With spring training approximately one month from getting underway and the Tigers having done most of their off-season shopping barring any minor post-lockout moves, I thought now is a good time to take a shot at predicting the 2022 Detroit Tigers opening day lineup when they take on the Seattle Mariners in a couple of months.
Although the Detroit Tigers made the move to acquire Tucker Barnhart on the first day of the offseason, I believe Eric Haase should be the starting catcher on opening day. I advocate this due to the fact that it is extremely likely that the Mariners starting pitcher on opening day will be the reigning American League Cy Young winner Robbie Ray. Ray is a lefty and in 2021 Haase posted a .907 OPS against left handed pitching as opposed to Barnhart’s .670 OPS against lefties. I do believe that Barnhart will have the majority of repetitions behind the plate as the season goes on, but on opening day Eric Haase should be the starting catcher.
The starting first baseman for the Detroit Tigers will largely depend upon the rules regarding service time manipulation in the new CBA. If teams are prohibited from manipulating service time for their prospects I believe we will see Spencer Torkelson at first base on opening day. However, if service time manipulation is still allowed following the new CBA agreement, then I believe the Tigers will keep Torkelson in Toledo to start the season and Jonathan Schoop will start at first base.
The starting second baseman on opening day will also be decided based on the service time manipulation rules, as Jonathan Schoop will be the starting second baseman if Spencer Torkelson is up with the major league club, but if Schoop is playing first, then I believe the Tigers will give Isaac Paredes the start at second base. Willi Castro is another candidate for this position, but after an extremely poor 2021 season I believe the Tigers are more intrigued to see what they have in Paredes. If Torkelson is in the Minors to start the year it will allow for Paredes to essentially have a 1 to 2 month showcase to convince the Tigers brass that he can be a regular player at the big league level.
This is a very easy one to predict, as barring any unforeseen circumstances Javier Baez will be the Tigers starting shortstop on opening day. He signed a 6 year, 140 million dollar contract right before the lockout and the Tigers believe he will be playing shortstop and hitting in the middle of the order for years to come.
Like shortstop, barring any surprises it is almost certain that Jeimer Candelario will be playing third base on opening day. Candelario has been one of the team’s most consistent players both at the plate and with the glove and has emerged as one of the leaders in the clubhouse. He has taken massive strides since being traded to the Tigers from the Chicago Cubs and is a player who I believe is extremely worthy of a contract extension when the time comes.
Going into the 2022 season the Detroit Tigers will have an intriguing competition for places in the outfield. The only guaranteed starter will be Robbie Grossman in right field, as he is coming off a fantastic season where he posted career highs in home runs, walks, and doubles and will be expected to anchor that corner outfield spot throughout the year.
I also predict that Akil Baddoo will be starting in left field on opening day barring any major performance issues or injuries. Baddoo still has question marks regarding his play after his impressive rookie year, but I feel he is the most reliable and trustworthy player out of the available options and has the experience of playing everyday, which makes him the best option to start in left field.
The starting center fielder will also be chosen based off of the CBA’s rules regarding service time manipulation. I believe that without service time manipulation, Riley Greene will be the Tigers opening day center fielder especially after his impressive 2021 season in Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo. However, if he starts in the minors due to service time reasons, I think Derek Hill should get the nod as the opening day center fielder. Hill is the best defender by far out of the available options including Victor Reyes and Daz Cameron, and he was decent enough at the plate where I would be comfortable with him keeping the seat warm until Riley Greene comes up to the majors.
This is a fairly obvious one, as Miguel Cabrera will be the team’s designated hitter on opening day. As we saw last year, AJ Hinch is not afraid to sprinkle Cabrera in at first base on occasion, but Cabrera’s everyday first basemen days are behind him, and will likely finish off his Tigers career with the majority of his starts at the designated hitter position.
The opening day starting pitcher is the position I have had most trouble coming up with. In my opinion it is a two horse race between Casey Mize and the newly acquired Eduardo Rodriguez. I understand the argument for Rodriguez starting opening day as he is the Tigers big ticket starting pitcher signee, and has plenty of big game experience in the playoffs with the Boston Red Sox. However, I think the opening day start should go to Casey Mize. Ever since Mize was drafted first overall in 2018, the Tigers brass has envisioned him as their ace of the future. Well, the future is now. Mize has shown that he has what it takes to be the ace of this staff throughout his play on the field and his leadership in the clubhouse. If the Tigers want Mize to flourish in the role as the ace of the staff, they need to treat him like one. In every normal situation, the ace of the pitching staff gets the ball on opening day, and that is why #12 should be the Detroit Tigers opening day starting pitcher.