Tigers make cuts to ensure more playing time

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers sent back a handful of prospects Monday morning, whittling their camp ranks to 48 players. None of the players sent out were competing to make the team this spring, but a few of them made an impression.

"It's good experience for those kids to come in to camp," manager Jim Leyland said, "but playing time starts to get cut down for the younger guys. That's why we made the move. ... I like all these kids, but they need to go play."

Shortstop Dixon Machado and catcher Ramon Cabrera were optioned to Double-A Erie. It's a promotion for the 21-year-old Machado, who batted .195 at Class A Lakeland with slick defense, and an arrival for Cabrera, who was the return player in the trade that sent Andy Oliver to Pittsburgh. Cabrera is expected to share catching duties with James McCann with the SeaWolves.

Joining them at Erie will be Daniel Fields, who was assigned to Minor League camp Monday. He was a non-roster invitee to camp since he isn't on the 40-man roster. Fields spent the second half of last season at Erie and held his own, batting .264 in 29 games with two home runs, 13 walks and 21 strikeouts.

Fields was a corner outfielder at Erie down the stretch last season, but he is expected to be the SeaWolves' regular center fielder this year.

"He's a high school kid, has played a couple years now," Leyland said. "It takes time."

Right-handed reliever Melvin Mercedes, meanwhile, was optioned to Class A Lakeland, where some are hoping he can put together control on his upper-90s fastball and experience a breakthrough like Bruce Rondon last year.

"The big kid just has to learn a little bit about the art of pitching to go with his equipment," Leyland said.

Joining Mercedes in Lakeland will be shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who was assigned to Minor League camp. He heads across the street having made an impression with the big league camp, including a highlight stop and throw last Thursday against the Braves.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.