Feb 18, 2014; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers third basemanDon Kelly
during a team practice at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
The Detroit Tigers’ outfield seems pretty well set entering the 2014 with the platoon of Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis in left field, Austin Jackson in center, and Torii Hunter in right with Don Kelly as a 5th outfielder/utility man, but this may not be the case. There may be an outfield spot, maybe even two up for grabs during Spring Training.
Jackson’s and Hunter’s spots are locked up and no one is questioning that. The Tigers would not have signed Davis to a two-year $10 million deal to cut him. He will also be way too valuable of a piece to cut in Spring Training. This leaves Andy Dirks and Don Kelly.
Last season Dirks put up a .256/.323/.363 split with 9 HR and a WAR of 1.1 splitting time with Matt Tuiasosopo in left field which are not terrible numbers. Many bagged on Dirks last season saying he was not an everyday player because his numbers were way down after his 2012 season where he put up a .322/.370/.487 split with 8 HR and a WAR of 2.3 in 43 fewer games. Dirks is only making $1.625 million this season and if he has an absolutely brutal spring, he could find himself on the chopping block. Personally, I would be flabbergasted if Andy Dirks was not the starting left fielder for the Tigers (unless they face a left-handed starter) regardless of his spring performance, but his spot may be up for grabs if he is brutal and another outfielder makes a strong push for a job with the big club.
The player who could be in real jeopardy this spring is Don Kelly. Kelly’s role for the Tigers in the past has been a utility player, mostly in the outfield, 3rd base, 1st base. Yes, he has played every position on the field except shortstop which is a trivia question at least once a year, but the positions that he mainly plays are mostly filled. Steve Lombardozzi who was acquired by the Tigers in the Doug Fister trade is a utility infielder that will serve as the backup at 3B, SS, and 2B which limits Kelly’s options on the infield. Victor Martinez will serve as the backup 1st baseman if Miguel Cabrera needs a day off so that option is gone. Rajai Davis and Lombardozzi will serve as the pinch runners if needed late in the game. If Kelly does not have a strong Spring Training, he may find himself DFA’ed.
The candidates to have a strong spring and possibly contend for a spot include Daniel Fields and non-roster invitees Ezequiel Carrera and Trevor Crowe. Fields has been a prospect in the Tigers system since 2010 after he was picked out of the local University of Detroit Jesuit high school in 2009. Fields played in AA Eire last season where he had a .284/.356/.435 split. If Fields has a very strong spring and the Tigers think he could make it at the big league level, he could take a spot away from Kelly. This is unlikely because I’m not sure if the Tigers want to call up one of their better prospects left in the system to have him be a 5th outfielder. Carrera is a career minor leaguer with a couple of brief stints with the Cleveland Indians and an even briefer stint with the Philadelphia Phillies. Carerra is a speedster on the basepaths compiling 43 steals last year in AAA Columbus. If Carrera impresses Tigers’ manager Brad Ausmus and others on the staff, he could get on the team to add more speed to a roster that has already more than doubled its steal output in the offseason. Finally there is Trevor Crowe. Crowe would really have to have an impressive spring to make the team, but he has had time in the Major Leagues with Cleveland and the Houston Astros. Crowe probably will not make the team, but he is someone else the Don Kelly may have to contend with to win the last spot on the roster.