LAKELAND, Fla. -- Boxes lined up on both sides of the hallway outside the Tigers clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium as executive vice president of baseball operations Al Avila spoke with reporters. Signs of the migration north were everywhere, including the whittling of the roster.Avila didn't want to pronounce the
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Boxes lined up on both sides of the hallway outside the Tigers clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium as executive vice president of baseball operations Al Avila spoke with reporters. Signs of the migration north were everywhere, including the whittling of the roster.
Avila didn't want to pronounce the roster set, and probably won't until Wednesday night ahead of the Tigers' season opener vs. the Pirates at Comerica Park, just in case they want to add a player who didn't make another team's roster. But enough was clear that he could sum up the first Spring Training of the Tigers' rebuilding process.
"It's probably been one of our busiest springs for whatever reason," Avila said, "but I think it's also one of our best springs. Obviously, we had the disappointment with Mike Fiers and his lower back and all that, but other than that, I think it's been a very productive spring."
That productivity went beyond assembling and preparing a roster. It extended to a new manager and coaching staff largely brought in from outside the organization. Pitching coach Chris Bosio instilled a new system of preparing and maintaining arms, an adjustment that will extend into the regular season. Manager Ron Gardenhire had to set a tone and expectations from a roster he still had to learn, as famously demonstrated by the "Buddy" jerseys Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann and Alex Wilson wore for the first full-squad workout.
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"Gardy and his staff have really worked hard to get acclimated to the players, get to learn the players, but also get acclimated to the overall system," Avila said. "We've never worked together, so when we first got here, even then we had to get used to each other and how we do things, how we do meetings, how we discuss players, how we do player movements. When we first got here it was a little awkward, and now I think we're a pretty well-oiled machine and now we have everything going in the right direction."
That includes the health of veteran players coming off injury-plagued seasons, from Zimmermann to Jose Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
"Right now, Zimmermann looks healthy," Avila said. "[Saturday] wasn't his greatest outing, but the positive you take away is he was healthy. He was up to 93 [mph]. He looked crisp working on a couple other pitches that weren't quite there, but the main thing here is, like with Cabrera, you see he's healthy. And so when you have health and you know you have a good veteran pitcher that has a history, you expect good things as the season goes along."
Cabrera's health was not a surprise to Avila, who had kept tabs on his slugger all offseason. Martinez, he said, was a little less certain, despite his public confidence heading into camp.
"When he first got here at the beginning of Spring Training, he had to go through some tests, and everything cleared," Avila said. "So right now, he's healthy, swinging the bat well."
On the flip side, Avila said they've been impressed with the progress of Rule 5 Draft pick Victor Reyes, who's poised to make the team as an extra outfielder. Avila doesn't want to pronounce Reyes as a member of the roster just yet, in case something happens, but his praise made it clear he's in position to break camp with the club.
"We're very encouraged with Reyes," he said. "So far he has not given us any reason to think that he can't handle it. We're pretty excited about him, actually. … He's not really a power guy at this point. He's only 23, but with that body and he's got a pretty good swing, you feel like it's going to come. We're keeping our fingers crossed."
The Tigers have to keep Reyes on the roster or offer him back to the D-backs. By contrast, they have options with JaCoby Jones, last year's Opening Day center fielder who ended up back in Triple-A Toledo for much of the summer. He's poised to break camp as another extra outfielder, a decision Avila said comes down to how Gardenhire feels he can use him while furthering his development.
"If he hits, he has the potential to be a perennial All-Star," Avila said. "He's got that kind of ability. If he doesn't hit, then he's probably an extra outfielder."
Jones, Goodrum get the news
Though the Tigers won't formally set their roster until Wednesday, Gardenhire told Jones and super utility player Niko Goodrum on Monday that they made the team. For Goodrum, a non-roster invite and former second-round pick of the Twins, it was an emotional piece of news.
"You work your butt off your whole career for that," Goodrum said. "To hear that you're going to make the roster, that's pretty exciting. Grinding all the years, getting drafted, that grind in the Minor Leagues, working in Spring Training to win a spot, and then you do it, you can't really explain that feeling."
Goodrum, who made his Major League debut last year as a September callup for the Twins, said he never allowed himself to think he had a good chance until he heard the news.
Jones made last year's Opening Day roster as the Tigers' starting center fielder. He entered camp with an outside chance once free agent Leonys Martin became the everyday center fielder, but won over Gardenhire and his staff with his at-bats.
"I was just trying to play hard and do my thing," Jones said after homering in Monday's 2-2 tie with the Rays. "When I'm out there, just show what I got and help the team win, get better each and every day. It worked out so far and hopefully I can carry that into the season."
Jones, a former shortstop prospect with the Pirates, will continue to take ground balls in batting practice when the season begins, but is considered an emergency option in the infield for now.
The Tigers and Rays play one final regular-season tuneup, this one a 12:35 p.m. ET game Tuesday at Tropicana Field. Matthew Boyd, set to take the fourth spot in the Tigers' rotation, gets the start. The Tigers will rest their regulars to avoid injury; backup catcher John Hicks will start behind the plate, while Goodrum starts at short. Outfield prospect Christin Stewart is among the Minor Leaguers scheduled to start.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.