AJ Hinch’s success as Detroit’s manager may ultimately hinge on the performance of a few highly regarded prospects.
Of course, Hinch wouldn’t want them thinking that way.
When a team is rebuilding like the Tigers are, young prospects can provide much-needed excitement for both the manager and the fans, but that also can bring extra pressure, which may not be the best thing for a player adjusting to the big leagues.
“It’s important for them to understand that when they’re on the mound or they’re in the batter’s box, it’s the game. You’ve got to play the game,” Hinch said Friday. “You’re competing with the game, and not sort of this, live up to a reputation that somebody external has put on them.”
The start of spring training can be a good time for a manager to establish expectations, and Hinch is in his first season at the helm for the Tigers. Detroit has five of the game’s top 25 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline. That includes infielder Spencer Torkelson, last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick.
Torkelson is third in the MLB Pipeline ranking, behind only Tampa Bay shortstop Wander Franco and Baltimore catcher Adley Rutschman.
Atlanta’s Cristian Pache has a chance to win a starting job in center field. He had only four regular-season at-bats last year as a 21-year-old, but his strong defense, speed and potential power make him the Braves’ top prospect. Pache went 4 for 22 with a homer and four RBIs in the postseason last year.
“It will be great to get him back out there and watch him again,” manager Brian Snitker said. “How he handled himself in October in that situation was really, really impressive.”
Right-hander Casey Mize, the top overall pick in the 2018 draft by Detroit, made his big league debut last year and went 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA in seven starts.
Not a big deal, says Hinch.
“I want to take some of the burden from Casey off of him, that he doesn’t have to be perfect right now, he just needs to go compete with his stuff,” Hinch said. “We want pitchers and players and young prospects nowadays to be perfect when they get to the big leagues, and they’re not going to be. I don’t care where you rank ... or where the experts say you are in the industry of prospects, the learning curve at the major leagues is tough.”
Mize is ranked 11th by MLB Pipeline, but the mere existence of rankings like that can create some of the pressure Hinch is talking about.
“The volume of information that’s out there for players, you can read your headlines a little bit easier nowadays than you could years and years ago,” Hinch said. “We’re firing guys through the minor league system at a rapid rate. They’re getting to the big leagues prepared, but maybe not as prepared as the last couple of decades. And that expectation of performing right away has never been higher.”
It’s a little easier to avoid those expectations when a prospect is younger and isn’t likely to make the big league roster yet.
“I think any player in their first camp, it’s an eyes-and-ears camp, is how I would say it,” Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell said. “Look and listen and then learn from how people and players who have had a ton of success doing it, who have had successful careers, and how they prepare, really. That’s the most important thing.
“Players in their first major league camp are not competing for a spot on the team, generally, so it’s really kind of that message.”
Even for players who do have a chance to make the team, it’s important not to get too far ahead of yourself.
“It’s exciting, because we can start to dream on what Tiger teams are going to be like for the next decade,” Hinch said. “But that doesn’t help you beat (Shane) Bieber on opening day, or that doesn’t help you when you’re staring down Aaron Judge sometime in April or May.”
Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer sprained his left ankle while running and is not working off a mound yet. Scherzer says his arm is fine.
“Fortunately, through all this, I’ve been able to keep my strength up. And my arm is ready to go. So as soon as I can get that mobility back in the ankle, I’ll be off the mound here pretty soon,” Scherzer said. “I don’t see this as a long-term injury.”
While Texas Rangers pitchers and catchers worked out Friday in Surprise, Arizona — where it was sunny with temperatures in the upper 60s — some had family who were home dealing with the impact of winter storms in the South that left millions of people without power and under boil-water notices.
“There are guys who are trying to be in two places at once,” right-hander Kyle Gibson said. “I talked to a guy, he just left five days ago before it froze where he was from. And now his wife and a couple of kids are back there trying to keep the house from freezing. So there’s some guys that are in two places right now.”
Gibson didn’t specify where that person was from, but the Dallas-Fort Worth area where the Rangers play home games was starting to thaw out Friday. Temperatures were finally back above freezing after a week with two separate storms bringing record-low temperatures and unusual amounts of snow.
“We just want to send our thoughts and prayers out to people in the DFW area, and all over the South right now. They’re going through this deep freeze. It’s been crazy, and life changing for a lot of people,” Gibson said.
AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich, Stephen Hawkins, Steve Megargee and Charles Odum contributed to this report.