The Detroit Tigers made an interesting signing last week, agreeing to a minor league contract with First Baseman Jason Stokes. It is exciting to see Stokes get another shot. Stokes was one of the best hitters in the history of Texas High School baseball. His 25 home runs his senior season is a record which seems nearly unbreakable (by comparison, Bryce Harper had 11). Stokes developed a following during high school, and Sports Illustrated published a feature about him in 2000 written by Jeff Pearlman.
The Marlins selected Stokes in the 2000 draft and signed him for $2.3 million. His career began successfully. The Sporting News named him their “Minor League Player of the Year” in 2002, and he seemed destined to be the Marlins’ next first baseman. However, Stokes’ career started to decline because of a wrist condition. He missed substantial time having surgeries trying to fix the problem, and he would occasionally resurface, showing signs of why he was so highly regarded. But the the health problems would reemerge.
The best example occurred during Spring Training in 2006. Stokes arrived with no realistic chance of making the team because the Marlins had acquired Mike Jacobs from the Mets. Nevertheless, Stokes nearly won the job after an incredible performance. The team decided to send him to AAA for a little more development, and Stokes began the season in AAA impressively, winning the “Pacific Coast League” player of the week. But his season ended in late-April when the wrist problems re-emerged. Before 2007, Oakland decided to take a gamble on Stokes, acquiring him for Catcher John Baker. But health issues immediately resurfaced (this time wrist and back problems) and Stokes retired from baseball.
Apparently, Stokes has not played organized baseball in three years, which is why it was extremely surprising to see his name on last week’s transaction report. The chances of Stokes contributing to the Tigers’ organization are obviously remote. He has not played in three years, and his health problems seem incurable judging from his injury history. But as NFL GM Ernie Accorsi said, “you never give up on talent.” While this concept can be taken too far (i.e., why not invite Toe Nash and Sean Burroughs to Spring Training), very few players can hit the ball like Jason Stokes when healthy. The Tigers have nothing to lose, and if Stokes is really healthy, he could surprise a lot of people.
Stokes will be an extremely interesting “under the radar” story to watch during Spring Training, and it would be amazing if Stokes can actually make it to the major leagues.