Detroit Tigers Andrew Romine, Hernan Perez Fight For Utility Job


Sep 21, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop A. Romine (27) makes a throw to first for an out against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Our national pastime has often been compared to the game of chess.

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Like the array of pieces involved in that cerebral board game, a baseball team has its hierarchy of players, ranging from the all-powerful kings of swing and fling to the nearly irrelevant pawns.

Utility players fall humbly into the latter category.

Like their lowly counterparts on a chess board, they are often ignored at the expense of more glorified players. But when inserted into the fray, they must perform capably– always within their constraints and in the face of more gifted competitors.

With their prospective role on the team defined, Detroit Tiger infielders Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez have commenced a Grapefruit League battle to determine who’s better suited to be the utility man for 2015.

If nothing else, both will finish the spring on intimate terms with the Wilson and Mizuno factory reps, as they’ll be test-driving a wide variety of fielder’s gloves throughout March.

For example, with the exception of catcher, this year’s utility player must be able to play every infield position. As if that’s not a sufficient enough challenge, in order to enhance his late-game maneuverability, manager Brad Ausmus has advised both Romine and Perez they’ll also be logging outfield duty in spring training.

Both players are out of options, which adds a bit of drama to the situation. If either fails to go north with the team out of spring training, he would be exposed to waivers and the team would risk losing him.

Although it’s possible both could make the squad, the more likely scenario is only one will earn a spot on the 25-man roster.

So let’s consider their relative attributes as we speculate who’ll wear the “Super Utility Man” cape when the Tigers break camp.


Romine has more major league experience than Perez, as in his career he’s played 119 games at shortstop, 17 at second, and 28 at third. Last year he logged 83 games as the Tiger shortstop and played well in the field.

He has a strong arm, adequate range, and is generally considered an above average defender. As a rule Romine tends not to hurt you in the field, which is the prime job qualification for a utility guy.

Perez also possesses the full complement of defensive skills.

Though his arm is strong enough to make all the throws from the left side of the infield, his major league experience is limited to 44 games, most of which were at second base in 2013 as a replacement for the injured Omar Infante.

As the younger player, Perez (24) shows more range than Romine (29).

Statistically speaking, Romine has a career  UZR/150 of -3.9, while Perez stands at -7.5 (*Ultimate Zone Rating/150 is a measure of defensive efficiency projected over 150 games-higher numbers are better).

EDGE: Romine


As indicated by his career slash line of .236/.288/.273, Romine is a light hitter. When in the starting line-up, he will normally bat ninth in the order. He can handle the bat, but frequently gets overpowered by firm fastballs. A switch hitter, he  hits significantly better from the right side.

Perez flashes more power, as evidenced by his .287/.331/.404 slash line at AAA Toledo last year. In 2013 as a 22-year-old part-timer, he slashed a meager .197/.217/.227 for the big club.  His numbers at AA Erie that year, though, were an encouraging .301/.325/.423.

At 6’1″, 185 pounds, Perez has a biggish frame for a middle infielder, suggesting there’s a reasonable chance he’ll develop more power as his body matures. Currently he’s a solid contact hitter with a decent understanding of the strike zone, which curiously hasn’t yet translated into a higher OBP.

EDGE: Perez

Base Running

Though neither is a burner, each candidate runs the bases well.

Romine stole 12 bases in 14 attempts for the “new look” Tigers last year, contributing to the team’s surge from last place to fourth in stolen bases in the American League.

Perez is also an asset on the base paths, as he stole 21 bases in 27 tries at Toledo last year.

EDGE: Even


Andrew Romine is the more mature player, both in terms of age and major league experience. The son of a major leaguer (Kevin), he’s been around the game all of his life and has the ultimate insider’s perspective of the game.

At this point, though, what you see is what you get with Romine–he’s a career utility man who lacks the skill set to play every day.

On the other hand, Hernan Perez is still developing–his ceiling is that of a plus defender at second base who’s capable of hitting at the top of the batting order if everything falls into place.

EDGE: Perez

The Bottom Line

The Detroit Tigers were generally regarded as having a weak bench last year and are looking for an upgrade.

Central to that quest will be the selection of either Andrew Romine or Hernan Perez as the super-utility guy, who could potentially be responsible for playing up to six positions on the diamond. (Allocating only one spot for the utility man would presumably allow the Tigers to carry a fifth outfielder, such as Tyler Collins, to add some pop off the bench.)

Though Perez would appear to have the advantage based on his potential, it’s not as simple as that.

The player selected to make the Opening Day roster must be ready to play multiple positions out-of-the-box. Above all, he must be a reliable defender under duress, as was Don Kelly, who occupied the utility role the past several years.

Both Romine and Perez had defining moments in 2014, though under vastly different circumstances.

Romine’s came under the hot glare of the postseason, in the eighth inning of game one  of the ALDS in Baltimore. With the Tigers down by one run, Romine misplayed a grounder that led to a huge Oriole rally and ultimately an embarrassing 12-3 Tiger loss.

Now ground balls have varying degrees of difficulty, but the play presented to Romine could not have been easier–a medium speed, waist-high candy-hopper slightly to his left, with “out” written all over it.

Except he misread it and inexplicably bungled what should have been an automatic out.

“WHOOSH!” went the floodgates and events rapidly deteriorated from there.

To be sure, Romine was not the only goat of the  game and was joined by others before the debacle came to a merciful conclusion.

But it was the type of play a shortstop should have had in his hip pocket.

Perez’s defining moment was far more subtle.

So subtle in fact that in a key game at Kansas City in late September, only Perez among the entire contingent of Tiger players and coaches noticed a base running irregularity by the Royals.

After a line-drive out and botched attempt at a double play by shortstop Eugenio Suarez, a Kansas City runner scored from third as the ball rolled behind shortstop.

Perez, sitting at the end of the bench, noticed the runner had not returned to third base to tag as required by rule. He quickly brought that fact to the attention of the coaching staff and after a lengthy discussion by the umpires, the call was reversed.

In the end the Tigers emerged with a critical victory, and Perez, never having entered the game, was declared the most valuable player by his elated teammates and manager.

Score one for the pawns.

Meanwhile, back in Lakeland, the competition for the utility position will play out over the next month or so.

The view from this observer is come Opening Day in Detroit–owing to his youth and higher ceiling–the chess piece with the name “Perez” stamped on it will still be in the game..

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