For a team in the midst of a roster rebuild, the Tigers actually have a fairly stable roster heading into Opening Day.Aside from second baseman Ian Kinsler's trade to the Angels, Leonys Martin's signing and Victor Martinez's injury comeback, the starting lineup is similar to the home stretch of last
For a team in the midst of a roster rebuild, the Tigers actually have a fairly stable roster heading into Opening Day.
Aside from second baseman Ian Kinsler's trade to the Angels, Leonys Martin's signing and Victor Martinez's injury comeback, the starting lineup is similar to the home stretch of last season. Mike Fiers could be the only new starter in Detroit's rotation if Matthew Boyd and Daniel Norris perform to expectations in Spring Training. The bullpen has the makings of a wide-open race, but the major roles at the back end are largely set with closer Shane Greene, lefty Daniel Stumpf and setup man Alex Wilson (assuming Wilson doesn't win a rotation spot).
Go beyond those spots, however, and the Tigers have some decisions to make between veterans on the rebound and, in some cases, younger players trying to claim spots or hold onto them ahead of the next wave of prospects coming in the next year of two.
Adding to the intrigue is the arrival of new manager Ron Gardenhire, who comes to Lakeland, Fla., trying to set expectations for his players to win rather than just develop. It's not hard to envision a situation near the end of camp where Gardenhire has to choose between giving a young player a chance to learn on the fly and take his lumps or carrying a veteran who offers less upside but more predictability and stability.
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Here's a breakdown of the projected Opening Day roster:
Catchers (2):James McCann, John Hicks
The Tigers have stability behind the plate with McCann, who became an everyday catcher once Detroit traded Alex Avila for prospects last summer. The only question is how much playing time Hicks could garner with his greater offensive upside. Derek Norris and Brayan Pena offer veteran options in camp, but unless Gardenhire carries three catchers (something he did at times with the Twins), the backup job is Hicks' role to lose.
First base (1):Jose Cabrera
The only potential change to Cabrera's situation this spring would occur if Martinez doesn't make the team and opens up the designated hitter slot for a Cabrera/Hicks mix. The Tigers are counting on a healthy Cabrera to bounce back from the worst offensive season of his career in 2017.
Second base (1):Dixon Machado
The Tigers would like to have some competition here to push Machado, possibly setting up a platoon. But after Machado spent last season as a little-used utility infielder, it's time to shake off the rust and give him a chance to play, not just for his sake but for the Tigers to figure out where the slick-fielding middle infielder fits in the rebuilding plan. Dawel Lugo will get some time at second in camp for club officials to see if the converted shortstop-turned-third baseman can handle the spot long term.
Shortstop (1):Jose Iglesias
Unless an injury in another team's camp opens up a trade possibility, Iglesias holds down the shortstop role. He'll have something to prove in his contract year with free agency looming next offseason.
Third base (1):Jeimer Candelario
Once the Tigers shifted Nicholas Castellanos to right field and plugged in Candelario at third base last September, the hot corner was set for 2018. He'll get a long look this year to show what he can do at third.
Outfielders (5):Michael Mahtook, Martin, Castellanos, JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes
The starting outfield is pretty much set with Martin in center, Mahtook in left and Castellanos in right. Jones will be fighting for a bench spot and a chance to platoon in center as a right-handed-hitting complement to Martin. Can the Tigers find enough playing time to justify carrying him? And is there anything Jones can learn at Triple-A Toledo after 717 plate appearances there over the last two years? Further complicating matters is Rule 5 Draft pick Reyes, who has to make the team or be offered back to Arizona. The Tigers see potential in his switch-hitting bat, speed and positional versatility, but with just 64 starts in center over three Minor League seasons, can he complement Martin? Carrying both is one way to handle it, but it won't be easy.
DH (1): Martinez
Martinez's future has been in question since an irregular heartbeat led to a season-ending ablation procedure to correct it last August. But with one year left on his contract and his workouts reportedly going well, the Tigers show every intention of carrying the 39-year-old barring a disastrous Spring Training or recurrence of heart issues.
Utility (1):Ronny Rodriguez
Someone new is going to win a roster spot in this role, with Machado at second base and Andrew Romine in Seattle. The Tigers gave non-roster invites to Rodriguez, Niko Goodrum, Alexi Amarista and Pete Kozma to compete for the job, but there's enough intrigue with Rodriguez's bat coming off a very good season at Triple-A Columbus to earn him a look.
Rotation (5):Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Fiers, Boyd, Norris
The Tigers want to give Boyd and Norris a push in Spring Training, which is why Ryan Carpenter and Travis Wood are in camp and Wilson was granted his request to compete for a starting job. But Boyd has been here before and outdueled Anibal Sanchez for a rotation spot last spring. Norris has a history of rough Spring Trainings but still boasts a ton of upside. Here's guessing this is the spring he puts that together.
Bullpen (7): Greene, Wilson, Stumpf, Drew VerHagen, Joe Jimenez, Warwick Saupold, Blaine Hardy
This a tough group to try to predict with so many unproven arms beyond Greene and Wilson, and it wouldn't be a surprise if the Tigers carried eight relievers to lessen the risk. But Stumpf had a sneaky good 2017 season, VerHagen is out of Minor League options and Hardy provides a second lefty arm. It's time for the Tigers to figure out what they have in Jimenez before the next group of relief prospects arrives.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.