Detroit Tigers’ Outfield Well-Centered With Gose, Davis


Some people crave attention, others lurk in the shadows.

More from Motor City Bengals

But if you’re assigned to patrol that generous parcel of real estate known as center field at Comerica Park, you’re smack in the middle of things–whether you like it or not.

As you ponder Detroit’s skyline awaiting the next pitch, it’s just you, your teammates, and 35,000 of your closest friends–who will remain so, at least until you make a major mistake.

Fortunately the Detroit Tigers have enjoyed encouraging results so far this young season from the duo sharing center field duties, Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis.

Anthony Gose

Gose was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the off-season for hot prospect Devon Travis. The trade of Austin Jackson to the Seattle Mariners last July created a void in center field, and the Tiger front office coveted Gose’s speed, defensive acumen, and  offensive potential.

Coming to Detroit, the book on the 24 year-old California native was that he was a “fleet and elite” defender with an inconsistent bat. Once a prime prospect himself, Gose’s star had progressively dimmed since 2012 in the Toronto organization because of his struggles at the plate. In fact, in 552 career at bats at as a Blue Jay, the left handed hitting Gose slashed an inoffensive .234/.301/.332.

This spring Gose worked diligently with hitting coach Wally Joyner in Lakeland, and showed immediate results by hitting .299 in the Grapefruit League. To date the results have carried over to the regular season and then some, as he’s slashing a surprisingly robust .348/.394/.500.

Paired with his speed, Gose’s ability to get on base has also allowed manager Brad Ausmus to hit him in the leadoff position, neatly resolving one of the team’s pressing off-season questions.

Defensively, Gose has arrived in Detroit as advertised.

Playing shallow, he reads the ball well off the bat and his top-end speed allows him to blanket huge swaths of territory. His route to the ball is generally impeccable, as he tracks down gap shots with the confident strides of a Kentucky thoroughbred.

Though he possesses a potent arm, the only minor quibble with his defensive play so far is his throwing accuracy, as he has misfired several missiles well up the first base side in an effort to throw out a runner at the plate.

Rajai Davis

The speedy 34 year-old from Connecticut joined the Tigers in 2014 as a free agent with a two-year, $10 million contract.

Last year he provided a welcome spark to the team, slashing .282/.320 /.401 in 461 at bats. His speed (his stock in trade) was also on full display, as he stole 36 bases in 47 attempts. He garnered most of his playing time as a part-time left fielder through July, when he took over as the full-time center fielder following the trade of Jackson to Seattle.

Davis’s forte is offense, and he’s particularly effective against left handed pitching. For his career his slash line against left-handers is .304/.359/.449,  whereas against right-handers it’s .253/.297/.347.  This year he’s slashing .310/.394/.552 against lefties and .216/.326/.270 versus right handers.

Unfortunately, with a glove in his hand Davis is less special.

While his speed serves him well in center field (especially at vast Comerica Park), he lacks the instincts of an advanced outfielder and is occasionally guilty of taking indirect routes. His glove is also somewhat suspect, as he sometimes fails to field balls cleanly off the ground. He further pricks the sensibilities of purists with his “side saddle” method of catching routine fly balls.

Nonetheless, Davis’s offensive contributions against left handers and speed on the bases largely offset his defensive peccadilloes.

The Bottom Line

Position number “8” on the lineup card is one of the most demanding in the sport of baseball.

Like a vintage Bordeaux, the ideal center fielder is a sorcerer’s blend of complementary qualities–ample foot speed, a potent arm, and a fearsome bat–all duly informed by an unerring baseball instinct.

Such players are hard to find, but a handful of All-Star caliber center fielders (Mike Trout, Adam Jones, Jacoby Ellsbury) is scattered across the American League.

The Detroit Tigers’ combination of Gose-Davis has not yet ascended to such heights, but in 2015 is performing at a level comparable to the league’s finest.

Though their prolific production has mostly gone unnoticed by the national press, the duo will be hard to ignore if their performance persists.

In which case the Tigers will have not just one, but two centers of attention in their midst.

Next: Common struggles, trading block, Angel Nesbitt future