February 23rd, 2010

Dontrelle: I'm no recruiter

Dontrelle Willis is no Lane Kiffin. Or John Calipari. Or whichever college coach you want to use as an example.

Point is, though Johnny Damon mentioned calling his friend Willis for his take on the Tigers and how Damon would received, right before Damon agreed to terms on his one-year contract, Willis isn’t taking credit, especially since Damon called him, not the other way around.

“I don’t recruit,” Willis said. “We’re just good friends. Our wives are good friends. He just asked me how the organization was. I just gave him my honest opinion, especially in my situation, where I haven’t played well for the organization. I still spoke highly about the guys in the clubhouse, guys in the training room, the coaching staff and the front office, because that’s how I really feel. That was just friend to friend.

“I’m sure it was a hard decision for him. He had so many teams bidding for him, and I wished him all the best, regardless of what he did. I guess my words spoke volumes for him. He called me back within an hour and said he’d see me this spring. I really appreciate that he took my words to heart, because they were heartfelt. I was just being totally honest about everybody. … It wasn’t really the conversation that everybody thought it was.”

Still, he has given opinions about organizations before, including when he was with the Marlins.

“As goofy as I am, I do have an attention to detail,” he said. “I’ve always been somebody who tries to pay attention as best as I can and watch my surroundings, and I have a good idea of personalities.”

Said Willis: “I told Johnny, ‘I haven’t been playing well, and they still treat me with a lot of respect, from top to bottom.'”

Leyland raving about prospects

What began as a drizzly morning here in Lakeland ended up a sun-soaked and warm afternoon, probably the first real sunscreen type of day since spring training began. Very good day for the Tigers to have their first full-squad workout, and manager Jim Leyland’s mood reflected it.

After one full-squad workout — and probably more important, one day of batting practice — Leyland was raving about the prospects the Tigers have coming up in the system.
“I can tell, we’ve got a lot of talent in this camp, down low [in the system] and up high. I mean, it was an eye-opener out there today.”

  • “There’s a lot of prospects, probably the most prospects I’ve ever had in a camp.”

  • “I can assure you that these guys will be in Detroit someday, a lot of them. I don’t know where I’ll be [at that time], but they will be.”

  • “There’s guys hitting balls over trees, way over trees. … When you have veterans doing double-takes to watch a kid hit, that’s usually a pretty good measuring stick.”

Leyland didn’t want to mention prospects by name when he was talking about this, but one can surmise that he was talking about, Ryan Strieby, Brennan Boesch and Casper Wells, among others. Wells reported to camp in noticeably strong shape after spending most of the winter working out with Strieby in Arizona at the API training facility. He almost looks like he’s got a linebacker’s build playing outfield.

What does this mean for Detroit? For now, probably nothing. Unless Wells makes a run and takes the CF job from Austin Jackson in camp, most of the hitting talent will be opening in Toledo, which has the chance for a really nice offense if you add in a healthy Jeff Larish and maybe Alex Avila. But keep it in mind as the summer unwinds and the Tigers get closer to next offseason, when Dombrowski suggested the Tigers will make more “adjustments.”

Anyway, on to some notes …

  • Speaking of youngsters, Scott Sizemore did everything that every other infielder did on the first formal workout for position players. He’s still coming along with the ankle, but it isn’t limiting what he can do. No definitive word yet over whether he’ll be able to start at second when games begin in a week, but it’s looking upbeat. “He needs to get at-bats,” Leyland said. “He needs to play second base this spring a lot.”
  • The Tigers designated Casey Fien for assignment to make room for Johnny Damon on the 40-man roster, but Fien isn’t leaving camp just yet. He’s just going across the street. Though he’s technically in limbo until he’s either claimed on waivers, traded or outrighted, he can work out at the Tigers’ minor league facility across the street. The team has invited and encouraged him to do so.
  • In addition to talking with Carlos Guillen about his role, Leyland said he talked with Johnny Damon about his situation and whether he feels more comfortable batting leadoff or hitting second. Damon said he’s fine either way, but that they involve two different approaches. He doesn’t hit for as high of an average or reach base to the same percentage hitting second compared to leadoff, but he can do some other things in his game.
  • Leyland didn’t really want to talk about Ryan Raburn’s situation this morning after just discussing Guillen, but he said in the afternoon that Raburn will work out in the infield as well as the outfield now that full-squad workouts are underway. That’s a change from the offseason, when Leyland said he wanted Raburn to focus on being an outfielder. Raburn and Don Kelly are probably going to see work at basically every position but shortstop, catcher and pitcher this spring.
  • Strieby, by the way, is going to see time at both 1B and OF this spring. He’ll most likely be an outfielder in Toledo as he tries to make the transition away from Miguel Cabrera’s position and into a spot where he could actually see some playing time in Detroit.

D-Train plays recruiter for Damon

On one hand, if you believe Johnny Damon’s statements that Detroit is where he wanted to play all along once he knew he wasn’t heading back to the Yankees, then he shouldn’t have needed much recruiting from Dontrelle Willis. On the other hand, he did call Dontrelle Willis.

Yes, Dontrelle Willis became a recruiter for Damon, even if he didn’t intend to be.

Willis and Damon know each other from Team USA at the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He wasn’t the only player Damon knew on the Tigers; he knows Phil Coke from the Yankees last year, but Coke didn’t have his phone number.

So he called Willis. Damon wanted to ask someone on the club how players and fans would react to his arrival.

“After I got off the phone with him, I was like, ‘This is going to work,'” Damon said. “And we’re expecting bigger things from him. He’s obviously going to battle to get back to form. And even he said, ‘This is a great place to play, you’re going to enjoy it.’ Said all the right things to me, and I was like, ‘Wow.’

“Scott [Boras] called me about two minutes after that and asked if we were good to go. And I said, ‘Absolutely.'”

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