GRAND RAPIDS — Let’s get right to the quote.
The one I can’t stop thinking about after talking to Lance Parrish, the manager of the West Michigan Whitecaps, the Tigers’ Single-A affiliate.
“Brock Deatherage seems to have all the tools,” I said to Parish. “He can hit and run.”
“He is a grinder,” Parrish said. “You look at certain personalities in the game. You try to match them up. This guy reminds me of — he’s a Kirk Gibson, Pete Rose guy.”
“Dead serious,” Parrish said. “When he gets on the field, he’s all business. He plays as hard as anybody. He’s got that look of determination all of the time. You watch him play the game and you go — wow!”
That comment takes on even more weight considering Parrish played on the Detroit Tigers with Gibson and his career overlapped with Rose. (They played against each other in three All-Star Games.)
“Maybe, he matches up with Gibby more,” Parrish said. “I don’t think he has the power Gibby had. Gibby had Superman power. But he runs well.”
The Tigers took Deatherage in the 10th round of the 2018 draft, which is starting to look like a steal. Deatherage is leading the Whitecaps with a .328 batting average, a .541 slugging percentage and a .949 OPS.
“It’s been easy,” Deatherage said. “Been easier than I thought it would be.”
That might sound cocky but that’s not how he said it.
He was just being honest, which also reveals his mindset.
More on the Tigers:
Deatherage is playing relaxed, confident and loose, which is an important part of the puzzle. When he gets too hyped up, when he gets too aggressive, when he can’t control that inner fire, he gets into trouble, losing his approach, swinging at everything and striking out.
“I’ve had trouble with strikeouts sometimes,” Deatherage said. “Swing and miss. Being too aggressive trying to get the ball early. Not swinging at the right pitches.”
That’s the only real knock on him.
“Definitely,” he said. “When I’m at my best, I’m letting the game come to me. I have the inner energy built into me. I have a very go-get ‘em mentality. Whenever I control that, just stay calm, that’s when I’m at my best.”
So far, he’s been able to control it with ease.
After he was drafted, Deatherage spent about a week in Lakeland, Florida, preparing to play rookie ball in the Gulf Coast League.
“I got there early,” he said. “I was there about a week before the actual game. I practiced for about a week. Then, I played two games there. Everybody was pretty much trickling in.”
Wait a second. He kind of glossed over the interesting part.
He didn’t just play two games.
He destroyed the ball in two games.
He made his debut in the Tigers organization on June 18 and hit three home runs.
The next day, he hit a grand slam.
“I was just trying to have fun, trying to get used to the wood bat,” Deatherage said. “Sure enough, I ended up running into three home runs. It was a good feeling. A good start. A big-time confidence booster.”
“And the second game?” I asked.
“Going 2-for-4 with a grand slam just kind of topped it off,” he said. “It was a really good feeling. I knew I wasn’t going to stay in rookie ball long.”
“Did the Tigers tell you that?” I asked.
“They didn’t say when or where,” he said. “I was just expecting Connecticut. I’m 22 years old, being older. I knew I wasn’t going to stay down there long. It was just a matter of when.”
Deatherage was in the batting cage, getting ready for his third game in rookie ball when he was approached by Brayan Pena, the former Tigers catcher who is now managing Lakeland.
“He told me I was moved to West Michigan,” Deatherage said. “I was ecstatic, very happy.”
So Deatherage jumped out of rookie ball, bypassed the short-season, Class-A Connecticut Tigers and landed in West Michigan.
“That afternoon I got on a plane,” he said. “I met the team here, they were getting on a bus that morning to go on a seven-game road trip. I instantly went on a seven-game road trip.”
Speed to burn
Deatherage has another thing in common with Gibson — he’s a former football player with some serious speed.
“My fastest 40 was 4.26 seconds,” Deatherage said.
“No way,” I said. “That’s Deion Sanders fast.”
“Hand-timed,” he said.
Let’s not worry about the exact numbers. Let’s just say, Deatherage has some serious wheels and range in center field, although he can play all three outfield positions.
“Speed is my best ability,” Deatherage said. “Being able to use that the best I can. Whether it’s angles in the outfield or stealing bases or laying down a bunt.”
The other day, he put down a bunt and he got to first base in 3.6 seconds.
“There wasn’t a throw,” Deatherage said, smiling.
Which is a fantastic way to boost your batting average.
He hit .291 as a freshman at North Carolina State.
As a sophomore, he hit .317 with 45 runs, nine doubles, five triples, and a career-high six homers.
But he fell apart in his junior season, at the worst possible time. In college baseball, the most important season is the junior season. That’s when a college player has leverage — the threat of returning to school for a senior season — if he is drafted.
But Deatherage struggled as a junior, hitting .218.
Still, he was taken in the 29th round by the Pittsburgh Pirates ( No. 856 overall). But he decided to stay in school.
Deatherage bounced back his senior season, hitting .307 with 14 home runs.
“I had a really good senior year,” he said. “I didn’t have a lot of leverage. I was looking to be a top-10 round pick. Be more of a value pick. Sure enough, got that call. The scout said, ‘We want to take you with the first pick in the 10th. Will you sign?’ I said, ‘Most definitely, let’s do it.’
“It was a good feeling.”
While his home runs in rookie ball drew all the attention, his most impressive tool has been his speed.
Of his 20 hits in West Michigan entering Thursday, two have been doubles and four have been triples.
He has six stolen bases and has been caught just once.
“I have loved it to death,” Deatherage said. “It’s a great introduction to pro ball. The atmosphere is unbelievable — 7,000 fans a game. The weather up here is perfect. You can’t ask for better for baseball.”
His goal is obvious.
It’s right there on his Twitter account.
It’s a picture of center field in Comerica Park, with the Detroit skyline looming in the background.
Contact Jeff Seidel: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel/.