Detroit Tigers–Four Key Players To Watch Down The Stretch


Many of the revelers have left the party, but the band must play on.

As the wick burns down on the Detroit Tigers‘ hopes to reach the playoffs this year, there are myriad plot lines to follow with implications for 2016.

Prominent among those are how well a high-profile quartet of players–Nick Castellanos, Anthony Gose, Bruce Rondon, and Daniel Norris–performs in the next two months.

Each of these players is young and rife with potential, yet surrounded by uncertainty. None is a mortal lock to realize the lofty expectations attached to him, but the final two months of the season should give new Tiger GM Al Avila and his staff valuable information upon which to base important personnel decisions for 2016.

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With that as a backdrop, let’s examine what each player has done so far this year, why the next two months are important, and what might be expected next year.

Nick Castellanos

After slashing .259/.306/.394 as a rookie last year, the 24-year-old third baseman had a cool first half with the stick. As of June 21st he was hitting a tepid .217, especially weak for a position from which offensive production is mandatory.

Things got so bad in late June that manager Brad Ausmus sat him down briefly, hoping the layoff would allow Castellanos to reinvigorate his game.

Whether it was that respite or simply the maturation of a young hitter,  Castellanos came on hard in July with an OPS of .822. So far in August his OPS is a swaggering 1.049, as he’s flashing the middle-of-the-order power the Tigers hoped they’d eventually see when they signed him in 2010. If it is indeed real, it will mitigate the loss of Yoenis Cespedes‘s bat, who of course was dealt at the trade deadline.

On the negative side of the ledger, Castellanos’s defense remains highly suspect. Though he’s made incremental improvement this year at the hot corner, he still misplays far too many balls and has minimal range. It might sound radical, but returning him to left field should remain an option if he continues to carry a frying pan at third base.

Anthony Gose

Gose on the other hand can certainly play defense. Endowed with impeccable instincts and a rifle arm, the fleet 24-year-old center fielder covers huge swaths of territory while keeping base runners honest.

Offensively, though, the jury remains out.

Playing regularly for the first time in his major league career, Gose has hit .265, which is clearly an upgrade from his 2014 BA of .226 while a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

But he’s been streaky, going dormant for extended periods only to snap out of it with alacrity.

He also brought a pronounced tendency to strike out with him from Toronto, as he’s whiffed 83  times in 306 at-bats. On the plus side, Gose has stolen 16 bases in 23 attempts.

All in all, the positives have outweighed the negatives for Gose, but the training wheels are now off in the wake of the Yoenis Cespedes trade to the New York Mets. He will no longer be platooning with Rajai Davis, as Davis is now manning left field on a regular basis.

Of course this means Gose is now exposed to his nemesis, left handed pitchers. He hits sub-.200 against portsiders, an average that will have to be elevated if he’s to remain the team’s full-time center fielder in 2016.

Bruce Rondon

Throughout his brief major league career, Rondon’s high-octane right arm has been subject to engine knock.

And therein lies the conundrum.

When his star is in alignment–as it was in August, 2013–he makes sweet music with his 100 mph fastball.

When he’s on the disabled list, as has frequently been the case, or when he’s healthy but not in rhythm with his delivery, he adds to the considerable instability that’s become the hallmark of the Tiger bullpen.

Rondon has a stratospheric 6.32 ERA this year, but has pitched better in his last few outings.

How he performs down the stretch will be instructive as the Tiger brass contemplates how to fix a bullpen that has become a perennial deficiency.

Daniel Norris

The prized trade deadline acquisition arrives with a solid resume and high expectations, as he will be indelibly stamped as the guy the Tigers got for David Price.

As a minor leaguer pitching at three levels last year, Norris was the picture of dominance, with a composite ERA of 2.53 , a WHIP of 1.11, and 163 strikeouts in 124 innings.

This year at Triple A Buffalo in the the Toronto Blue Jays system, though, the numbers predictably regressed as the 22-year-old faced more seasoned hitters. In 90 innings, his ERA was 4.27, and he had a WHIP of  1.51 with 78 strikeouts.

Norris’s first major league outing for the Tigers last Sunday was impressive, though, as he allowed only four hits and one run in 7.1 innings against the Baltimore Orioles while notching the win.

I suppose I’m being a bit picky as I closely watched Norris’s velocity,which by anecdotal reports had declined this year from the mid-90’s in 2014.

Sure enough, Norris sat at 89-92 mph while caging the Orioles, who trotted out a robust line-up in a hitter’s ball park.

I’m not sure whether that represents good news or bad–the good news of course being that Norris is capable of pitching effectively in the low 90’s, at least based on this one outing. The bad news is he didn’t flash the premium mid-90’s heat which has reportedly been his calling card.

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I know about “sneaky fast” and all that, as well as the fact that pitching is an art and velocity without late movement is a broken promise.

Nonetheless, all else being equal, I’d rather have seen Norris throwing in the mid rather than low-90’s last Sunday.

The difference between the two ranges is critical, because with the higher velo Norris’s ceiling is conceivably that of a top-of-the-rotation starter. Pitching in the lower 90’s probably consigns him to the middle of the rotation.

So although Norris will probably be shut down in the near future to protect his precious left arm, it will be enlightening to gauge both his pitchability and velocity down the stretch as he positions himself for a spot in next year’s rotation.

The Bottom Line

In Nick Castellanos, Anthony Gose, Bruce Rondon and Daniel Norris, the Detroit Tigers have four young players with star potential.

Of course the road from potential to reality is fraught with deep potholes that can devour even the finest carriages, and there are no assurances any of this number will ever achieve hallowed status.

But whatever the case, each player looms large in the Tiger plans for next year and what each does in the next two months will resonate with the team’s decision-makers.

So the band plays on.

Stay tuned.

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