Could former 19th-round draft pick steal Tigers’ Opening Day roster spot?

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers
New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers / Mark Cunningham/GettyImages

The Detroit Tigers are only a few days away from their first spring training game against the Yankees, and just a couple days removed from their first full workout, and it seems like only a few players on this very young Tigers team are absolutely safe from being demoted before Opening Day. AJ Hinch told reporters that he expects competition for the 26-man roster to be fierce (subscription required).

There are a few certainties in the Tigers' crop of young players — Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Kerry Carpenter, Tarik Skubal — and the newly-signed veterans are all shoo-ins, but the lineup has the potential to look pretty different than it did last year. 18 non-roster invitees are in the mix at spring training, and although two of them (Jackson Jobe and Ty Madden) have already been told they're just at spring camp to observe, the rest could plausibly have a shot at the Opening Day roster.

One of those NRIs, the Tigers' No. 21 prospect Justice Bigbie (per MLB Pipeline), is already turning heads. He garnered praise from president of baseball operations Scott Harris, who said that Bigbie "has put himself in the big-league conversation at some point in the near future."

Detroit Tigers' No. 21 prospect Justice Bigbie is turning heads at spring training

Bigbie was a 19th-round draft pick in 2021 but certainly got the Tigers' attention in 2023, when he made it from High-A to Triple-A and hit .343/.405/.537 across the season with 19 home runs and 77 RBI. He adjusted his swing with some help from Kerry Carpenter and Aaron Judge's hitting coach, who goes by "Teacherman" online, and promptly smashed his way through the minors (once more,subscription required).

Weirder things than NRIs breaking out in spring training and making it to Opening Day have happened. Akil Baddoo did it in 2021, and now his roster spot might be up for grabs. Bigbie certainly sounds like he's making a good impression already, so he could be on the way soon, even if he doesn't make it by March 28, when the Tigers open their season in Chicago against the White Sox.

He's a corner infielder, which should also be music to the ears of Tigers' management, who love to throw players any which way around the field and lineup. Spencer Torkelson might get some turns at DH, so Bigbie could slot in at first, and no one really knows what's going on with Detroit's third base situation. His name will be one to watch as the Tigers get into spring training games and we inch closer to Opening Day.