Lakeland, Fla. — Jim Adduci’s been around too long and been through too much to be surprised or upset by anything baseball throws at him.
This is a guy who labored 10 years in the minors before cracking the big leagues in 2013. This is a guy who had to peddle his talents to Korea and Mexico before he was given a second shot at playing in the major leagues.
So when we wasn’t among the Tigers’ September call-ups last season, even though he’d played well in 29 games earlier in the year, it didn’t faze him in the least.
“It’s a business,” he said Monday, in camp early, as usual, taking every extra rep and swing he can. “It didn’t bother me. I wasn’t surprised. I’ve been wrapped up in this business before. I knew what kind of direction they were going to go in September, anyway. You could see it.
“Obviously, they were going to be young. They wanted to see what the young guys could do. That’s perfectly OK with me.”
The Tigers ultimately released him. And yet, when they asked him back on a minor-league contract with an invitation to big-league camp, Adduci didn’t hesitate.
“They called and asked me to come back and I said, ‘Heck yeah,’ ” he said. “I get to keep playing baseball, and that’s what I want to do.”
Adduci will be 33 in May. He was called up last April, his first trip back to the big leagues since 2014, and made an immediate splash. He got six hits in his first 10 at-bats and posted a slash line of .318/.388/.500 from April 23 to May 10.
But he was quickly put out of commission by a lingering oblique injury and he wound up hitting .241 with a .720 OPS in 29 games. Still, by the end of the season he was healthy and playing well at Triple-A Toledo and could have rightly expected a call-up for the final month.
“At the end of the day, this is always going to be a business,” he said. “There is no way around it. You can see it happening in everything that’s been going on this off-season (over 100 unsigned free agents). As a player, for myself, I want to keep playing. I think I can still play at a high level.
“The Tigers have given me an opportunity to compete. That’s all I can ask for.”
Two years ago, a similar scenario played out with veteran outfielder Alex Presley. The Tigers opted not to call him up in September 2016, though he had a successful season at Toledo. They released him, re-signed him to a minor-league contract and Presley wound up hitting .314 in 71 games last season.
Adduci wouldn’t mind that history repeating.
“I enjoyed my time here last year,” he said. “I started out in mini-camp and I was able to contribute. I am thankful for that. I’d be happy to be back. I enjoy this organization. They’ve always just told me, ‘Go compete.’ That’s what I want as a player.”
As he was a year ago, Adduci is a long shot to win an outfield spot out of spring training. Mikie Mahtook, Leonys Martin and Nick Castellanos are slated to start. JaCoby Jones and Rule 5 draftee Victor Reyes, along with rookie Mike Gerber, super utility player Niko Goodrum and Adduci are vying for two spots.
“Just control what I can control, you can’t worry about anything else,” Adduci said. “Everything that happened in the past is past. I don’t feel any ill-will or none of that. Maybe I take a little bit of motivation out of it. But that’s just how I carry myself anyway.
“I’m locked in on helping Detroit and being here and competing for a spot. Everything else will fall into place.”
The ever-smiling, ever-enthusiastic Brayan Pena is back at TigerTown, in a Tigers’ uniform, for the first time since 2013. The 36-year-old catcher is on a minor-league contract, competing with John Hicks and Derek Norris for the back-up role behind James McCann.
But really, his true value is as a mentor to the growing multitude of young players.
“I really appreciate the opportunity,” he said. “I am very thankful for the Tigers bringing me back. I understand my role. I understand my position. I am willing to do whatever it takes to help this organization.
“Whatever role they need, especially being able to help the young Latin players. For me, that is an honor to help them out and to teach them the right way to do things. I appreciate this, I really do.”
Pena last played in the big leagues in 2016. He spent last season at Triple A with the Royals. He fully admits he’s transitioning from player to coach.
“Definitely,” he said, laughing. “You know you are getting old when an ex-teammate of yours is your first-base coach (referring to Ramon Santiago). You are like, ‘I know now it’s time for me to at least think about it.’ I am willing to do whatever it takes to stay with this organization.”
Daniel Norris doesn’t really like the label “X-factor.” It’s an indication of something unstable — it could go either way. Norris’ goal is to be a factor — period.
“I feel like I’ve done everything in my power (this off-season) to make that happen,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting it going.”
The fifth starter spot in the Tigers rotation is Norris’ to lose, presumably. Although the fact he has a minor-league option remaining makes his hold on the spot tenuous. Acquired along with Matthew Boyd in the 2015 trade for David Price, Norris has yet to stay healthy or pitch consistently enough to lock down that role.
“I get it, I do,” Norris said. “It’s pretty apparent. I’m the only one with an option. But I feel that if I throw the ball well enough, whatever happens, I give them a reason to keep me. I don’t view it as I’m the odd man out. If I go out there and show them what I know I am capable of, there will be no questions.”