With the Tigers star-studded lineup and 6-deep starting rotation, the most compelling Spring Training battles will be for who rides the pine. Left field is still sorting itself out, and that culmination will cue the music for a game of musical chairs. Who will capture those coveted seats for an expected return journey to the World Series?
Assuming there are 13 spots available, 10 are filled (Avila, Cabrera, Peralta, Infante, Fielder, Hunter, Jackson, Martinez, Brayan Pena, and Dirks). The candidates are Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Ramon Santiago, Danny Worth, Don Kelly, and Jeff Kobernus. A case can be made for each one to stay or go, as follows:
Garcia/Castellanos – I will group these two together based on the recent comments from Dombrowski and Leyland. Right now, the plan is for each of them to play everyday at Toledo, rather than platoon against southpaws. From a developmental standpoint this makes sense – Castellanos needs polish in the outfield, and Garcia can work on driving the ball. Barring a trade (the possibility is discussed here: http://motorcitybengals.com/2013/01/30/why-not-dangle-andy-dirks/ ) or an incredible Grapefruit League showing, this dynamic duo is a year away from rounding out the big-league roster. Odds against going north: 8-1
Brennan Boesch – He recently quadrupled his salary, and indications are he has a chance to usurp Dirks as the everyday leftfielder with a good spring. That is entirely possible, as pitchers in the spring are working on their conditioning and location, rather than exploiting the cavernous holes in Brennan’s swing. The Tigers, Leyland in particular, are enamored with his power and potential, while overlooking his questionable approach and disastrous defense. My hunch is he makes the team. Odds against going north: 3-2
Quintin Berry- I can’t see both Berry and Boesch sticking…and I never jumped on the Q-train last year either. His numbers steadily declined as the season wore on as teams learned how to get him out, and he was completely ineffective vs. lefties. The speed was welcome in the Tigers plodding lineup, and by not being a butcher, he improved the outfield defense. Best case is either Boesch or Dirks gets traded, and opens up a spot for Q. Odds against going north: 8-1
Ramon Santiago- This cat certainly has nine lives; of course, being one of the Skipper’s faves puts a player in a Strom Thurmond-esque incumbency. The longest-tenured Tiger suffered offensively and defensively last year, and despite returning to winter ball this year appears to have strong challengers for his utility infield spot. Reminds me a bit of John Wockenfuss getting shipped out on the eve of the ’84 season. Odds against going north: 5-1
Danny Worth- He can pick it with the best of them, but hasn’t shown much with the bat yet. Did get on base at a .364 clip in Toledo last year with some gap power; glove and bat are a notch ahead of Santiago, but is that enough in Leyland’s eyes? Odds against going north: 4-1
Don Kelly- The darkest of dark horses, the human Swiss Army knife was dropped from the 40-man roster but accepted an invite to try and make the team in camp. He is certainly the most versatile of these choices and remarkably effective wherever he plays; considering how little he hits, he gets big hits. I have to assume, however, that being cut once makes it a bit easier to be cut twice. Don’t worry Donnie – they can’t take that bomb in the Bronx away from you! Odds against going north: 15-1
Jeff Kobernus- 6’2″, 210 lbs, bats and throws right. Baseball America describes him thusly, “More advanced than the average Rule 5 pick. Kobernus can play solid defense at second, steal some bases (42 in 53 tries in 2012) and hit a little. He lacks power, but plays the game with a hard-edged, heady approach.” At first look, his versatility is limited; in 4 minor league seasons he’s played 4 of 290 games at shortstop, the remainder at 2B. He did play OF as a freshman at Cal and 3rd base as a sophomore, so the potential of following in Kelly’s footsteps is there. Kobernus was rated the best baserunner in the Carolina League in 2011.
As a Rule 5 player, he must remain on the 25-man roster for the entire 2013 campaign, or be placed on waivers. If he clears waivers, he must be offered back to Washington at half of the $50,000 draft price. The relative strength of the Nats’ organization was on display in the 2012 Rule 5 draft, as 4 of their unprotected players were claimed. (For the Tigers, Chris Shelton was the most recent Rule 5 pick that emerged as a productive player; snagged from the Pirates in 2004, he appeared in 27 games that year, then as a part-timer in ’05 logged a robust .870 OPS that included 18 HR’s. The Halley’s Comet of 2006, Shelton had 10 HR’s by the end of April, but was an afterthought by the time the playoffs started.)
In Kobernus’ favor – he’s a right-handed bat with great wheels, and it sounds like he has the “dirtbag” approach to the game that infatuates Leyland. But even if he does hit a bit better than Kelly, can he play all those positions? My feeling is they wouldn’t draft him and not keep him. Odds against going north: 2-1.
So the upshot of this analysis is Boesch and Kobernus are in, and Worth or Santiago is a coin toss. Underwhelming, to say the least…and hard to believe that there isn’t another personnel move or two to play out before Opening Day.