With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Tigers squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.DETROIT -- The Tigers begin what could be their last run at a playoff spot for their current core. For Ian Kinsler,
With Spring Training fast approaching, MLB.com will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Tigers squad each day this week. Today's topic: Spring Training is here.
DETROIT -- The Tigers begin what could be their last run at a playoff spot for their current core. For Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez, Francisco Rodriguez and possibly others, the push begins now.
At the same time, the first good look at a group of Tigers prospects expected to forge Detroit's path in 2018 and beyond comes this spring, whether it's athletic center fielder JaCoby Jones or the club's closer of the future Joe Jimenez.
They will have to do it, however, without their greatly admired owner, Mike Ilitch, who passed away Friday at age 87.
:: Spring Training 2017 preview ::
"I've never seen a man more dedicated to this community and to baseball than Mr. I," Tigers general manager Al Avila said. "What he has done for this franchise, and for Detroit, is immeasurable. He was always there to give us whatever we needed because he wanted greatness and happiness for all of us -- especially the fans. Mr. I was truly one of the great ones. He was a friend and he will be deeply missed."
As the Tigers open Spring Training at a renovated complex, complete with a makeover for Joker Marchant Stadium, the mix of old and new is prevalent in the roster, as well as the ballpark. The club's 81st Spring Training in Lakeland, Fla., will be their first with their current surroundings, from a new clubhouse, weight room and offices to a ballpark with a concourse, party deck and full suites.
The fans that make the pilgrimage out of the Michigan winter will find a team in a similar mix of young and old, as Avila begins to transition from a high-priced veteran roster to a focus on player development to complement a star-studded core.
Don't expect an overwhelming sense of urgency at the start of the Spring Training, but expect the veteran group to know what's at stake with a fast start to the season.
Here's a quick glance at key dates and names as camp opens:
Pitchers and catchers report: Monday
Position players report: Friday
First Grapefruit League game: Home vs. Orioles on Feb. 24 at 1:05 p.m. ET
New faces: Michael Mahtook arrives via trade from the Rays to compete for a share of the center-field job. Alex Avila is back to serve as James McCann's backup catcher after signing a one-year deal worth $2 million, but Avila was a familiar face in camp from 2009-15. Left-hander Daniel Stumpf arrives from the Royals as a Rule 5 Draft pick to compete for a bullpen spot. Another reliever, right-hander Victor Alcantara, is in camp after the Tigers acquired him from the Angels in the Cameron Maybin trade last November.
Interesting non-roster invitees: While infielder Omar Infante rejoins his original organization trying to restart his career in a utility role, Toledo native A.J. Achter gets a chance to compete for a bullpen role with a team he grew up following. Former Cardinals closer Edward Mujica is also in camp vying for a role after spending last season in Triple-A. Former Angels first baseman Efren Navarro could serve as insurance for Jose Cabrera and Victor Martinez in case of injury. Outfielders Juan Perez and Alex Presley could be dark horses in the center-field competition.
Prospects to watch: Jones, the Tigers' No. 9 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, will get a chance to compete for playing time in center field, though Tigers officials believe the athletic power hitter could be better served with more development at Triple-A Toledo to begin the season. The same goes for the hard-throwing Jimenez, Detroit's No. 5 prospect. Dixon Machado (No. 14) still qualifies as a prospect, but the slick-fielding shortstop is out of Minor League options and will fight for a spot on the Opening Day roster in a utility infield role. Keep an eye on catcher Grayson Greiner (No. 26), a 6-foot-6 backstop long known for his defense but who showed signs of an offensive maturation at Double-A Erie last year.
• Prospect Jimenez poised to make splash
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.