’t confuse fewer invites with a lack of storylines. There are intriguing players on the list, both for what they can do now and what they hope to do later. Here’s my look at five of the most intriguing non-roster invitees to camp:

When the Tigers acquired the third-base prospect from Atlanta in December in the Joe Jiménez trade, president of baseball operations Scott Harris suggested Malloy’s strike-zone grasp and bat-to-ball skills could help reshape the team’s offensive identity. This will be the first chance to see that potential impact on the field. It’s his first big league camp and just his second Spring Training as a pro, so it’s a chance for the Tigers to lay the foundation with Malloy and let him know what it takes to get to the Majors and stay there. But how the soon-to-be 23-year-old -- rated Detroit’s No. 7 prospect -- handles himself and opposing pitchers could go a long way toward determining when he might make his Major League debut, possibly sometime this season. While his offense will be in focus, his defense should also get a look; he hasn’t played third base above High-A ball, where the Braves moved him to left field.

2) 3B/2B Colt Keith

Hard to believe this 2020 Draft pick was a still-growing kid in Minor League minicamp a year ago, putting up tough at-bats against older pitchers. Now 21 and the Tigers’ No. 6 prospect, he’s still likely a year away from fighting for a callup, but his combination of power (.544 slugging percentage at High-A West Michigan, .541 in Arizona Fall League) and plate discipline (.370 OBP at West Michigan, .463 in AFL) fits squarely in the profile of what the Tigers are looking to do offensively. How much he plays this spring at third base -- his natural position -- remains to be seen with the Tigers needing to sort out their mix there, but Keith could make his claim alongside Malloy as a long-term answer.

A year ago, Alvarado was in Minor League minicamp as a Minor League Rule 5 Draft pick. His ensuing 2.72 ERA and 9.5 K/9 over 49 games at three levels, topping out at Double-A Erie, caught the attention of Tigers officials, followed by seven scoreless innings and seven strikeouts in four games at the Dominican Winter League. His stuff is electric when he’s on, and his command improved tremendously down the stretch. With Detroit’s bullpen being reshaped following trades, the soon-to-be 24-year-old could be the next reliever to emerge out of the system.

The 29-year-old Cuban was the Texas Rangers’ Opening Day third baseman last year with help from an impressive Spring Training, including a two-homer game. He has shown glimpses of impressive power, including a 20-homer season at Triple-A Nashville in 2019, but he’s yet to translate it to the big leagues.

The former Padres reliever had a nasty fastball-slider combination before Tommy John surgery, ranking among the top 15 percent of Major Leaguers in velocity, whiff rate and expected batting average in 2019. Now 28, Wingenter has pitched in just three Minor League games and six winter-ball games since then