DETROIT – With two multi-homer games this week, Travis Demeritte has suddenly become one of the top story lines of the Detroit Tigers’ spring training. But he’s going to have to do more to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Demeritte made up half of the duo responsible for one of the team’s most memorable spring training moments on Thursday. He combined with Miguel Cabrera to hit back-to-back home runs on consecutive pitches in both the first and second innings against Gerrit Cole. Those four home runs against perhaps the best pitcher in the world propelled the Tigers to a 15-11 win over the New York Yankees.
Spring training games don’t count, but it was exciting for fans to watch the Tigers blast nine home runs against the presumed favorites in the American League.
The most amazing part of Demeritte’s two-homer game is it wasn’t even his first of the week. He also clubbed two bombs Monday against the Boston Red Sox.
Detroit desperately needs another power bat in the middle of the order, and it could really use some offensive production from the outfield.
When they traded for Demeritte last July, the Tigers hoped they were getting a player who could hit for power and get on base at a high clip. He hit 20 home runs and 28 doubles in 96 games with the Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers while posting a .387 on-base percentage and .944 OPS.
It was a massive jump in offensive production for Demeritte, who posted a .708 OPS in 124 games in 2017 and a .732 OPS in 127 games in 2018. Both of those seasons were spent with the Double-A Mississippi Braves.
His breakout wasn’t completely out of nowhere, though. In 2016, Demeritee hit 28 home runs and 29 doubles in High-A, slashing .266/.361/.554.
The huge hole in Demeritte’s game has always been strikeouts. In 681 minor league games, he’s struck out 855 times. In the majors last season, he had a 33.9% strikeout rate.
If he’s walking and giving the Tigers a high on-base percentage, they can live with the whiffs. But that hasn’t been the case.
Demeritte drew just 14 walks in 186 plate appearances last season and has yet to earn a free pass this spring. In fact, he’s struck out in more than half of his trips to the plate during spring training.
When you look past the four home runs -- two of which were generously wind-aided -- Demeritte is 0-for-9 with seven strikeouts this spring. Assuming he doesn’t continue to reach the bleachers every time he puts the ball in the air, Demeritte’s current profile is extremely slump prone, and that’s what the Tigers saw last season.
The tools are all there for Demeritte to be an everyday MLB player. He’s shown excellent raw power. He posted high on-base percentages in the minors. He ranked in the 86th percentile in MLB sprint speed and stole three bases in three attempts.
Detroit seems pretty set on Christin Stewart, JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes and Cameron Maybin being the four outfielders who head north with the team. Harold Castro and Niko Goodrum are also capable of filling in at all three outfield spots. With that in mind, this was always going to be a tough group to breach.
For Demeritte to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster, the Tigers need to see him improve his contact rate and become a more well-rounded hitter. He’s only 25 years old, but that could work against him this month because he has options remaining and is young enough to be sent to Triple-A.
It’s encouraging to see Demeritte put a few balls over the fence. He hit the ball hard when he made contact last season -- he simply didn’t make contact often enough. That’s still an issue this spring, and considering Demeritte was already facing an uphill battle, it’s probably enough to keep him off the roster.