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Detroit Tigers position battles: Third base is wide open in 2023

There is one massive, gaping hole in the Detroit Tigers lineup and it’s at third base. We’ve discussed minor position holes like left field previously, but addressing third base is going to be a much larger endeavor.

Why it matters:

As part of the roster purge that occurred this offseason, Jeimer Candelario was non-tendered a contract, free to sign with any team that would have him. This move left the Tigers having to decide who will play third base in the coming season.

  • Candelario was a below-average fielder in 2022, -6 OAA and -4 RAA; he was never much above league average with the glove.
  • The Tigers have at least 6-8 players that can play third base in 2022.
  • As of this writing, Nick Maton is most likely penciled in for the starting job.

Potential Detroit Tigers third baseman in 2023

Nick Maton – Bats: L | Throws: R

2022 Stats (MLB): 35 G, 85 PA, .250/.341/.514, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 135 wRC+, .364 wOBA

https://youtu.be/NtPtk5HzBTs
Nick Maton Highlights on Baseball is Everything YouTube

Maton was acquired in the same trade with Matt Vierling and Donny Sands, a trade that sent Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens to Philadelphia. His positional versatility makes him a gem, especially given his ability to get on base. At AAA, he walked 34 times, striking out 55 times in 250 plate appearances. He’s a league-average defender at third base, though only in 11 innings, which is an entirely small sample size. His bat and glove will need some seasoning at the MLB level, but he has postseason experience and is a perfect candidate to win the job.
40-man roster status: Currently on the roster

Ryan Kreidler – Bats: R | Throws: R

2022 Stats (MLB): 26 G, 84 PA, .178/.244/.233, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 38 wRC+, .218 wOBA

The Corner – DSN’s coverage of the Detroit Tigers

Ryan Kreidler may be the fan favorite to land the third base job and probably would have had a better 2022 had he not been hurt. In AAA the average wasn’t there (.213), but he was 6% better than the league average when it came to creating runs (106 wRC+). He is an above-average defender, and that continued during his short stint in the Bigs. Kreidler’s bat needs seasoning and at least half a season in AAA will most likely serve him best to start the season. At 25 years old, this season is a pivotal season for Kreidler and his career.
40-man roster status: Currently on the roster

Cesar Hernandez – Bats: S | Throws: R

2022 Stats (MLB): 147 g, 617 PA, .248/.311/.318, 1 HR, 34 RBI, 79 wRC+, .283 wOBA

https://youtu.be/ggqYGJZ-W0k
Cesar Hernandez 2022 Highlights on Baseball is Everything YouTube

Hernandez agreed to a Minor League deal with the Tigers in late January. A versatile fielder, he was league-average at third base for the Nationals in 2022. Though admittedly, he was not in great playing shape last year, his combination of speed and bat-to-ball skills can make an impact for the Tigers. From 2016-2021 he was right around league-average in his ability to create runs offensively, but slumped in 2022 and could bounce back well for the Tigers.
40-man roster status: Not currently on the 40-man roster

Andy Ibanez – Bats: R | Throws: R

2022 Stats (MLB): 40 g, 128 PA, .218/.273/.277, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 59 wRC+, .249 wOBA

Ibanez is more than likely an organization depth piece, though his ZiPS projection is quite favorable for the 2023 season. They project him as a .262/.322/.392, with 8 HR, and a 106 wRC+. He has more of an impact at second base defensively but is league-average at third base. He could figure into the third base race, but most likely projects best as a second baseman.
40-man roster status: Not currently on the 40-man roster

Andre Lipcius – Bats: R | Throws: R

2022 Stats (AAA): 46 g, 188 PA, .302/.388/.453, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 124 wRC+, .372 wOBA

He’s No Joke: Tigers #22 Prospect on Detroit Tigers YouTube

Here is where it starts to get really interesting. Lipcius was a third-round pick in 2019, a University of Tennessee product, and reached AAA last season. A 13.3% walk rate is enticing, especially combined with the 17.6% strikeout rate. Maybe his best projection is that Lipcius will be a league-average run created according to wRC+ projections. He spent some time between third and second base in AAA, and with a good spring could definitely be in the mix for making the Opening Day roster.
40-man roster status: Currently on the roster

Wenceel Perez – Bats: S | Throws: R

2022 Stats (AA): 39 g, 171 PA, .307/.374/.540, 5 HR, 28 RBI, 143 wRC+, .391 wOBA

Wenceel Perez: Putting it all Together on Detroit Tigers YouTube

Perez has made a name for himself, even being named as a top-10 second base prospect heading into this season. Though the 23-year-old is most likely a minimum of a half-season away from making his debut, only getting 24 games in AA last season, there’s reason to believe he could make some moves this season. Scott Harris’s motive to get young guys at-bats could be the impetus for Perez should he have a good spring and continue to hit well in AAA.
40-man roster status: Currently on the roster

Other Potential Candidates:

Three additional names that you need to keep on your radar, in order of their importance: Colt Keith, Justin-Henry Malloy, Izaac Pacheco, and Brendon Davis. Pacheco is the farthest away, Keith the closest, and we saw Davis toward the end of the last season. Keith is the name to particularly keep in the back pocket, he’s young (21 years old) and most likely starts in AA, but could factor into the discussion toward the end of the season, if not for sure in 2024.

The Bottom Line:

The Tigers have a plethora of options at third base for 2023. While not all of them, if any, are going to be world-beaters, there is some untapped potential. As mentioned, Maton is most likely penciled into the spot right now, but don’t be surprised if Lupcius makes a play for the job, with Hernandez or Ibanez becoming organizational depth in 2023.

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AJ Reilly
AJ Reilly
A.J. is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid storyteller. His debut novel, The Askren Boys, won the Literary Classics Gold Medal and Seal of Approval in November of 2018. When not writing, he is spending time with his wife Jessica, son Jack, daughter Nora, and new arrival Teddy. A.J. lives in Metro Detroit.

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