Detroit Tigers: Predicting the Opening Day Starting Lineup
With Spring Training under way, baseball is officially back. Here’s a look at who should start for the Detroit Tigers when Opening Day rolls around.
After a run of four consecutive division titles, the Detroit Tigers struggled mightily in 2015. The team finished 74-87. While that record secured the team a protected first-round pick, which came in handy in free agency, it also doomed the team to last place in the American League Central. Only the Oakland Athletics had a worse record in the whole of the American League.
Despite the losing year, there is much optimism heading into 2016 season. Detroit returns much of the core that won four Central titles, with most of the players plying their trade on offense.
The pitching staff improved leaps and bounds in the offseason with the likes of Jordan Zimmermann, Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, Mark Lowe and Mike Pelfrey joining the staff. For the time being, however, driving in runs remains Detroit’s meal ticket.
Most of the lineup is set in stone, with the only real position battle taking place in center field. With that being said, here’s a look at who should start on Opening Day for the Detroit Tigers.
Catcher: James McCann
One of the first straightforward decisions, McCann is assured the starting job now and for the next decade after a solid rookie season. The 25-year-old brought a defensive reputation to the Major Leagues, and largely lived up to it with zero errors. He also threw out 41% of would-be base stealers. Per Baseball Reference, the rookie led American League Catchers in Total Zone Runs as a catcher with 11.
McCann also showed considerable promise at the plate. In 114 games, the former second-round pick hit .264 with a .297 on-base percentage, a .387 slugging percentage and a .683 OPS. The rookie could obviously improve his on-base numbers (just 16 total walks), but he didn’t strike out much either. McCann went down on strikes only 90 times. Higher walk totals and plate discipline will improve with more experience and playing time, so expect the catcher to improve in that regard over the course of his career.
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All told, McCann scored 32 runs, smacked 18 doubles and seven home runs. He drove in 41 runs while accumulating an astonishing five triples for a catcher.
One of Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Bryan Holaday will serve as the deputy to McCann, who should hit seventh or eighth in the lineup.
First Base: Miguel Cabrera
A fully-healthy Miguel Cabrera would start at first base and hit third in every single lineup in the Major Leagues.
Despite an injury-riddled campaign in 2015 that limited the slugger to 119 games, 18 home runs and 76 RBI, Miggy still won a batting title, a Silver Slugger award and finished 11th in American League MVP voting.
Given his status as a future Hall of Famer, not to mention a stellar record of production, Cabrera will be the starter at first base for as long as the Tigers will have him.
Second Base: Ian Kinsler
Another foregone conclusion (sensing a pattern here?) the only real question is where the second baseman will hit in 2016.
Kinsler is coming off a stellar season that saw him hit .296 with a .342 on-base percentage, a .428 slugging percentage and a .770 OPS. In total, the former Texas Ranger played in 154 games, and drove in 73 runs to go along with 35 doubles, seven triples, 11 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a relatively-miniscule 80 strikeouts. He posted a 6.0 WAR, the second best of his career.
Like Cabrera, 33-year-old also garnered some MVP attention, finishing 21st in the voting.
The most encouraging stat of Kinsler’s 2015 campaign was the fact that the second baseman produced in the second half.
Generally speaking, the Detroit infielder’s production tends to drop off in the season’s second half. That wasn’t the case last year. Form July 20th on, Kinsler hit a blistering .328 with 44 runs scored and 27 extra-base hits. He also had more RBI over that span (34) than strikeouts (26).
With Justin Upton on board, the second baseman could hit either first or second this season.
Shortstop: Jose Iglesias
Jose Iglesias enjoyed his best season in 2015, hitting .300 while earning All-Star honors for the first time. The 26-year-old posted a 1.5 WAR and brought his usual stellar defense.
He’ll occupy a place in the Tigers’ lineup for years to come given his excellent defense. Regardless of who hits above him, expect Iglesias to slot in as the order’s ninth hitter. This way, he’ll serve as a quasi-leadoff hitter.
Third Base: Nick Castellanos
It’s hard to believe, but Castellanos is only 23-years-old. Over the course of his young career, the third baseman has drove in 139 runs in 313 games played. Not only is he already a postseason veteran, but he’s the long-term answer at the hot corner for the Tigers.
Given how he’s steadily improved over the course of his career, expect a much improved year out of Castellanos in 2016.
From 2014 to 2015, the third baseman improved his numbers in the following categories: hits, doubles, triples, home runs, triples, walks, slugging percentage and OPS. He has worked hard to improve his defense. During the 2014 campaign, Castellanos was worth -28 zone total fielding runs above average. That number dropped to -9 in 2015. Expect it to drop even more this coming season.
Depending on who hits leadoff, Nick Castellanos should bat sixth or seven for Detroit.
Left Field: Justin Upton
You don’t hand a player a six-year, $132.75 million deal to ride the pine. Justin Upton will be fully unleashed upon the American League as a member of the Tigers’ batting order.
There’s a lot to like about Upton joining the team, but the best part of it all is the Upton will hit in a lineup that also features Cabrera, Kinsler and the two Martinez sluggers, Victor and J.D.
The former Arizona outfielder could hit second, fifth or sixth for Detroit, and will most likely approach 30 home runs and 100 RBI in terms of production. A .300 batting average isn’t out of the question either.
Center Field: Cameron Maybin
Center field is the only position on the diamond where Detroit isn’t locked in. That being said, expect Cameron Maybin to start on Opening Day.
A platoon situation with incumbent Anthony Gose is entirely plausible, given both players’ ability to run, but Maybin is simply the more complete hitter. The former Tigers’ prospect brings more pop and the potential to drive in runs to the table. If he can continue to post a batting average similar to the .267 number he had in 2015 with the Atlanta Braves, Maybin will start.
What’s more, Gose may better suited for a bench role given his potential as a pinch-running threat.
Maybin should hit either first or seventh for the Tigers.
Right Field: J.D. Martinez
Finally, we’re back to the obvious selections.
Martinez was perhaps Detroit’s best player last season. The outfielder proved that 2014 was not fluke with a stat line that included 38 home runs, 102 RBI, 93 runs scored, 33 doubles and a .282 batting average.
To go with the gaudy numbers, the former Astro was one of only 13 players to eclipse the 100-RBI mark. What’s more he earned All-Star and Silver Slugger honors, in addition to being a Gold Glove finalist.
Mike Trout and Jose Altuve were the only other players in the American League to be at least a Gold Glove finalist and win a Silver Slugger.
Expect J.D. to hit fourth for Detroit in 2016.
Next: The Tigers Had a Stellar Offseason
Designated Hitter: Victor Martinez
Come on, who else?