Sunday, March 25, 2012

Can Quintin Berry Make the Tigers Roster?

Ever since outfielder Quintin Berry hit a ninth inning grand slam in a come-back win over the Pirates on Friday, there has been a lot of discussion within the Tigers internet community as to his chances of making the opening day roster.  He came into spring training as a non-roster invitee and a long shot to make the big-league team.  He's still a long shot but the chances of his making the team appear to be more than zero.

As reported by Jason Beck of MLB.com, Manager Jim Leyland has been impressed by the 27 year old career minor leaguer:
"I don't know him very well.  All I know is that he can fly.  He's looked good.  He's had a good spring."
When asked about the position battle between outfielders Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas, Leyland declared that there's more to it than that:
There are more people involved than you think.  There are definitely more than two guys."
Lynn Henning of The Detroit News thinks that Leyland was talking about Berry and he's probably right.    

The left-handed hitting Berry has seen quite a bit of action this spring with 18 games played mostly in the late innings.  He is hitting .333 with three walks and three extra base hits in 34 plate appearances.  He has also flashed a good glove and there are no questions about his baserunning.

The question some of you might have at this point is: "Who is Quintin Berry?"  He was originally drafted by Philadelphia in the fifth round of the 2006 draft.  He was named the Phillies minor league player of the year in 2007 after batting .312/.395/.386 with 55 stolen bases with Single-A Lakewood of the Sally League.  In the three years that followed, he did not came close to repeating that performance playing in the Philadelphia and San Diego organizations.   

After joining the Reds organization in 2011, the six-foot 175-pound Berry seemed to rediscover his offense hitting .312/.395/.386 with 42 stolen bases in 49 attempts for Double-A Carolina of the Southern League.  He also displayed the best plate discipline of his career with walks in 13.7% of his plate appearances.  However, the skeptics will point out validly that this was his third season at Double-A after two years with OPS of below .700.

Minor league defensive metrics are not very complete, but the consensus seems to be that the San Diego State product is a competent center fielder who covers a great deal of ground with his speed.  According to the 2009 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Berry is a "slightly above average center fielder who adds an average arm and excellent range."

The Tigers signed him as a minor-league free agent this winter and now he's trying to make the most of his opportunity.  Can he make the team?  They would probably have to release Thomas and option Dirks to Toledo in order for it to happen.  Alternatively, they could release Brandon Inge, option Danny Worth and carry Berry as one of two extra outfielders.

Neither scenario seems very likely to me, but it would not be the first time the Tigers surprised us at the end of spring training.  Both Leyland and General Manager Dave Dombrowski have talked about the need for more speed and Berry has plenty of that.  He also has some on base skills and can play defense.  I don't think he'll make the team, but I wouldn't rule it out.

For more on Berry's background, also check out an earlier article by John Verburg of Motor City Bengals.

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