Detroit Tigers Preview
We are less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting to training camp, and approximately a month away from the beginning of Spring Training. Already. It seems like that epic Game 7 was just a few weeks ago, and yet we are already at the end of January. Well, I will be doing my previews on all 30 MLB teams, starting with the defending American League Champion Cleveland Indians (who now have the longest title "drought" in baseball) all the way to the defending champion Chicago Cubs. So now, here is the third team in the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers.
The Tigers really have had one of the most quiet offseasons in baseball this winter, amid rumors that they were going to have a fire sale similar to that of what their division rival White Sox were planning and executed. And yet, outside of a trade for outfielder Mike Mahtook and bringing back ex-Tiger catcher Alex Avila, the Tigers only made minor league additions. Granted, they were only two games out from the wild card game last year, but a few of the key players are aging and it is really hard to get a good grasp of where this team is headed after standing pat.
PROJECTED ROTATION: Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris, Anibal Sanchez
This group is rather unique, with a combination of big money underachievers and successful, young starting pitchers. Zimmermann, in his first year as a Tiger, really struggled in the American League, but expect a bounce back season. Anibal Sanchez also had his worst season in a long time. Meanwhile, Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris both had breakout seasons and could become fixtures of the rotation, and Justin Verlander remains one of the better, more reliable starters in the game. As far as depth is concerned, there is some but it's not the best, including Mike Pelfrey as the odd man out. Matt Boyd will likely end up as the 25th man and long reliever, and veteran Shane Greene is also in camp. They also have their 5th best prospect in Joe Jimenez in camp, but they have too much ahead of him to have a real chance.
BULLPEN: Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Bruce Rondon, Kyle Ryan, Blaine Hardy, Matt Boyd
K-Rod is back closing, and that is good news for any team that he is on. Mark Lowe had a bad year, but he has had success in the past, and they also have the Wilson's in the pen as well. After that, it is pretty much any man's game, with Bruce Rondon being the frontrunner and Kyle Ryan virtually in as well. Blaine Hardy also had the best season of any non-roster invitee left, so I gave the last non-long reliever spot to him, and Matt Boyd will be the long man. There is no short of arms available in camp, though, led by Buck Farmer, Daniel Stumpf and Drew VerHagen, along with non-roster invitees Logan Kensing, Edward Mujjica, and AJ Achter.
CATCHERS: James McCann, Alex Avila
This position seems to be pretty much set, as James McCann and Alex Avila are the lone catchers on the 40 man roster. McCann struggled last season, battling through injuries which caused him to only play in 105 games, but he still managed to hit 12 home runs and drive in 48. They will need him to step up, though, as Alex Avila is not what he once was which is why he has been bouncing around from team to team lately.
INFIELDERS: Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Victor Martinez, Nick Castellanos, Jose Iglesias, Andrew Romine
I'm getting a pattern where the Tigers have a lot of competition, but still have the feel of a very top heavy team. It's no different with the infield, as Victor Martinez is essentially only a designated hitter, and Miguel Cabrera should be in that role himself. They both hit very well still, but I think Ian Kinsler's bat is most important in this lineup. Nick Castellanos is also going to need to continue his breakout campaign before his injury last season, and I'm sure Tiger's fans would love Iglesias to get back up to .300 again. As far as depth goes, Andrew Romine is a guy who can play multiple positions, and his versatility makes him the favorite here. Dixon Machado and non-roster invitees Brendan Ryan and Omar Infante are also in camp, and don't be surprised if Infante makes a push as he is a year removed from a starting second baseman on a World Series roster.
OUTFIELDERS: Justin Upton, JD Martinez, Mike Mahtook, Tyler Collins
I'm only going with four outfielders here, since a lot of guys on this team, including infielder Romine, can play multiple (or all three) outfield spots, including Mahtook and Collins. Justin Upton and JD Martinez are essentially guaranteed their spots assuming they don't get traded, but the battle is going to be in center field between newcomer Mike Mahtook and longtime prospect Tyler Collins. Steven Moya and JaCoby Jones are also in a similar category to Collins in that matter, and they also brought in Alex Presley as an invitee who saw action with the Milwaukee Brewers last season.
LINEUP: Kinsler (2B), Upton (LF), Cabrera (1B), V. Martinez (DH), J. Martinez (RF), Castellanos (3B), McCann (C), Mahtook (CF), Iglesias (SS)
I'm going with Mahtook as the center fielder, only because why make no other moves this offseason if you feel comfortable in your incumbent prospects, including recently released OF Anthony Gose. The top six of this order is great assuming Upton and Castellanos can perform to their expectations, but the bottom three all have work to do and are less proven to this point.
PREDICTION: This Detroit team feels similar to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, when they were in first place in the National League for a while only to have an epic collapse and fall out of the playoffs entirely. It wasn't that dramatic last season, but the Tigers did put a lot of extra chips on the table here only to finish just outside of the playoffs again, and if they get off to a bad start they might clean house like the 2015 and 2016 Brewers. I wouldn't have brought up that analogy if I didn't think it would happen, and although I'm expecting a few trades (K-Rod, Kinsler, Martinez's, Wilson's?) I wouldn't expect this team to be a bottom feeder. I'd go with 78 wins here.