Detroit Tigers: Five Players Primed for Improvement in 2021

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - Starting pitcher Casey Mize delivers the ball. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - Starting pitcher Casey Mize delivers the ball. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Every season sends surprises–in 2021, there are five Detroit Tigers that stick out as possibilities

The 2020 season was not all doom-and-gloom despite the rancid record and the accompanying antagonizing fanbase. Although it was another year in which the Detroit Tigers finished in the bottom five of the league, there were encouraging performances from some unlikely sources that could make 2021 and beyond a bit more interesting.

Jeimer Candelario finally produced to his offensive potential in 2020; supplying nearly 2 bWAR and slashing .297/.369/.503 while switching to a new defensive home after the injury to stopgap CJ Cron. Although most would concur Candy profiles best at third base, his noticeable improvement at first base over time could make him an option to play there again–especially considering manager AJ Hinch’s affinity for those who can play multiple spots.

Willi Castro also came on strong as a 23-year-old in 2020; getting a call-up after an injury to Niko Goodrum and hitting to a .349/.381/.550 slash across 36 games. Although Castro’s role in 2021 is not particularly clear considering his shortcomings with the glove, his strong offensive output last season all but cemented his roster spot for next season.

Likewise, someone like Gregory Soto has also found his role on the Detroit Tigers roster. 2019 had Soto mainly in long relief or spot-starts, but after the club filled some of those necessary gaps in 2020, it allowed Soto to focus on becoming a one-inning relief sprinter. Soto ranks in the 96th percentile in fastball velocity per Statcast while striking out over a batter per inning with his triple-digit heater.

Others could be mentioned as well–many were satisfied with Victor Reyes’ performance and Bryan Garcia appears to be a bullpen mainstay himself. While some will likely follow their coming out party with some regression, there are others who feel destined to step up for a multitude of reasons in 2021. I hesitate at the term ‘breakout,’ not only because it implies some level of prior expectation, but it also suggests a near-elite level of play that is unrealistic and improbable for these players. Considering this, there are five I see bound for a boost next year:

Michael Fulmer

There are two factors that play into Fulmer’s step ahead in 2021. The first and most obvious is that he continues to get further away from his Tommy John surgery. It was disappointing both the organization and Fulmer were trying to sell his health in 2020 when there were some evident gains that were still necessary to reach his pre-surgery self. With a full offseason of normal preparation, Fulmer is likely to find more stability and strength in himself next year compared to his comeback campaign.

Additionally, there may be some improvement due to a change in role. It is unclear how Hinch and Fetter view Fulmer, but it is fair to wonder if a bullpen stable may be in his future; where he would not have to worry so much about stamina and his slider/changeup offspeed repertoire would both play.

Casey Mize

A 6.99 ERA with inconsistent command is paradoxical when paired with Casey Mize, but that is exactly what we saw from him for the Detroit Tigers last season across his seven starts. His struggles are likely some combination of the adjustment to the competition of the major leagues, the oddities that came with the 2020 season, and just a small sample size–nevertheless, Mize feels destined for improvement next year where he should have more normalities.

Oh, and there’s this from Detroit Tigers GM Al Avila on Chris Fetter and Mize:

Isaac Paredes

Getting the call to the major leagues as a 21-year-old can be daunting, and that is precisely the assignment the Detroit Tigers gave to the young Isaac Paredes after an injury to CJ Cron forced teammate Jeimer Candelario across the diamond last year. Paredes’ defense at third base was impressive, but it remains to be seen how the club intends to address the position.

In an ideal world, perhaps Paredes begins the season in Toledo where he can play his way into an MLB role. The path to a step forward for Paredes is much like Mize: more experience, more repetitions, and another year of physical and mental maturity. Plus, both have a track record of success in the minor leagues that would suggest patience may be prudent. More recently, Paredes has been lighting up the Mexican Pacific League:

Daz Cameron

I’m still holding out hope for Cameron–who showed flashes of what the Detroit Tigers hope he can be for them: an every-day right fielder. Admittedly, there are some gains necessary with the bat in order to realize such a ceiling, but his athleticism and makeup coupled with his increase in hard-hit balls last year make the outcome more reasonable than some others.

Matthew Boyd

Admittedly, Boyd seems to come up every year as it pertains to possible breakout players and it has yet to come to fruition. But is there really room for Boyd to go down at this point? Could he be noticeably worse than his 70 ERA+ or his league-high 15 home runs allowed? An improvement seems inevitable for that purpose alone–remember, we’re talking improvement over breakout players.

Additionally, I am putting some trust into Hinch and Fetter here. Boyd has been one of the most frustrating and perplexing pitchers in the game. His strikeouts and control numbers are shockingly impressive; suggesting he can miss bats and throw strikes. Yet the long ball seems to continually find him. If Fetter can fix Boyd’s home run issues alone, it is a tangible, beneficial improvement for the veteran lefty.