The Detroit Tigers have long loved speedy, defense-first center fielders. From Curtis Granderson to Austin Jackson to Cameron Maybin, Detroit has always wanted someone who can man the spacious confines of Comerica Park.
After a season spent carouseling Jacoby Jones, Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook through center field, the Tigers decided to go to the free agent market to find their next strong defensive center fielder.
They ended up signing former Rangers, Mariners and Cubs center fielder Leonys Martin to a one-year, $1.75MM contract earlier in the offseason.
Martin is expected to be the primary center fielder for the Tigers in 2018.
Defensively, Martin gives the Tigers an experienced center fielder who has posted consistently excellent fielding numbers throughout his career.
Across four full-time seasons from 2013-2016, Martin posted UZR totals of 10.3, 11.3, 8.5 and 3.6 as a center fielder. His 0.1 score last year was in across 155 innings. The Cubs played him more in right field (where he posted a 2.4 UZR).
Martin’s value comes from his glove, but the Tigers will hope he can show more at the plate in 2018.
In 128 at-bats last season, Martin slashed an ugly .172/.232/.281. He posted the lowest rate of line drives and the highest rate of fly balls in his career, which led to a very low .207 BABIP.
If Martin can get back to hitting the ball on the ground and using his speed to get on base, his batting average will improve. His 23.9% strikeout rate was actually lower than his 2016 season, when he hit 15 home runs, stole 24 bases and hit .247.
Expecting Martin to be an above average hitter is a tall order. However, if Martin can provide elite defense and can collect a handful of home runs and steals, he will find his way into the lineup.
Lastly, his veteran presence is critical for a team that is rebuilding. Young guys like Jacoby Jones and Victor Reyes can from him as they adjust to the show.
Next up is one of the Tigers longest tenured players, even though he is only 25 years old.