Former Senator, Will Rhymes, Is On His Way in the
Will Rhymes impressive to Tigers' Jim Leyland
LAKELAND, Fla. -- When Jim Leyland watches Will Rhymes play, it reminds him of Tom Brookens.
Leyland worked with Brookens as a manager at Triple-A Evansville and helped convince the Detroit Tigers to find a place for the scrappy utility infielder in 1979. Now, Leyland manages the Tigers and has Rhymes, a scrappy utility infielder he has fallen in love with this spring.
"I'm going to throw one out that will knock your socks off," Leyland said recently. "I think Rhymes will play in the big leagues. He has a short, quick swing and he's a dirtball. Now, don't accuse me of being Sparky (Anderson), like I've got some Hall of Famer. I'm saying I just think there's a good chance he'll play in the big leagues."
Anderson, Detroit's Hall of Fame former manager, was known for becoming enamored with young players and predicting future greatness for them. Barbaro Garbey reminded him of Roberto Clemente, and Chris Pittaro convinced him to briefly move Lou Whitaker from second to third base in 1985.
What tickles Leyland about Rhymes is what he symbolizes for the organization. He has a degree in biology from a prestigious liberal arts school not known for churning out major leaguers, but the club found him and developed him.
"That, to me, is the true test of a farm system," Leyland said.
Leyland lamented that Rhymes went in the tank for a few days after the comment. Then, on Sunday, Rhymes hit a two-run homer off the scoreboard here at Marchant Stadium against New York Yankees reliever Brian Bruney.
The homer is Rhymes' only hit in nine Grapefruit League at-bats for the Tigers, who are off Thursday and resume action here today against the New York Mets.
"I was so pumped up by what he said about me, that it took a few days to go back to what I can do and staying within myself," Rhymes said. "I felt I had to do even more. But I remembered what Brookie used to tell me: 'Hey, just do your best. It's all you can do.' "
Adding a special twist to this story is the fact that Brookens managed Rhymes last year on the Erie SeaWolves and also managed him in Oneonta, N.Y. In fact, it was Brookens who noticed something endearing in the kid from nowhere and put him on a course to big league consideration.
Brookens, a member of the 1984 Tigers World Series champions, played second, third and shortstop. He also was Anderson's emergency catcher. Versatility was his ticket to the majors, and he punched it for 12 seasons.
"I played Will about 25 games at shortstop last year to see if he could make it as a utility guy in the major leagues," Brookens said. "He did an adequate job there, and I think he can play in the big leagues.
"He's a good, steady little ballplayer who puts the bat on the ball and keeps improving."
Rhymes led the Eastern League with 158 hits last year, finished third with 76 runs, was tied for fifth with seven triples and was sixth with a .306 average. He also led all league second basemen with 562 total chances, 236 putouts and 86 double plays.
He's listed at 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, but could be smaller than that. Detroit drafted Rhymes in the 27th round in 2005 after he hit .413 as a senior at William & Mary.
Rhymes will not make the opening-day roster unless somebody gets hurt, but he has made an impression in his first major league camp.
"I'm just going about my business and getting ready for the season," Rhymes said. "And I like watching how guys here go about their business. I'll watch Placido Polanco taking grounders and Carlos Guillen hit. He has the most beautiful, effortless swing.
"I want insight into their thinking, but I also don't want to bother them."
Leyland pulled him aside after realizing his compliments made Rhymes uptight.
"I told him, 'I didn't mean today. You are going to be in the big leagues some day. Relax.' "