Spring Training Roundtable: Detroit Tigers Story Lines To Follow


September 7, 2012; Anaheim, CA, USA; Detroit Tigers right fielder Brennan Boesch (26) hits a single in the fifth inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With pitchers and catchers reporting today and actual fake baseball just around the corner, we thought it would be a good time to get some of our pre-spring thoughts down on this here electronic paper. I asked a few questions and the MCB staff responded.

Which spring training story line are you most interested in following?

John Verburg: This probably isn’t the answer you are looking for, but I think there is a real lack of interest in my part on what the Tigers are doing this spring. Basically, because the roster is already set and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of position battles. Detroit’s already stated that Rick Porcello has a leg up, which means he will all but have to implode to lose the “competition” to Drew Smyly. I guess if I had to choose, I am more interested in seeing how Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos handle the more intense scrutiny of a spring training in which playing time might be out there for them in 2013.

Matt Pelc: How the back-end of the bullpen will work out. Will Joaquin Benoit return to form and be a reliable set-up man? Will Bruce Rondon be the closer on April 1 or will it be Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, or someone from outside the organization? My concern with Rondon as closer is the same concern I had with Scott Sizemore taking over for Placido Polanco at second base a few years back. The front office was adamant he’d be able to handle it, and we all know how well that went….

Scott Byrne: I am watching the three bench spots with great interest. It looks like a whole bunch of square pegs and round holes – either one of the kids (Garcia or Castellanos) forces his way onto the team, or some sort of trade gets made. Is there a 2nd baseman lurking out there, that could push Infante into the right handed half of the LF platoon?

Chris Hannum: Aside from seeing who is arbitrarily named closer (see #3), I’ll be following all 3 open positional bench spots with interest (particularly to see if Russo makes the team) as well as VMart’s and Infante’s health.

Matt Snyder: For me it’s the last couple of bench spots. Will they choose power potential with Boesch or speed with Berry? Which of Danny Worth, Ramon Santiago, and Jeff Kobernus won’t make the team? They’re not as fascinating of questions as we’ve seen in past years, but they’re all we really have.

Assuming Andy Dirks is the main guy in left field – and assuming no right-handed options surface – who would you rather see on the bench, Quintin Berry or Brennan Boesch?

John Verburg: I can’t believe I am saying this, but Boesch is the only choice here. He is someone who has shown in the past he can carry a team for a couple weeks if he gets on one of his famous hot streaks. Plus, looking at the potential makeup of the Tigers bench makes me cringe with the lack of pop it’s going to have. I don’t consider Boesch much of a power hitter, but he certainly has more sock than Q.

Matt Pelc: Quintin Berry. He is not the best player on the team, but he’ll be a great presence in late innings or with one or two starts per week. He brings a great energy when he is on the field. I truly believe Brennan Boesch has hit a wall in Detroit. It could be a Carlos Pena-type situation where he has to go elsewhere to find success.

Scott Byrne: Boesch. Though disappointing overall last year, he had arguably the two biggest swings in the race – the two bombs off Chris Sale. He does have good at bats against lefties, and according to Lloyd McClendon he is poised to show the same improvement that Ajax displayed last year. Berry is a Quadruple-A player who doesn’t bring much to the table besides his wheels.

Chris Hannum: As above, without actually seeing these guys play I’m thinking I’d rather see that spot go to Kevin Russo – any team that has a full-time DH ought to put a premium on positional flexibility.  If it had to be either Boesch or Berry, I’d go with Boesch simply because I’d rather see him fill in for Martinez, Dirks or Hunter if they missed more than an occasional game.  Berry didn’t seem to have the defensive instincts to be a major leaguer with his profile at the plate.

Matt Snyder: As terrible of a hitter as I think he is, I think Berry is the guy. Boesch is a bat only type of guy but there’s pretty much no one in the everyday lineup that I’d like to see him pinch hit for late in a game. Berry isn’t going to give value at the plate, but he might help you win a game or two as a pinch runner. I would like to see neither player start any significant number of games at this point.

