Mitts popping, bats cracking, sun shining–just some of the stimulations for the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Florida as all but a few stragglers are present to prepare for the upcoming, semi-normal 162-game schedule for the 2021 season.
Unfortunately, we enter another year in which there are many roster spots up-for-grabs and other spots patched with stop-gaps while the club continues to rebuild the farm system and wait on their top talent to establish themselves at the big league level. However, this year has the potential for some of the most compelling storylines since the rebuild began.
New manager, top prospects, make-or-break seasons–all present this spring as the club plans to discern which players should be entering the Detroit Tigers’ competitive window. Of course, with a new manager comes a new staff; and there is a lot of buzz about the pitching and what Chris Fetter can bring to the table. Lots to look for, but look for these plots to top headlines in the coming weeks:
1) The Detroit Tigers Rotation: How is it Constructed and Who Makes It?
The challenge associated with going from a 60-game season to a grueling 162-game schedule is ensuring that pitchers stay healthy after presumably taking a much higher workload than last season. The overall sentiment coming from players is that, if anything, it was some extra time to rest their arms. But many of them have continued to throw in the offseason in hopes they will have their respective leash lengthened in 2021.
For the Detroit Tigers, this brings intrigue particularly because of the names they have added to a stable that was essentially full anyway (if they wanted it to be). Jose Urena, Erasmo Ramirez (minors), and Julio Teheran (minors) all have big-league starting experience. Add this to Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Michael Fulmer, and Daniel Norris and it is easy to forecast congestion.
The easy answer is to shift some of these names to the bullpen. While guys like Ramirez and Norris do have starting experience, their more recent and more successful work as of late has come out of the bullpen. For what it’s worth–ESPN recently came out with rotation projections for each organization and left off
Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, and that article was released before Teheran was signed. Such an approach would be asinine, but it goes to show the number of options the Detroit Tigers truly have.
This season will almost certainly not be for the old school baseball fan as it pertains to the tigers’ rotation. Expect lots of maneuvering on the mound in 2021; with a six-man rotation, two or three inning starts, and even some movement from Toledo all on the table this year.
2) What Will the Detroit Tigers Do With Isaac Paredes?
Second base, shortstop, third base—the team has moved Isaac Paredes around the infield dirt and still don’t seem completely convinced about his defensive home or even his immediate big-league future.
Heading into the offseason, there were a couple of gaping holes that could presumably be filled by Paredes. If the club had opted to keep Candelario at first base, that would leave Paredes to third where he showed solid defensive skills in limited work in 2020. However, the club signed Renato Nuñez to a minor league deal, although he’s likely to make the team save a complete flop in spring. Nuñez would push Candelario back to his more-familiar third base, but even Nuñez has seen time at third base himself.
The other option would have been to put the second base experiment to the test at the major league level. This would have been risky business, considering Director of Scouting at Prospects Live James Chipman called his limited repetitions at the position awkward. The club would ultimately bring back last year’s second baseman Jonathan Schoop to fill the void in lieu of Paredes.
Starting Paredes in Toledo is probably the right move. Not only considering his pedestrian .220/.278/.290 slash line across 34 games in 2020, but also because he just turned 22 years old, still relatively young in the context of player development.
Even if the plan is to start Paredes in Toledo, though, spring training could lend more insight on where the organization sees him defensively long-term as well as how soon he might be able to force the issue of a call-up in 2021.
3) How Much Impact Will the Detroit Tigers Coaching Staff Have?
AJ Hinch said it himself: if they want to get the team turned around, they’ll have to get the pitching right. Virtually everyone championed the hiring of AJ Hinch as manager (provided one wasn’t still bent out of shape about the sign-stealing scandal) and the subsequent hires of coaches like George Lombard and Chris Fetter.
It is undeniable that a manager and coaching staff does have an impact on the players and team success, but quantifying that can be difficult. Perhaps the best way is to monitor year-over-year improvement or to get anecdotal praise from players directly.
There are a couple of key players that come to mind that will offer a reflection of the staff. On the pitching side, Matthew Boyd and Jose Ureña are two names to watch. In the field, Willi Castro and Jake Rogers may offer insight into the effectiveness of the staff.
Of course, storylines will continue to develop over the next month, but leading up to Opening Day, these are some of the most important questions that will influence the 2021 season and the trajectory of the rebuild.