As spring training winds down, there are still some roster battles going on in Detroit Tigers camp. Nothing much has been settled for the few roster spots that actually remain, but things did become a little bit clearer now that Andy Oliver has been optioned to Toledo. Oliver, who at one point was the front runner for the 5th starters job, continued his career mantra of inconsistency in his last few outings, getting beat up a little bit. Despite our focus, the 5th starter spot isn’t the only position that is being competed for on the 2012 version of the Tigers. There is also the last spot in the bullpen, as well as the last position player spot on the roster.
I thought today I would look at who I think is going to win these last 3 roster spots.
The 5th Starter
Winner: Duane Below
This spot is still in contention, however, I think ultimately the winner is Duane Below which is what I contended from the start. Below may not have the upside that other guys do, but he is a safe choice, and the bottom line is he has major league stuff. His experience last year is helpful for him when deciding between the last two candidates here. Smyly’s relative inexperience is going to hurt him. I don’t think there is an appreciable difference in either candidates ability to get outs right now, and that is why I think the Tigers select Below.
The Last Reliever
Winner: Brayan Villarreal
At one point, I thought the loser of the 5th starter battle was going to win this spot. I no longer think that. Realistically, I don’t see Chris Bootcheck as an option, especially considering the other two candidates Luis Marte and Brayan Villarreal are having tremendous springs. I am torn on this one more so than any other competition on the Tigers right now. Luis Marte has shown a better ability to pitch this spring, and miss bats, than Villarreal. Villarreal has better stuff than Marte, and has shown an improved ability to mix his pitchers.
Personally, I like Marte. However, this isn’t about who I like. I think in the past the Tigers have shown a proclivity to select the guy with more powerful stuff. Villarreal is the winner here.
Last Position Guy
Winner: Clete Thomas
So, we all know despite our ire over the situation, that Brandon Inge is more than likely to make the Tigers squad out of spring training. The assumed battle between Thomas and Dirks has had Danny Worth join the fray, mainly because of the versatility of guys like Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly who can play the outfield as well as the infield. Andy Dirks has had a tremendous spring with the bat. Danny Worth has had a very good spring with the bat. Clete Thomas hasn’t. We all know what Clete is. A guy that is going to strike out quite a bit, and flash some occasional pop. He also has a history of getting on base some, despite the lack of patience this spring. While Dirks and Worth have outperformed him at the dish, they have something Clete Thomas don’t have, and that is options.
I think the Tigers like Thomas. I think Thomas provides a late inning defensive replacement that no one else can match, including Dirks, and I think the Tigers don’t want to risk losing Thomas. And I think they would if they tried getting him through waivers. It may not be the best man that wins here, but I think it’s the reality.