Getting to know the 3 newest Detroit Tigers: Maton, Vierling, and Sands

The quiet Detroit Tigers offseason, got a bit louder this past week as President of Baseball Operations Scott Harris made his second trade of the offseason. He sent Gregory Soto and Kody Clemens to the Philadelphia Phillies for three players: Nick Maton, Matt Vierling, and Donny Sands.

Why it matters

The Tigers have significant holes on their roster, left from their previous regime. And, while Harris has done what he can to right the ship, the turn is more like that of a Cruise Liner than a speed boat. Many of the holes on that roster were on the offensive side of the ball, and it showed in 2022.

  • The Tigers’ ranked dead last in offense according to FanGraphs.
  • Their two premier prospects, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson both graduated from prospect status and Torkelson specifically struggled in 2022.
  • In 2022, the Tigers had a -156 run differential.
Tigers closer Gregory Soto.
Detroit Tigers reliever Gregory Soto (65) pitches against the Cleveland Guardians during 10th-inning action Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022, at Comerica Park in Detroit. Tigers Clev

The Tigers’ bullpen was strong in 2022, and the only true trade chips they had were there.

  • They traded Joe Jimenez to the Braves for Justin-Henry Malloy
  • The Tigers were the 7th best bullpen in the Majors last season
  • Expendable closer, Gregory Soto, was the best trade piece they had.

Soto a two-time All-Star, a 27-year-old, flame-thrower, who did struggle at times to find the strike zone. He boasted an 8.95 k/9 in 2022, to go along with a 5.07 BB/9. Also, as a closer, Soto was 30/33, with a 90.9% save rate. He was shipped to the Phillies, with Kody Clemens, for three position players.

Going Deeper:

With the flip of Soto and Clemens for Vierling, Maton, and Sands, the Tigers are clearly looking to update a broken offensive roster. According to Keith Law, the trade would have been good enough had it just been for Matt Vierling. He said,

The Tigers got three players back, and if I were them, I would have been happy to trade Soto just for Vierling, who hasn’t done much in the majors yet through his age-25 season but looks like a breakout candidate after he made some substantial swing adjustments last year. 

Keith Law, “Law: The Tigers cash in by trading Gregory Soto to the Phillies” via The Athletic

Matt Vierling – Outfielder – Bats/Throws: R/R

via Baseball Savant

A 2018 fifth-round draft pick, Vierling is an outfielder by trade but logged innings at six different positions for the Phillies in 2022. He’s seen time at first base, second base, third base, and all three outfield positions. A versatile player, with near-elite speed, Vierling’s athleticism is of note for the Tigers and their plans.

Nick Maton – Outfield/Infielder – Bats/Throws: L/R

via Baseball Savant

Maton will be 26 years old when the season starts. He has just barely had a cup of coffee in the Majors with the Phillies, getting one at-bat in the World Series against the Houston Astros. In that time he has played a majority of his time between second base and shortstop but did some (very minimal) action at third base as well. He’s a bit of a wild card, but given the situation with the Tigers’ roster should have every chance to make the club and contribute.

Donny Sands – Catcher – Bats/Throws: R/R

Sands seems to be catching depth for the Tigers, whose situation is a bit fluid going into 2023. Eric Haase and Jake Rogers will be given every opportunity, but Sands could push the envelope with either of them. Considered to be a bat-first catcher, Sands did receive, “a glowing review of Sands’ defense,” from Scott Harris according to Cody Staverhagen of The Athletic. Sand will have a chance to get regular playing time, especially if his defense were to stand out above the other two options on the roster.

Inside the Numbers:

Let’s take a deeper look into their MLB and Minor League numbers in order to see what the Tigers have gotten in these three players.

Vierling is a speedster, who made swing adjustments last season that paid off. In the Minor Leagues, he tallied:

  • 8.5% walk rate
  • 15.7% strikeout rate
  • slashed: .268/.333/.409 over four seasons.
  • 25 home runs and 128 RBI in four season

He is projected for 2023 to be worth about 1.2 fWAR and is arbitration eligible in 2025. Controllable players, that are young and primed for development are the key to the Harris plan. Vierling fits this mold to a tee.

via FanGraphs

Nick Maton is a bit of a wildcard with his availability positionally but should factor into the Opening Day lineup with a good spring. In the Minors, he recorded:

  • 12.2% Walk rate
  • 20.8% strikeout rate
  • slashed .251/.344/.382
  • Hit 27 home runs and 181 RBI

He is projected for 2023 to be worth 1.6 fWAR and to be about 35% above league average offensively, with a 135 wRC+. He could potentially slot into third base, a huge opening for the Tigers, or possibly replace Jonathon Schoop at second while he transitions to third. It wouldn’t be ideal, considering how good Schoop was at second base last season, but is definitely on the table.

via FanGraphs

Donny Sands could be in line for a roster spot behind the dish. It will be entirely dependent on Rogers’s progress through his injury and acclimation to Big League speed. Sand has spent seven seasons in the Majors, after being drafted out of high school in the eighth round of the 2015 draft by the New York Yankees. In the Minors, he had:

  • 10.6% walk rate
  • 14.1% strikeout rate
  • Slashed .274/.343/.390 over seven seasons
  • Hit 32 home runs and 219 RBI in seven seasons

He is projected in 2023 to have 1.2 fWAR while being a league-average hitter. He puts the bat on the ball consistently and doesn’t strikeout often, which is in line with Harris’s philosophy. He will turn 28 during the season, and is a bit on the older side, but should have enough of a chance to make the roster, especially with the unknown surrounding Rogers.

via FanGraphs

What’s the takeaway?

Some may look at this trade and think that the Tigers traded Soto for unproven, and that to an extent is true. But from the beginning, Scott Harris has had a plan: get younger, develop and retain young talent, and control the strike zone. All three of these players do exactly that. Yes, they are mid-20s guys, with the exception of Sands, who was more depth and focal point anyway.

In trading Soto and Clemens, they opened to door for a back-end closer like Alex Lange, Jason Folely, or someone else to take up that mantle. And, in Clemens they discarded yet another fringe-MLB player, replacing him with two guys that are better and will be better at the MLB level. It’s a good trade and this Tigers team will look much different in 2023. Does that mean it’ll translate into wins? Not necessarily, but the foundation is being laid at Comerica Park for a winner to be developed.

Written by 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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