Spring Training is here with the Detroit Tigers in the Lakeland sunshine. Our thoughts have turned to the diamond as Detroit’s prospective Boys of Summer are now hearing the voice of that turtle we hear about around this time each season.
As happens each Spring we pass the days in February and March wondering who will grab those final few spots on the club to get a coveted Opening Day roster designation.
There was a time not too long ago, think 2012/13, where Tigers fans debated in the spring about who would get the last spot in the bullpen, the second utility role, and maybe the backup catcher slot. This was the only intrigue guys like Hall of Fame writer Tom Gage had to speculate about in the Detroit News because the roster was set with stars everywhere. Now? The 25th guy for the ‘13 Tigers is roughly equal to the 16th guy on the ‘20 Tigers. A little harder roster to pin down these days.
Will it be an older veteran looking to hang on for another summer in the sun? Or a young guy who is barely known outside his immediate family tearing through the Grapefruit League in a bid to head north with the big club?
Let’s take a shot at predicting who makes the initial 26-man roster (26 still doesn’t look right, huh?). This is done knowing the Tigers will be holding a cattle call for the better part of the year as they churn the roster at regular intervals to give plenty of guys a look. We’ll start with what could be the club’s strongest area with a few breaks.
1. Matthew Boyd
2. Spencer Turnbull
3. Daniel Norris
4. Ivan Nova
5. Jordan Zimmermann
Barring injury or trade, this seems like a fairly sure bet as we head toward Opening Day. This current group isn’t especially inspiring, but it also isn’t the worst Detroit has ever rolled north with. Many of us watched Felipe Lira, Greg Gohr and Omar Olivares in 1996. Silver linings, right?
Michael Fulmer looms in mid-Summer to excite many fans and there is at least some chance we’ll see a couple of the hopeful wave of hot pitching prospects emerge for a look.
1. Joe Jimenez
2. Buck Farmer
3. Bryan Garcia
4. Rony Garcia
5. David McKay
6. Beau Burrows
7. Zack Godley
Obviously the eyebrow-raiser here is Beau Burrows. He’s a starter and always has been. Some evaluators have seen the handwriting has been on the wall for a while, though. There’s a good chance he’s going to be a reliever eventually. So why wait? He’s already on the 40-man roster. If he has a good Spring let’s see if his stuff takes a jump ahead working in shorter stints. The 3-batter rule is in effect, he won’t be a situational guy. He can still work multi-inning appearances and transition back to starting if the club decides to do that. Maybe Burrows will be the reliever Drew VerHagen never became.
You could put names on the wall and toss darts and have a shot at being correct with this bullpen. There should be plenty of upheaval through the season and everyone in the organization with a pulse – and a pulse might be optional – will get a chance. Godley has an opt-out if he isn’t on the roster by March 15, so the team may carry him north simply to see what he can offer if he isn’t terrible in the spring. Greg Soto, Jose Cisnero, and others will be seen. The Tigers should also be trolling the cutdown lists of the other 29 clubs looking for a live arm being set loose.
Joe Jimenez might make his triumphant return to the All-Star Game if he has a hot start early in the year. This club seems ripe for a spot filled by “a closer from a bad team” unless Cabrera really hits again.
Opening Day Lineup
C- Austin Romine
1B- CJ Cron
2B- Jonathan Schoop
SS- Niko Goodrum
3B- Jeimer Candelario
RF- Cameron Maybin
CF- JaCoby Jones
LF- Christin Stewart
DH- Miguel Cabrera
It’s a bit saddening to look over this list and say “yeah, that’s better than they were!”
This looks like a fairly average at best defensive club but in the age of homers and strikeouts defense takes a mini-backseat, it’s probably better a few guys can actually produce some power. Hopefully, Cron and Schoop can do so along with a resurgence of Miguel Cabrera.
Mercer ended last year playing well, and although he’s a non-roster invitee, the organization seems to like him. Castro and Reyes hit enough to get more at-bats. It’s a decent enough bench for a rebuilding team.
Once again, this reserve group should see plenty of change even in the opening weeks and throughout the year. Eric Haase, Jake Rogers, Willi Castro, Dawel Lugo, Troy Stokes, and a few others might vie for a spot on Opening Day with a solid Spring. It wouldn’t be surprising to see as many as 50 or more players appear with the big league team at points throughout the year,
The Tigers should be improved this year. That’s not a high bar to cross after last year’s 47-114 thrill ride. A final prediction will come closer to Opening Day, but it’s still hard to see this club pushing past 55 or 60 wins as of now even if lots of things go right.
In the meantime we’ll continue to dream on Casey Mize’s splitter, Matt Manning’s heater, Riley Greene’s sweet swing, a crisp Isaac Paredes line drive, and Tarik Skubal’s continued amazing rise from 9th round obscurity. The Tigers are on the clock for the first overall pick in this June’s 2020 Draft, but this roster may also position them for likely first overall pick Kumar Rocker in the 2021 Draft.