The Detroit Tigers will take the field on Thursday as they face Florida Southern College. The next day, the team faces its first MLB team of the 2017 season the Baltimore Orioles.
Once that first pitch is thrown, the Detroit Tigers fans will get glimpses of what they can expect to see throughout 2017.
While Spring Training games do not show off everything that the Tigers will bring to daily games in the regular season, there will be occasional signs of brilliance. As there are several young players on the team, it is time for a few to have breakout seasons.
Breaking Out Again
Last year, my pick for a breakout season was Nick Castellanos. And, at the beginning of the 2016 season, he did not disappoint. He turns 25 in early March and he looks fit and ready for action. In his 110 games in 2016, he raised his batting stats to .285/.331/.496 with an OPS of .827. In 2015, his stats were .255/.303/.419 with an OPS of .721. He also added three extra home runs in 2016 over 2015 before his season was cut short with the hand injury.
With the improvements that Castellanos had in 2016, he still has room for more growth. He looks stronger and more like a mature adult rather than a young man leaving his teens. With that strength and maturity, fans could see even more from Nick Castellanos. Remember that he started playing third base when he was only 22 years old. Most 22-year-olds are still finishing college.
According to Anthony Fenech with the Detroit Free Press, Castellanos is looking better than ever this season. Fenech quoted Castellanos as saying: “I feel like the ball is definitely jumping off my bat a little more.”
So, expect Nick Castellanos to have an even better season than he did in 2016. As he inches ever closer to .300, Castellanos will turn even more heads and earn more respect both on offense and defense.
After being named the AL Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer was the breakout pitcher of 2016. This year, I’m predicting that Daniel Norris will make a big impact. I’m not foreseeing any pitching awards, but this will be his year to draw attention to more than his good looks. He, like Nick Castellanos, is still a very young man; his 24th birthday is on April 25.
Norris is no stranger to the Big Leagues, having pitched his first game with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014 when he was only 21 years old. Throughout the 2016 season, his confidence on the mound seemed to be an issue. There was just something that seemed a little off. But, in his last game on September 30 in Atlanta, he seemed like a different pitcher. He threw 114 pitches, struck out 8 and gave up 1 run in 6.2 innings pitched.
That last September game was not an anomaly. In fact, each game he pitched in September saw his ERA drop. He began the month with a 3.94 ERA and ended it with a 3.38. During this off-season, he spent time with the ageless Ian Kinsler and a Navy Seal. And, a few days ago, Norris enjoyed a dinner out with Justin Verlander as the Ace gave Norris a pep talk about trusting his “considerable stuff” (as reported by Peter Gammons on the Daily Gammons). With mentors and friends like Verlander and Kinsler, Norris has significant support behind him.
As my candidate for breakout pitcher, I expect to see more strikeouts and a slightly lower ERA. If Norris really has it in 2017, it will be evident by the look in his eyes when he is on the mound.
One More Breakout Candidate
There is one more player who is ready for a big season both on offense and defense: James McCann. In 2015, he was the best defensive catcher in the AL with a perfect fielding percentage. In 2016, he was still one of the best defensively, finishing second in caught stealing numbers. But, his offense suffered. His batting stats were low: .221/.272/.358 and an OPS of .629. He is too strong and he works too hard for numbers to be that low.
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His biggest problem in 2016 came from the ankle injury that he suffered early in the season. In an article from Chris McCosky with The Detroit News, McCann said: “I did a lot of self-evaluation in the offseason and I talked to Lloyd [McClendon] a little during the offseason. We’ve come to camp on the same page and we’ve had a real good first week together.”
In the same article, Brad Ausmus said about McCann: “I’ve said before, I think he’ll hit 15 to 20 homers…Especially hitting towards the bottom of the lineup — shorten up and put the ball in play.” If McCann can do this, while maintaining his defensive abilities, he could be a candidate for a Gold Glove and possibly even a Silver Slugger.
Just imagine what the Tigers could look like if McCann, Norris, and Castellanos can bring big numbers in 2017. Add in the proven numbers from Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, and Ian Kinsler and we Tigers fans could be in for a real treat.