Detroit Tigers: Five key players who will need a strong spring

(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

The rebuilding Detroit Tigers will learn a lot about their club in spring training this year. Here we look at five players who could use a good camp.

With a lot of uncertainty facing the Detroit Tigers in 2020, spring training, which begins in just a few days, will be important. Manager Ron Gardenhire will need to take the opportunity to learn about his club. Everyone will need to have a good spring, but for some, spring training will be especially important.

Here we look at five players who must have a good spring, all for different reasons. One is potentially playing for his Detroit Tigers life, one is going to be crucial for nailing down games, one is a team “veteran” who still has a lot to prove, and two were brought in to try to make the roster.

3B Jeimer Candelario

Jeimer Candelario was once a top-100 overall prospect in the Chicago Cubs system, but with no room for him on their major league roster, the Cubs traded him to the Tigers in 2017. He impressed the Tigers in a brief audition in 2017 and showed potential in 2018, but in 2019, his line fell from .224/.317/.393 to .203/.306/.337.

Many depth charts now have Dawel Lugo ahead of Candelario at third base. With the 26-year-old Candelario out of minor league options, he could be playing for his future in Motown this spring. The Tigers haven’t added anyone significant to play third base this winter, so the opportunity is still there, but with a poor spring it’s not out of the question that the Tigers could give up on him.

RHP Joe Jimenez

When the Tigers traded closer Shane Greene to the Atlanta Braves in the middle of last season, that opened the door for the now 25-year-old Joe Jimenez to take over the closer’s role. The 2018 All-Star had a subpar first half in setup duty, but from July 20 to the end of the season he posted a nice 2.55 ERA while collecting nine saves.

The closer’s job will be Jimenez’s to lose coming into the season. If he can have a good spring, that will go a long way towards building positive momentum for the club moving towards Opening Day. There’s nothing more demoralizing to a team than blowing games late; a strong performance from Jimenez would give Gardenhire one less thing to worry about.

More. Joe Jimenez's Closer Role Is His To Lose. light

LHP Matthew Boyd

I suppose that if the reigning Detroit Tiger of the Year needs to have a good spring, then everyone does, right? Yet Matthew Boyd – assuming that he’s still with the team on Opening Day, which as time goes on appears more likely – will have a lot to prove this year.

Despite coming off an overall solid 2019 in which he posted a 3.5 WAR, the 29-year-old southpaw had a rough end to the season, posting a 6.46 ERA over his final nine starts. He’ll have plenty of motivation to prove that that was a fluke and that his career really did turn a corner last year.

That subpar end to 2019 might have also diminished his trade value this offseason. Yet if the Tigers hold onto Boyd, he’ll also be out to prove that it was the right decision for the club to hold onto him and keep their faith in him instead of selling relatively low. After an offseason filled with trade speculation, a strong spring would go a long way towards silencing the critics.

RHP Zack Godley

The Tigers brought Zack Godley in on a minor league deal to potentially add some competition to the pitching staff. The right-hander, who will be 30 in April, has spent most of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks. His best season was in 2017, when he made 25 starts and posted a 4.2 WAR and 3.37 ERA. Last year didn’t go so well, and he ended up finishing the season with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Godley will have to impress to earn a rotation spot. Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Daniel Norris, and Ivan Nova have four spots taken, while Jordan Zimmermann, though coming off a rough year, is still available for the final spot. It’s also conceivable that Godley could win a bullpen spot. In any case, Godley will have to have a great spring to make the Tigers and potentially save his career.

OF Jorge Bonifacio

Given the uncertainty in the Tigers’ outfield right now, Jorge Bonifacio has an opportunity to breathe a second life into his career in 2020. The 26-year-old outfielder had spent his entire career in the Kansas City Royals system and showed a little promise in 2017, posting a .752 OPS in 113 games. A suspension for much of 2018 after testing positive for performance-enhacing drugs, however, seems to have derailed his career.

Like Godley, Bonifacio comes to the Tigers on a minor league deal. Even though playing time in the outfield – right field especially – seems to be up for grabs right now, Bonifacio is going to have to have a big spring in order to earn his chance. While he’s still relatively young, this could be the biggest chance he ever gets to get his career back on track. Hopefully, for him, he will take advantage of it.