Detroit Tigers: A Once-Barren Outfield is Becoming Bulbous

BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 02: Robbie Grossman #8 of the Detroit Tigers looks on prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates during a spring training game at LECOM Park on March 02, 2021 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
BRADENTON, FLORIDA - MARCH 02: Robbie Grossman #8 of the Detroit Tigers looks on prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates during a spring training game at LECOM Park on March 02, 2021 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

We toy with Cleveland Indians fans about their lack of outfield depth and the ownership’s unwillingness to address their needs in the grass. Heck, the fans do it to themselves. But the Detroit Tigers were running into some of the same issues just a short time ago. Names like Jason Krizan, Jacob Robson, and Danny Woodrow were roaming the outfield for the Toledo Mud Hens, all of whom have done great things in the minors but are not thought to be potential long-term solutions in the outfield.

Meanwhile, on the big-league roster, there was a struggling Christin Stewart in the field and at the plate; Victor Reyes, while showing contact skills, was never thought to be a starter on a competitive team in the first place. Travis Demeritte was bouncing between corners to try and find a home. Oh, and JaCoby Jones was injured, too.

Fixing the outfield is dually foundational in 2021 along with the pitching, but for a club that ranked 28th in WAR in the outfield in 2020, it was going to take some external help to do so. Enter Robbie Grossman, tough at-bat and newfound power on a two-year deal. Enter Nomar Mazara, a solid bounce-back candidate that fans and analysts alike have been gesturing to the front office to move on and is still just 25 years old.

Jones was able to put up a 2.1 WAR his last full season, Grossman 1.2 WAR in 2020, and Mazara 0.7 WAR before his disastrous 2020. Cherry-picking stats? A little, but assuming health, which is essentially what I did, the -2.6 WAR outfield turns into a 4 WAR outfield, which would have been good for 21st in 2019 (2020 is not a good comparison mark considering the 60-game schedule).

No, this doesn’t ‘fix’ the Detroit Tigers, but it is what we have been begging for: improvement. If the assumption is a Grossman-Jones-Mazara outfield with some Victor Reyes and Harold Castro sprinkled in, that is likely to be a much more productive trio than the Jorge Bonafacio’s and Travis Demeritte’s of last season.

Akil Baddoo

Beyond there, the Detroit Tigers also face intriguing decisions for their bench. 2020 Rule 5 selection Akil Baddoo has shown some of the reasons the Detroit Tigers selected him, flashing the power/speed combo that scouts salivate about. In theory, Baddoo would be a nice platoon option with Jones, who mashes left-handed pitching and would pair well with Baddoo’s left-handed bat. But it remains to be seen if Baddoo would be overmatched and a year early for such a role, especially considering he has never played above High-A to this point.

Beyond his ability to play center, Baddoo may also have an inside-track considering he was a Rule 5 selection as opposed to someone like Christin Stewart, who still has three options left, according to Fangraphs.

Daz Cameron

Some have already written off Cameron, citing his strikeout rate and a recent arm injury that has prevented him from getting game action thus far in spring, but some encouraging signs lead me to believe he has a big-league future, at some capacity.

Mainly, his ability to barrel the ball was starting to shine through toward the end of the season. In his last six games of 2020, Cameron had seven barrels (exit velocities over 95 mph) and seven hits. Small sample, of course, but so was the entire season–especially for someone like Cameron who did not join the club right away, to begin with. If that adjustment is a sign of things to come, maybe his reserve-role floor begins to rise.

Riley Greene

Perhaps a step behind the prior two names, Greene is showing day-by-day that his advanced approach at the plate is for real. The defense still needs some work; he’s prone to wander on routes time-to-time and can get eaten up on liners, but his athleticism and work ethic all point to him ironing those issues out over time.

While Greene is not likely to see MLB reps in 2021, the fact they have a legitimate, consensus top-50 prospect in the outfield is notable not only because he will likely rise quickly through the minors, but also because he’s the most highly touted outfield prospect since Cameron Maybin.

Outside Looking In: Derek Hill

Perhaps over-looked, perhaps justifiably so. Derek Hill unfortunately has never shown he would hit enough to warrant a sustainable major league role. However, if Hinch decides he wants someone with outfield versatility that would be a defensive savant late in games, maybe Derek Hill is a possibility for the club.

Hill could fill the Terrance Gore/Jarrad Dyson/Billy Hamilton role and while limited, maybe a nice weapon to deploy late in games.

Speaking to their depth, they actually designated Travis Demeritte for assignment, who would ultimately get claimed on waivers by the Atlanta Braves. Let us be clear: do not confuse this with the outfield being fixed, but the Detroit Tigers’ outfield will be improved at least for 2021; and unlike other years, they actually have options and decisions to be made about who will fill out their last roster spots, not their starting spots, on Opening Day.