Spring Training is well under way for the Detroit Tigers and some eye-opening performances have given some clues on who will travel to Cleveland to open the season March 26th.
Long gone are the days when Detroit would enter spring with a single roster spot open for a fourth outfielder. The spring will be far from a meritocracy; we have witnessed some amazing performances from some top prospects who will certainly begin the year in the minor leagues. However, there are still some interesting battles happening; third base, left field, and back up catcher are just a few spots that could go one of a few ways.
- Matthew Boyd
- Spencer Turnbull
- Daniel Norris
- Ivan Nova
- Jordan Zimmermann
This group has been a given since the signing of Nova. The Tigers wanted to give themselves some depth so they wouldn’t have to be forced with the thought of putting one of their high-end pitching prospects on the Opening Day roster in the event of an injury. Even in the event of an injury, though, look for someone like Tyler Alexander or Hector Santiago to act as a replacement early in the season.
Fast forward to the second half of the season and the rotation could look very different even assuming health. Michael Fulmer is scheduled to return at some point in July and, given what we have seen this spring, it’s hard to see a scenario where Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, or Matt Manning are not knocking down the gates into Comerica Park.
- Joe Jimenez
- Buck Farmer
- Bryan Garcia
- Rony Garcia
- Gregory Soto
- David McKay
- Jose Cisnero
- Tyler Alexander
This position group is likely to see a lot of up-and-down this season. Joe Jimenez and Buck Farmer are likely the only mainstays here; with a combination of poor performances and injuries likely causing some arms to get exchanged out through the season.
I like David McKay as a dark horse here; the stuff has been excellent this spring and pitched to a 3.11 FIP while striking out 29 batters in just 19.1 innings for the Tigers in 2019. I also like the idea of Alexander in the bullpen as both another left-handed option behind a talented but inconsistent Gregory Soto as well as a long-relief go-to for Ron Gardenhire. A move like keeping Alexander in the bullpen also naturally alleviates some of the logjam that exists with starting pitchers in the upper minor leagues.
Some other bullpen arms we might see through out the season include Alex Wilson, Beau Burrows, Kyle Funkhouser, Anthony Castro, and John Schreiber.
- Austin Romine – C
- CJ Cron – 1B
- Jonathan Schoop – 2B
- Niko Goodrum – SS
- Jeimer Candelario – 3B
- Travis Demeritte – LF
- JaCoby Jones – CF
- Cameron Maybin – RF
- Miguel Cabrera – DH
Nearly half of the line up was signed this off-season in a flurry of one-year deals made by Tigers GM Al Avila. This group of position players should be improved over the 2019 squad both defensively as well as on the offensive side of the ball, especially if Miguel Cabrera is actually healthy.
A couple of question marks still remain with third base and left field. Jeimer Candelario is the choice over Dawel Lugo mainly because Candy has shown the ability to take walks while Lugo has struggled to work counts. I also give Candelario’s defense a slight edge here and think for those reasons that he will break spring with the club. Both players are out of options, so the result of this battle may even result in one of these players departing from the organization.
Starting Demeritte in left field has both to do with offensive punch he has shown this spring coupled with Christin Stewart’s struggles at the plate. Travis Demeritte had played right field exclusively for the Tigers in 2019 but had actually played more games in left field for Atlanta’s Triple-A team prior to the trade that sent him here. Demeritte’s strike out numbers are something to keep an eye on, but I think at this point it’s easy to see him unseating Christin Stewart for the regular job.
- Grayson Greiner – C
- Christin Stewart – OF
- Victor Reyes – OF
- Jordy Mercer – IF
The bench is likely to see some turnover as well, but this is how I envision them starting. Greiner and Eric Haase are a coin flip at this point as to who I believe will make the team. Jake Rogers would be there if we were going solely off of merit, but the Tigers like the idea of him working with the big pitching prospects in the minors and possibly coming up with them as they are ready.
Stewart is on a short leash even as a bench player as his value to the team dwindles if he struggles to hit. Ron Gardenhire has spoken this spring about how Reyes has earned the right to a roster spot heading into spring, so it’s tough to see them going another direction as long as he is healthy.
Lastly, the versatility of Jordy Mercer is what I think ultimately gives him a roster spot. Mercer’s ability allows CJ Cron and Jonathan Schoop both to get breathers, keeps Miguel Cabrera from easing his way back on the field, and it also allows Niko Goodrum to be the everyday shortstop as they had planned. Dawel Lugo and Harold Castro are other options for the spot, but neither played well in 2019. The flexibility Mercer gives the club, not to mention his sparkling defensive outings thus far in spring training, will ultimately lead them take him north.
A quarter of the roster may change over between now and September, but this is where I see the team starting off. Some big promotions are on the horizon and the possibility of mid-season trades still exists as well. This roster is not a playoff roster, but improvements should make a trip to the ballpark more fun this summer.