As we get closer to the pitchers and catchers reporting for spring training, it appears pretty clear that the Tigers patient approach to the off-season is going to present an opportunity for players currently within the system. The need for a DH is obvious with the loss of Tigers star Victor Martinez, but as we have covered, the Tigers might just move around some people, mainly Delmon Young into the DH role, which of course will present an opportunity in left field.
With Andy Dirks getting a good amount of playing time in 2011, it would seem that he is a front runner right now to receive a little bit more playing time in 2012. Dirks over the long haul is likely a better defender than Delmon Young in LF, and despite carrying a low BABIP in 2011, he performed pretty well at the plate for a rookie. But one thing isn’t guaranteed to rookies of Dirks’ modest prospect stature, and that is playing time. He is going to have to compete for at-bats this spring, just like he did last year.
But the DH role, and the fourth outfielder role aren’t the only things up for grabs heading into spring training. In fact, there is plenty of opportunity for 40 man roster and non-roster invitees alike to make an impression on the Tigers brass this spring. Let’s take a look at a few of these.
It seems likely that the Tigers may acquire someone before the season starts, and Dombrowski and company are waiting out the market until prices come down even further. If they don’t acquire someone, it is likely that Delmon Young would be moved into the DH role for the Tigers. Reasoning being, he simply can’t field his position worth a darn, so that makes sense. Still, there is a little bit of a window for some guys to try and impress, and worm their way onto the roster.
The leading candidate for a DH role would probably be Ryan Strieby. Strieby has the power the Tigers would be looking for, but he also has the swing and miss as well. Strieby hasn’t been the same since some wrist injuries have slowed his development the past couple of years, but an impressive spring could go a long way to him seeing some time with the big club in 2012. If not, he may very well be on his way out of the organization.
Brad Eldred is another guy that has been mentioned on here. Eldred has massive power, but also will strike out a ton, and probably hit around .220. Still, if the Tigers were desperate, he could be an option.
A dark horse in this situation is going to be Jared Head, a minor league free agent the Tigers signed in the off-season. Head has a little bit better of a hit tool than Eldred, and also has some power, though not quite as much as the other two mentioned here.
The Tigers have been in search of a fifth starter since the off-season began, and not necessarily just a #5 either. The Tigers have been mentioned in Gio Gonzalez talks, Matt Garza rumors, and most recently we have learned they have went after Roy Oswalt as well. Regardless of the role in the rotation the 5th guy is going to play, the Tigers only have 4 definite starters, which means there is going to be some competition for the 5th spot.
The general consensus is the 5th spot is going to be chosen from a group that includes Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly, and Duane Below. Below might actually have the inside track, given that he performed pretty well in his rookie season in 2011, and the Tigers might want to season the rest of the guys on that list a little bit more. All of them, with the exception of Drew Smyly are already on the roster, so there doesn’t have to an additional move for most of them if they want to take them north. Still, I wouldn’t count Smyly out, simply because he might have been the most impressive Tigers pitcher in the minor leagues all of last season.
A dark horse candidate, and a member of the 40 man roster would be Adam Wilk. Wilk would present a guy who is a change of pace compared to the rest of the Tigers staff, given that he is a soft-tossing left hander.
There is a lot of flexibility here because of Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly, but as of right now, it looks like Raburn is splitting time at 2nd base, and Kelly is splitting time at 3B. These things change though, so if Delmon Young ends up the full time DH, Raburn could end up back in LF, where he is a much better defender than at 2B.
As mentioned earlier, Andy Dirks looks to have the inside track here, but he isn’t going to be guaranteed anything, so if someone comes along and outperforms him, we may see a new face. The main candidate is Jared Head, however, an old name might surface as well, and that is Clete Thomas. Thomas is still on the 40 man roster, and given his experience, a strong spring by him, and a poor one by Dirks, could push him on the roster. After all, Thomas almost got the nod last year.
A dark horse is Jamie Johnson. When he gets his opportunity he is going to have to impress. I don’t see him as a consideration for the roster, but if he can do a good job in the spring, he may get a look sometime in 2012 if there is more injury.
There really isn’t an opening here, as the Tigers seem satisfied with Ramon Santiago and Raburn, but if Raburn goes back to the outfield full time, there may be an opening here for a 2nd baseman, particularly one with a right-handed bat. That is where Danny Worth comes in. Worth would do well for himself to have a strong spring, as he is probably first in line in this scenario. He has utility because he can play SS and 3B as well, but there are a couple guys right on his heels.
Justin Henry is an OBP machine who can play 2nd base, and all the outfield positions. There isn’t much reason to just hand the job to Worth, and if Henry can outperform him, he might sneak on the Tigers roster. The Tigers also signed minor league free agent utility guy Eric Patterson, who is most comfortable at 2B and LF, two of the positions of need for the Tigers.
This isn’t so much an open spot, as much as it is an acknowledgment that the two players the Tigers have here going into 2012 aren’t very good players. Defensively the position should be held down by Brandon Inge and Don Kelly. However, with the lost offense of Victor Martinez, the Tigers might not be able to put up with a sub .200 batting average from Inge, and a sub .300 OBP from Kelly with little power. There really isn’t an answer to this issue in camp, but there are a couple of guys in the minors who could enter the Tigers minds with an impressive spring training.
Audy Ciriaco and Bryan Pounds aren’t anything to get excited over at this point, but they do have an opportunity here. If they can be impressive in spring, and start the 2012 season in the minors strong, they could become somebody the Tigers might tree in a worst case scenario during the summer.
There is clearly some opportunity for guys on the fringe this spring with the Tigers. Simply put, there is holes on this Tigers club, and not all of them are going to be filled by free agency before the season starts. I believe they will add a veteran bat, but if they don’t, it should spur some competition this spring for sure.
This isn’t even about making the 25 man roster out of camp for some of these guys. Their opportunity lies in just impressing the Tigers enough so when they do have to make moves, their name gets called.
The knock is at the door. Now, who is going to answer?