The Tigers’ offseason pickups of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer (in addition to reuniting the longtime Pirates’ middle-infield tandem) were supposed to help stabilize the middle infield and perhaps give the team a pair of affordable summer trade chips. To this point, though, that hasn’t been the case. Neither infielder has been productive, and now both are faced with notable absences.
Harrison hit the injured list with a hamstring strain yesterday, and Chris McCosky of the Detroit News now reports that the 31-year-old has a partial tear and is could be out anywhere from four to six weeks (Twitter link). Surgery hasn’t been ruled out, but it’s not considered likely at this time. Harrison, who signed a one-year deal worth $2MM this offseason, has batted just .176/.219/.265 with a homer and four steals through 146 plate appearances.
Mercer, meanwhile, has already been out since early May, but his prognosis took a turn for the worst today. Per Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter links), Mercer’s minor league rehab assignment has been halted due to what manager Ron Gardenhire termed an acute-on-chronic strain in his right quadriceps. He’s receiving a second opinion, after which point his timeline for a return will become more clear. Mercer has been limited to 19 games this year and managed a tepid .206/.275/.317 slash in 69 plate appearances.
With the injuries, players like Ronny Rodriguez, Niko Goodrum, Gordon Beckham and Dawel Lugo have seen increased opportunities in the infield (Lugo solely at third base, but he’s played second in the past). Unfortunately for the organization, the most productive of that bunch has been the journeyman Beckham, who isn’t a long-term piece in Detroit.
Rodriguez roared out of the gates to a blistering start upon his initial promotion, but his lack of contact has proved glaring, and he’s now hitting .231/.262/.504 in 130 plate appearances. The power has been impressive, but a .262 OBP is tough to overlook. Goodrum was a nice surprise in a super utility role last season and still makes plenty of hard contact (46.8 percent, per Statcast), but he’s hitting .207/.300/.345 in 200 trips to the plate. Lugo has batted .226/.265/.323 in a much smaller sample of 34 plate appearances.
The Tigers can continue to hope for production out of the current options on the roster — Lugo, in particular, has had only a minimal look after a solid showing in Triple-A — but the longer the unit’s struggles continue, the more there’ll be questions about looking to other prospects. Willi Castro, ranked seventh among Detroit farmhands at MLB.com and at Fangraphs (plus ninth at Baseball America), is tearing through Triple-A pitching at a .349/.426/.527 pace. He’s played only 48 games at that level and has benefited from a BABIP north of .400, so there’s some reason to be skeptical, but it’s easy to envision him getting a look at some point this summer. Further down the line, Isaac Paredes is widely regarded as the organization’s best position prospect, and he’s hitting .276/.356/.350 as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He won’t be as near-term an option as Castro, however.