What would Bruce Rondon “winning the closer job” look like in the end?

John Verburg: To me, getting around 20 saves this season. I don’t see him as the kind of guy that Leyland is going to trust, and I think Leyland would prefer a veteran that he can go to almost every W. So, if Rondon got 20 saves, I would think that would mean he won the job.

Matt Pelc: It will look like the Tigers’ don’t have any other viable options. Typically when teams are grooming young closers, they throw them into the set-up man role for a year to see if he can handle late inning pressure situations.

Scott Byrne: Ya’ll know how I feel about the “closer” role – it’s for managers to avoid criticism and agents to bend over GM’s on an arbitrary stat. He will be just fine – there isn’t anything for him to prove at Triple A. Either he can do the job or he can’t – I see no reason to believe he can’t.

Chris Hannum: I expect all of the closer candidates to pitch only late in games against scrubs and all of them to look fairly good – and honestly if one doesn’t it’s as likely to be luck as anything else.  Unless Rondon simply cannot throw a strike to save his life, like Dontrelle Willis, I think the job will be effectively handed to him without any real competition.  So… Rondon “winning the closer job” will actually mean – probably – Rondon “holding the closer job”, i.e. NOT looking like last year’s Melancon in April.

Matt Snyder: Walks are going to be a part of his game, but I think the Tigers will be OK with that so long as he’s not walking everyone and he’s able to keep his strikeout rate up. As long as he’s not afraid to attack big league hitters, he’ll likely be handed the job and a fair bit of rope.

If Drew Smyly were to claim the final rotation spot over Rick Porcello, should the Tigers keep Rick in the bullpen or lower their asking price to move him quickly?

John Verburg: As you can see above, I don’t believe that will happen. Smyly fits too nicely as a lefty option in the pen along with Coke, and the Tigers at this point would be dumb to depreciate Porcello’s value by putting him in the pen. They need him to be a successful starter so he receives some value in return in the trade market. My ideal scenario is have Smyly start games in AAA. He still has yet to prove he can post 170 innings in a season.

Matt Pelc: Use him in the bullpen. He will also be a valuable asset as a spot starter when needed, and offer some insurance, especially considering Doug Fister’s injuries in the early to mid-part of 2012, and Max Scherzer’s health concerns at the end of the regular season. Ideally, I’d love to see the Tigers get something for him, but if it yields a Jeff Baker or Wilson Betemit (a player with little or no value to the team), then it will be a wasted trade.

Scott Byrne: I would LOVE to see him in the ‘pen – he would be effective coming in when you need a DP ball and can go a couple of innings. Chances are excellent you will need a 6th starter during the season anyway – and at his age and price there is no need to ship him out at a discount.

Chris Hannum: I don’t think that Smyly should be given the opportunity to win the rotation spot, though it could get handed to him if somebody made an offer for Porcello that Dombrowski couldn’t refuse. Winning and losing jobs in spring training should be reserved for unknown quantities, you aren’t going to find anything out about Porcello that you don’t already know – even if he has a bad start at some point.  If you definitely want to deal him – at some point – you still need to do what you can to get the best return, and that means giving him the chance to start the season strong in the bigs. The better question – to me – is whether Smyly should be considered for a bullpen spot or given a non-refundable ticket to Toledo.  He’s definitely the best option that the Tigers have as far as a second lefty is concerned, but using him that way wouldn’t necessarily be best for his development.

Matt Snyder: I don’t think this is a likely scenario, but if it did happen I think they should trade him. He wouldn’t be likely to ever take his rotation spot back from Smyly, and $5.1 million is a lot to pay for an unproven relief pitcher. And the longer they keep him out of the rotation, the more teams probably think of him as a reliever and the more his trade value drops. Barring a sever case of the yips, though, I think Porcello will end up in the rotation.