After previously serving in a utility role for the Detroit Tigers, Niko Goodrum has a big opportunity to be the team’s regular shortstop.
The Detroit Tigers did a lot to upgrade their infield this offseason, adding C.J. Cron to play first base and Jonathan Schoop to play second. As far as shortstop is concerned, the team already has a strong candidate to play there every day in Niko Goodrum.
Goodrum, entering his age 28 season, has turned into quite a find for the Tigers. After several years in the Minnesota Twins organization, Goodrum saw some brief action with the Twins in 2017, but the team let him go as a free agent following the season. Goodrum came to Tigers spring training camp as a non-roster invitee in 2018 and not only made the team but also was a solid contributor.
In 2018, Goodrum posted an OPS+ of 100 in 131 games, hitting 29 doubles and 16 home runs while playing all around the diamond. Last year, in a season cut short by a groin injury in late August, Goodrum followed that up with 27 doubles and 12 home runs while batting .248. Goodrum hit all around the batting order while playing every position except pitcher and catcher for the Tigers. That includes logging over 150 innings at five different positions.
Now, with the team looking to take a leap forward in their rebuilding process, Goodrum has a big opportunity to shine, as he comes into camp as the favorite to win the regular shortstop job. Last year, when Jordy Mercer went down with injury, Goodrum got a chance to play a lot of shortstop, mainly in the month of June. In 2019, at shortstop, Goodrum posted a range factor that was well above league average and was worth five defensive runs saved.
Goodrum isn’t going to simply be handed the shortstop job, however. The team also has the soon-to-be 23-year-old Willi Castro, who some websites have listed in their top ten Tigers prospects lists. So, Goodrum will likely have to have a good spring to earn that starting role.
Still, it would be nice for Goodrum to finally be able to settle into one position. It’s still unclear, however, where Goodrum would hit in the order. Goodrum batted fourth a lot last year, particularly early in the season, and there were also stretches where Ron Gardenhire batted him at the top of the order and times when he batted him sixth or seventh.
Goodrum has speed, posting double digits in steals each of the last two years, so if he gets on base enough he could be a nice top-of-the-order hitter. It would be nice if he could get his OBP up a little from his career mark of .315, but he has the tools to be a nice tablesetter for the big guys in the middle.
With such a big opportunity in 2020, hopefully, Goodrum will take advantage of it and have a career year. Even if he does what he has each of the last two seasons – double digits in home runs and steals with lots of doubles – he will continue to be a big contributor to the Detroit Tigers’ lineup.