DETROIT - The Detroit Tigers' offense isn't giving fans much to look forward to, but there are three young players in the current starting lineup who are exciting for very different reasons.
Sure, Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos are established MLB hitters, but they're not exactly moving the needle for Tigers fans who know they won't be around by the time the team is ready to compete -- or, in Cabrera's case, won't be close to his younger self.
But among the struggling Niko Goodrums and Josh Harrisons of the roster, there are three players who could give fans a glimpse into a possible brighter future.
Season stats: 1 for 4 with a strikeout and a three-run homer
Thursday was Lugo's first game of the season since being promoted, and though the team was down 17-0 to the last-place Oakland Athletics at the time, he made some noise with his first career MLB home run.
Lugo isn't ranked among the elite Tigers prospects, but he's No. 17 in the organization and was one of the few players off to strong starts at Triple-A Toledo. In 32 games, he batted .341 with two home runs, eight doubles, 11 walks and 24 strikeouts while posting an .861 OPS.
Even though Lugo is considered a middling prospect, fans are excited to see the centerpiece of the return from the 2017 J.D. Martinez trade.
Lugo struggled during a short August/September sting in the big leagues last season, hitting just .213 with little power and a .576 OPS. His overall body of work in 2018 dropped him in prospect rankings, but he was once regarded among the best hitters in the Tigers' farm system.
Even if Lugo doesn't end up being a major part of the team's future, he at least has a chance. That's more interesting than watching Gordan Beckham, Dustin Pederson and Brandon Dixon rack up 500+ at-bats.
Season stats: .294 average, .337 OBP, .671 slugging with eight doubles, three triples and six home runs in 23 games
At the beginning of the season, Ronny Rodriguez was about as boring as it gets. Not only did he post a .591 OPS in 2018, he had never really been a good hitter in the minor leagues, save for a couple of brief stints at Double-A in 2015 and Triple-A in 2017.
Even when he got the call this season after Jordy Mercer was injured, Rodriguez was 7-for-33 with one double and a .492 OPS in Toledo.
But when he got to Detroit, his impact was immediate.
Rodriguez has been by far the most valuable everyday player on the team. His 1.1 WAR is nearly three times that of John Hicks and Castellanos, who are tied for second on the team with 0.4 WARs.
In 23 games, Rodriguez has 25 hits, 17 of which went for extra bases. He leads the team with six home runs and is right behind Castellanos for the team lead in total bases, despite playing 17 fewer games.
He's scored 13 runs, driven in a team-leading 17 runs and even has a pair of stolen bases. His strikeout rate isn't bad and his six walks put him on a much better pace than last year, in terms of plate discipline.
There was almost no reason to believe Rodriguez could contribute to this organization at the start of the season. But how long does he have to show consistent extra-base power before we consider that he might be having a breakout season?
At the very least, it's fun to watch.
Season stats: .195/.289/.429 with seven doubles, one triple and three home runs in 23 games
May has been a major struggle for Christin Stewart since returning from a strained right quad. He's just 3-for-23 with two doubles, seven strikeouts and three walks.
Before his injury, however, Stewart was the best hitter in the Tigers' lineup. He had an .832 OPS and a .519 slugging percentage, largely thanks to a game-winning home run on Opening Day and a game-winning grand slam the following week against the Kansas City Royals.
His flare for the dramatic got him through an early slump, but in the weeks leading up to his quad injury, Stewart had a nine-game stretch during which he hit .344 with 1.155 OPS, five doubles and two home runs.
He looked as if he was showing the power and on-base combination that made him a top 100 prospect at the time of his call-up in 2018. It's not uncommon for a hitter to struggle with his timing after missing a couple of weeks, so Stewart could get hot again any day.
Stewart has even made a couple of nice plays in left field, even though defense is not his strength. He took away a home run from George Springer during the series against the Houston Astros.
There's not much power in this lineup. Rodriguez is the only player with more than three home runs. So it's a relief for the Tigers to have Stewart back in the mix.
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