Detroit Tigers: Can Niko Goodrum make the team?

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CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 28: Niko Goodrum
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 28: Niko Goodrum /
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The Detroit Tigers have a utility infielder spot open on their 25-man roster, and Niko Goodrum‘s hot hitting at spring training could earn him the role.

The Detroit Tigers saw a lot of veteran talent depart this offseason. Lost among the flurry of trades was the release of veteran utility infielder Andrew Romine, who was claimed by the Seattle Mariners back in November.

Romine’s departure opens up a spot on the Tigers bench heading into 2018. Dixon Machado looked primed to fill that spot until Detroit’s trade of Ian Kinsler all but secured Machado the starting second base job.

So without Romine or Machado competing for a bench role, the Tigers will turn to a cavalcade of minor league free agent signings to compete for the role(s).

Career minor-leaguer Ronny Rodriguez and a pair of veterans in Alexi Amarista and Pete Kozma have gotten most of the attention so far. However, it’s the most under-the-radar addition, Niko Goodrum, who is showing the most in camp. In fact, many say he has the upper hand for the final bench role, at least at the moment.

In 11 games, the 26-year-old Goodrum is 8-for-22 (.364) with three doubles, two home runs, four RBI and three stolen bases. His performance has gotten the attention of the Tigers brass, including new manager Ron Gardenhire.

“He knows he’s got an opportunity here to open some eyeballs,” Gardenhire said. “He’s doing what you have to do. It’s early in camp and we still have a long ways to go, but he’s playing very well and he’s playing well wherever we put him.”

Who is Niko Goodrum?

Goodrum was originally drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the second round of the 2010 draft. It took him seven minor league seasons, but the versatile infielder finally made his big league debut in 2017. Goodrum struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, going 1-for-17 with a walk and ten strikeouts.

However, Goodrum was much better at Triple-A Rochester in 2017. He slashed .269/.305/.411 with 13 home runs, 11 stolen bases and 71 runs scored. While the 13 home runs were a career-high, Goodrum has always showed prolific speed. He swiped 35 bases in 2014 and 29 in 2015.

Still, Goodrum’s value to the Tigers will not be from his bat but from his glove – or rather gloves. Goodrum brings exceptional defensive versatility to Detroit, having played every position on the field except pitcher and catcher. His primary positions are shortstop and third base, but he can fill in across the diamond – similar to Romine.

Goodrum’s Role

The switch-hitter could conceivably slide in as a super-sub fourth man off the bench. John Hicks will likely be the backup catcher, with Victor Reyes serving as the fourth outfielder. Alexi Amarista seems likely to take a role as a backup infielder, leaving one spot available. JaCoby Jones is an option, but his 42.2% strikeout rate last season needs some fine tuning at Triple-A. That leaves Goodrum competing with Ronny Rodriguez and Pete Kozma.

Goodrum’s outfield experience gives him a leg up on the competition. He could theoretically start anywhere on the diamond in a pinch. That makes him a very valuable piece for a thin Detroit bench heading into 2018.

Next: Ten Reasons to be excited about 2018

Goodrum’s defensive versatility and big league experience (although minimal) should give him a chance to break camp with the Tigers. Goodrum will never be an elite big league hitter. However, he should provide enough value to help Tigers fans forget about Andrew Romine.

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