Kreidler building his brand around smooth moves

February 27th, 2024

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

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers’ clubhouse always has at least one super utility player who brings a bunch of gloves for all the various positions he could play. Don Kelly had nearly a dozen at one point, almost too many to fit in his cramped locker in the old clubhouse. Niko Goodrum had 10 with him in 2019.

By contrast, could be considered a minimalist. He brought five gloves to this year’s Spring Training, where he has worked everywhere from shortstop to third to the outfield. He doesn’t need to hoard shortstop gloves because his current game glove has lasted a few years.

Through a couple of games this Spring Training, Kreidler has put the shortstop glove to work.

It didn’t show in the 22-10 final, but Kreidler made a pair of slick plays as a late-game sub in the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees, including a deft pick of a short-hop grounder and throw home for an out. He followed that on Monday with a highlight play, sliding up the middle to stop a hard-hit ground ball with a 108.7 mph exit velocity from Houston’s David Hensley. Kreidler whirled and fired from behind second base; the throw was wide and bounced in the dirt on the outfield side of first base, but Spencer Torkelson -- Kreidler’s infield mate at Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo -- dug it out.

Kreidler had moved from third base to shortstop at the start of the inning, one batter earlier. He looked like he’d been playing the position full-time for years.

As manager A.J. Hinch said Saturday after Kreidler’s previous plays, “Shocker.”

Hinch knows what he’s going to get from Kreidler at shortstop. Two years ago, his defense was worth five Outs Above Average -- three OAA at shortstop alone -- in just 26 games as a September callup. His three games at shortstop in Detroit last season produced enough defense for one Out Above Average.

“He’s incredible. He makes plays,” Hinch said. “I know I want the ball hit to him every single time. He’s very trustworthy with his glove. We kind of expect that out of him.”

Still, the past couple of years have gone anything but as expected for Kreidler after he played his way into high-level prospect status in 2021. A broken right hand and later a groin injury limited him to 56 games at Triple-A in 2022 before earning the aforementioned September callup. He made last year’s Opening Day roster as a utility player, was optioned to Toledo in mid-April after a 2-for-18 start, missed most of May with knee soreness, and then suffered a core muscle strain that required surgery in June.

All the stops and starts have limited his developmental time. So when the 26-year-old embarked on his offseason training program, he did it with game shape in mind. His weight work had more focus, more purpose, aimed towards being a baseball player more than a “gym rat,” as he put it.

“Through injuries, I’ve gained a little bit of knowledge about my body, a lot of knowledge, what I respond to well and what I don’t,” Kreidler said last week. “Over the course of the season, the biggest thing is maintaining in-season. …

“It’s just something that I learned, just trying to stay on the field, and perform well and feel good for the actual game. I don’t want to feel good in the cage. I don’t want to feel good in the weight room. I want to feel good on the field.”

Htting-wise, Kreidler connected with former Angels and Orioles slugger Mark Trumbo, whose similar height and long arms provided Kreidler some insight into making his swing work.

“I learned a lot,” Kreidler said. “But more so, I just felt less like I was learning somebody else’s swing and more like I was trying to learn mine, refine mine. But the game is the test.”

Through two games, Kreidler is 1-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored. He’ll get a steady diet of playing time this Spring Training with his versatility and defense. But he still faces a challenge to crack Detroit’s Opening Day roster, made tougher with the arrival of Gio Urshela.

Kreidler’s defense could well work against him. If Javier Báez misses a stretch during the season, Kreidler is the logical replacement at shortstop. But the best way to keep him ready is arguably having him playing every day with Toledo. Then again, Kreidler hasn’t needed much time to remind everyone how valuable his glove is.