Infante returns to Tigers with spring invite

Veteran infielder among club's first round of Minor League signings

Infante returns to Tigers with spring invite

DETROIT -- Omar Infante is back in the Tigers organization. A.J. Achter, who grew up down Interstate 75 from Comerica Park, will soon be joining him.

The Tigers announced their first round of Minor League contracts Friday, a list of 14 players that includes a familiar name in Infante. The former Tigers and Royals second baseman will get a non-roster invitation to Major League Spring Training, where he'll try to win a roster spot 15 years after he made his Major League debut in Detroit.

Among the Minor League deals are Dustin Molleken, who made his Major League debut with the Tigers on July 4 after more than a dozen years in the Minor Leagues, and Jeff Ferrell, released by the Tigers last summer. Fellow pitchers Ruben Alaniz, Johan Belisario, Endrys Briceno, William Cuevas, Santiago Garrido, Logan Kensing, Arcenio Leon and Cory Riordan, along with catcher Miguel Gonzalez and infielders Argenis Diaz and Gustavo Nunez also received contracts.

Not announced yet was an agreement on a Minor League contract and Spring Training invite for Achter, which is expected to be made official shortly. The Toledo native and Michigan State product has agreed to terms according to a source, confirming reports from SB Nation and the Toledo Blade.

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Molleken, Alaniz, Cuevas, Kensing and Gonzalez also received invitations to big league camp. The deals provide depth for a Tigers organization that used 22 position players and 22 pitchers in 2016.

For Infante, the homecoming marks his third stint with the organization that signed him out of Venezuela as a teenager in 1999. He made his big league debut with the Tigers three years later, embarking on a six-year stint as a second baseman and later a utility infielder before the Tigers traded him to the Cubs for Jacque Jones following the 2007 season.

The Tigers brought back Infante, then a regular second baseman with an All-Star selection on his resume, at the Trade Deadline in 2012. He played a big role in Detroit's run to the World Series that year, then posted the best offensive season of his career before hitting the free-agent market and signing a four-year, $30 million contract with Kansas City.

The Royals released him at midseason with a .239 average and 11 home runs in 39 games. He's scheduled to make $8 million from them this year, the final guaranteed season of his contract. Though starting Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler has been involved in trade discussions, Infante's return is more about depth for an organization that badly wanted to reinforce its middle-infield ranks.

The 28-year-old Achter grew up in Toledo and won City League Player of the Year honors his senior season at Clay High School. After three seasons at Michigan State, he was a 46th-round pick of the Twins in the 2010 Draft. He climbed the Minnesota farm system with three standout seasons of relief, earning All-Star honors in each respective league along the way, before making his Major League debut in 2014.

After 18 big league appearances over two seasons, Achter jumped to the Angels as a non-roster invite and pitched in 27 games for the big league club over seven stints. Despite bouncing back and forth to Salt Lake, he put up decent numbers, including a 3.11 ERA over 37 2/3 innings with 12 walks and 14 strikeouts. The strikeout rate was much lower than his career mark in both the Majors and Minors.

If Achter makes it to Detroit, he'll be the first Michigan State product to play in the Majors for the Tigers since Kirk Gibson.

Molleken and Kensing both pitched for the Tigers this past season in brief callups. The 32-year-old Molleken allowed four runs on 12 hits over 8 1/3 innings in four appearances, while the 34-year-old Kensing tossed 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball in three games.

Ferrell, 26, was a fast-rising relief prospect with the Tigers two seasons ago, jumping from Double-A Erie to the big leagues before injuries derailed his 2016 season after six appearances for Triple-A Toledo. Detroit released him in August.

Most of the other deals were re-signings. The 29-year-old Diaz has played parts of four seasons in Toledo, batting .241 (78-for-323) with a .597 OPS in 2016, but hasn't played in the Majors since 2010 with Pittsburgh. Garrido, 27, struggled to a 6.22 ERA in 33 games between Erie and Class A Lakeland this year. Alaniz, 25, had a 4-4 record with four saves, a 2.69 ERA and 74 strikeouts over 73 2/3 innings between Erie and Toledo. Riordan went 6-10 with a 4.86 ERA at the same stops. Belisario went 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA in 17 innings at Lakeland. Nunez batted .279 (97-for-348) for Erie with two homers and 31 RBIs.

Gonzalez, also a Mud Hen last year, gives the Tigers insurance at catcher alongside John Hicks. Gonzalez batted .243 (52-for-214) with two homers and 33 RBIs.

Leon bounced around the Triple-A and Double-A levels across several organizations in recent years before joining the Mexican League, where he put up 36 saves this year. Cuevas made his big league debut this year with the Red Sox, tossing five innings with six walks in three games before posting a 6-8 record and 4.19 ERA in 25 games for Triple-A Pawtucket.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.