Five outfielders from 2019 and a spring training invite are looking to fill the three starting spots for the Tigers.
The Tigers Opening Day outfield in 2019 against the Blue Jays was Nicholas Castellanos in right field, Mikie Mahtook in center, and Christin Stewart in left. By the end of the season, Victor Reyes, Harold Casto, JaCoby Jones, Niko Goodrum, Brandon Dixon, Travis Demeritte, and Dustin Peterson all saw time roaming the spacious grass in Comerica Park. The 2020 outfield is still a mystery because there are no clear cut leaders for any of the three positions on the 40-man roster. Non-roster invitee Jorge Bonifacio has an invite to spring training so there is a possibility he could join the roster, provided he has a strong spring. So, who should start on Opening Day in 2020? Let’s take a look at the candidates and check out the flexibility of each player when it comes to minor league options.
Demeritte came over from Atlanta in the Shane Greene deal and took over as the everyday right fielder after Nicholas Castellanos was traded. His major league debut on August 2nd against the Rangers was a good one, as he recorded a triple for his first major league, drew a pair of walks, and stole a base. He used that as a jumping point for the month, having an eight-game stretch from August 6th to August 14th where he went .379/.424/.586 and hit his first major league home run in Kansas City. He would finish the month of August batting .242, drawing 11 walks in 111 at-bats, posting an OPS+ of 119, (anything over 100 is considered good) and BABIP of .361. He struggled in September, though, hitting .200 and drawing just three walks. His power numbers in the minors showed three seasons in which he had 20 or more home runs and a career .195 ISO. So, does he fit in right or does he belong perhaps in left? Between Mississippi and Gwinnett the past few seasons, Demeritte has seen time in left field where in total, he played 157 games in two seasons and his ARM rating on Fangraphs is 1.9. Demeritte has three minor league options remaining.
Stewart’s disappointing 2019 is one reason to consider Demeritte in left field. By Statcast’s Outs Above Average, Christin Stewart was a minus 7. His struggles last year, before an injury kept him out for the month of August, are well documented, and if you read any of the scouting reports out there, Stewart is rated as a 40 defender at best, and is likely destined for a DH role. But that road is blocked by Miguel Cabrera. His wRC+ was just 80 last year, and the power did not spark as expected with only 10 home runs, though he did finish second on the team in doubles with 25. Some positives were his walk rate at 8.2% and his raw power grade is at 65, but at 26 years old, he’s not exactly a prospect anymore.
Many consider Reyes to be just a 4th outfielder (myself included) but he was able to play all three spots last year, and he was the only Tigers outfield who had a WAR above 1. In 69 games last season, Reyes went .304/.336/.431 for an OPS+ of 100. He showed some range running down a tough ball against the Pirates and a good arm against the A’s last season. Defensively according to Fangraphs, he rates at 5.9. However, he does not walk much (4.8%) and hits for little power.
Castro won the Detroit Sports Media Rookie of the Year Award primarily based on his stat line of .291/.305/.384. He saw time in centerfield when JaCoby Jones went down and also made a few appearances in left and right. At times during the season, I mentioned on my podcast how Castro’s story is a good one after being in the Tigers system since 2011. He stepped in when the Tigers needed him the most. That being said, his walk rate was 2.4% and he produced an ISO of just .093.
Jones had a 12-game hitting streak and had one of the best catches of the year last year against the Nationals.Jones improved at the plate from his 2018 season but was limited due to injuries. His speed and athleticism makes him the ideal candidate to start everyday in centerfield, but like many in the Tigers outfield, he needs to cut down on his strikeouts. He also scored poorly in most advanced defensive metrics, though he was rated highly in 2018.
As MLB Trade Rumors discussed, Bonifacio produced a respectable MLB stat line of .255/.320/.432 and 98 wRC+ just two years ago, but he has struggled in the PCL over the past two seasons, where the juiced ball in Triple-A was in full effect. His .222 batting average, BABIP of .252, and a drop in his walk rate don’t suggest future success. Bonifacio can play both corner spots and if he can regain any of his 2017 form, the Tigers could have a good depth piece.
2020 Perhaps Too Early Prediction
No matter what Bonifacio does, he should get time in Toledo. JaCoby Jones should start in center, with Travis Demeritte in left-field, platooning with Christin Stewart, and Victor Reyes in right. Now, the Tigers could sign Yasiel Puig or Domingo Santana and all of this could be for naught, but the one constant is to keep Castro in the infield to fill in when needed. The depth charts in the minors should be interesting, with Derek Hill, Daz Cameron, and Troy Stokes Jr. on the 40-man, but the Tigers should have plenty to choose from on their 26-man roster.