Detroit Tigers: Predicting the Bench
Spring Training is under way for the Detroit Tigers. That means battles for roster spots. There will be fierce competition to see who makes Detroit’s bench. Here’s a prediction of who the team will take north come Opening Day.
For the Detroit Tigers, the bench unit hasn’t always been the team’s strong suit. That happens when a team is top heavy in terms of salary commitment, but Detroit’s bench has been, well… particularly under whelming.
Over the last two seasons, the bench has been littered with light-hitting options like Ezequiel Carrera, Don Kelly, Hernan Perez and Andrew Romine. Nowhere was this more relevant than in the 2014 ALDS. With Detroit’s season on the line, the team entered the bottom of the ninth inning down 2-0. Victor Martinez led off with a double, which was promptly followed by a J.D. Martinez double. Just like that the lead was cut in half and Detroit had a shot. However, any shot at winning the game dispersed quickly as what followed torpedoed the team’s season.
Bryan Holaday (who entered the game earlier as a replacement for the injured Alex Avila) struck out, before an intentional walk to Nick Castellanos. The next batter was Andrew Romine. Given that Romine accumulated only 23 RBI in five big league seasons to that point, it was natural for Brad Ausmus to pinch hit for him. Detroit’s pinch hitter was, he of 17 career hits, Hernan Perez. Perez grounded into a double play and ended the Tigers season.
While that was almost two years ago, the moral of the story remains that you can’t succeed with a weak bench.
This year, however, is different. The Tigers have some potential bench players that bring the ability to hit for power to the plate.
The most obvious addition, in terms of how many times his name will show up on the depth chart, is Mike Aviles. The 34-year-old can fill in defensively at second base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field.
Formerly of the Cleveland Indians, Aviles started in the Majors as an infielder. The veteran is a .265 career hitter, and since 2012 has averaged 25 extra-base hits and 40 RBI per season. He’ll provide a definite offensive upgrade.
While Gose isn’t Justin Upton or J.D. Martinez in terms of home run potential, he did manage to accumulate a respectable number of extra-base hits. In 140 contests, the center fielder smacked 24 doubles, eight triples and five home runs in 2015. He will likely function in some sort of a platoon situation alongside Cameron Maybin in center field.
Even if the former Toronto Blue Jay struggles in Spring Training, and Maybin ends up receiving the lion’s share of the starts and plate-appearances, Gose will provide value. As a fourth outfielder, he’d be a pinch-running threat off the bench late in close games. In addition, Gose would be a solid extra outfield player from a defensive standpoint.
Nothing Guaranteed, but Close to a Roster Spot Nonetheless
The former Diamondback would have been included on the lock list had it not been for the presence of fellow backstop Bryan Holaday.
Saltalamacchia likely has the upper hand in making the team given his ability to produce in the power department. From 2011 to 2014, the catcher averaged 16 home runs and 56 RBI per season. In addition to backing up James McCann, he could be the team’s primary pinch-hitting option.
Had it not been for the signing of Justin Upton, Collins would have been a lock to make the Opening Day roster. However, given the arrival of the star outfielder, the comparatively inexperienced Collins will have to fight for a bench spot. The fact that he hit .293 with 13 RBI in September is encouraging. Like Salty and Aviles, he provides the Tigers with another offensive bench option.
While not anywhere near a power threat, Romine still brings value to the team with his defensive flexibility. What’s more, he is also close to a lock to reach double digits in stolen bases—having done so the past two seasons. The presence of Aviles will likely diminish his value as a utility option.
Can Make it With a Strong Spring Training
Long-considered one of the organization’s best infield prospects, Machado made his debut in 2015, hitting .235 with five RBI and six runs scored in 24 games. He’s blocked by Romine and Aviles, not to mention Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler, but the rookie has a chance to make the team with an impressionable spring performance.
You can read more about how McGehee could fit with the Tigers here. Essentially, the CliffsNotes version of the story is that the veteran can provide depth at both corner infield spots while serving as a pinch hitting threat. If the 33-year-old can produce like he has in the past, he stands a good chance of making the team.
McGehee hit .287 with 177 hits, 76 RBI, 67 walks, 56 runs scored, 29 doubles, four home runs and four stolen bases in 2014 with the Miami Marlins.
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While Saltalamacchia is likely the frontrunner for the backup catcher job, Holaday could still make the team with a good showing. He’s shown promise at the plate, hitting over .280 in two of his brief stints with the Tigers. The catcher’s familiarity with a number of pitchers on the Detroit staff doesn’t hurt his chances either.
Wynton Bernard, Steven Moya, John Mayberry Jr., Nate Schierholtz and Mike Gerber
All five outfielders bring qualities to the table that would potentially help the Tigers, but given the stockpile of outfield players Detroit will bring north (Upton, Martinez, Maybin and Gose), it will be tough for any of the five to make the team.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, outfielder Anthony Gose and utility player Mike Aviles.
It is likely Detroit could carry a fourth bench player, depending on how many pitchers the team decides to use early in the season. If a fourth player is brought along, it would probably be either McGehee or Romine.
This is all without mentioning JaCoby Jones, who won’t be breaking camp with the Tigers due to his suspension. If he starts collecting at-bats in Triple-A, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him on the roster sometime later in the season given his exciting upside, raw power and defensive flexibility
Even though players like Moya, Machado and Collins may not make the Tigers final roster, that doesn’t mean they won’t help the team at some point in 2016. If last season taught us anything, it is that depth is key. Detroit’s depth is much improved this year, and if the team is forced to rely on it, they will be in good hands.
Who do you think will make Detroit’s bench? Tell us what you think and join the conversation on Facebook and/or Twitter.