Tigers bring in “baserunning consultant” to get Austin Jackson running more

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In an effort to get center fielder Austin Jackson to steal more bases the Tigers have brought Jeff Cox to spring training as a “baserunning consultant.”

Jim Leyland explained the plan to Tom Gage of the Detroit News:

I’m not being critical, because I don’t mean for it to be critical, but with Jackson, it’s been a confidence factor. What happens in general with players is that guys don’t want to get thrown out. They don’t want that embarrassment. …

But there are times you want to take that gamble, which means he should have a better feel for it. … I would [like Jackson to steal more bases]. That’s basically what we are saying. The better way to put it is that I would like him to steal more important bases. I’ve always said that to steal a base when everybody knows you’re going to try, that’s when you are a base stealer.

It’s not quite “Best Shape of His Life” territory as far as spring training cliches go, but wanting a speedy player to steal more bases is a very common plan for teams in February and March every year. Sometimes it happens, more often it doesn’t, and then everyone forgets about the whole thing by the time spring training rolls around the next year.

As for Jackson, he’s never really been an effective basestealer. Through three seasons in the majors he’s stolen 20 bases per 150 games while being successful just 75 percent of the time. Last year that included going 12-for-21, which is terrible. In the minors Jackson had a much better success rate, but hardly piled up big steal totals with 25 in 135 games at Triple-A and 19 in 131 games at Double-A.

Stealing more bases at a better rate would be nice for Jackson, but the much more important issue will be whether or not he can maintain last season’s .377 on-base percentage after getting on base at a .331 clip in his first two seasons.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.