DETROIT -- Around this time a year ago, Niko Goodrum made the trek from his home in Georgia to Tigers camp in Lakeland, Fla., as a non-roster invite looking for a big league job. When he takes the same trip this month, he'll arrive in Tigertown as the favorite to
DETROIT -- Around this time a year ago, Niko Goodrum made the trek from his home in Georgia to Tigers camp in Lakeland, Fla., as a non-roster invite looking for a big league job. When he takes the same trip this month, he'll arrive in Tigertown as the favorite to start at second base come Opening Day.
He appreciates how different that is, going from the 25th man to a set role, but he's not letting it change him. He doesn't want to become complacent. He also doesn't want to let all those gloves he picked up as a super utility player go to waste.
"Oh, I'm always going to keep the gloves," Goodrum said last week at TigerFest. "I had to customize about 16 from Wilson. I got my first-base mitts, made a few of those, all my infields, I made my outfields. Just breaking those in and getting ready to go.
"But yeah, I'm just going out and competing. And however they want to use me, [I'll] step in that box and do some damage."
The Tigers are hoping for that, no matter what position he plays. Their offense needs it.
Of all the moves the Tigers made in their makeover last offseason, signing Goodrum to a Minor League deal was one of their best, topped only by their signing of Mike Fiers. But while Fiers was a veteran Major League pitcher who signed a guaranteed contract, Goodrum was a flyer, a former second-round Draft pick of the Twins whom Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire and some of his coaches knew from their Minnesota days.
They knew the athleticism and saw a switch-hitter with power potential who could back up at a bunch of positions, allowing for roster flexibility.
Goodrum, who had all of 18 big league plate appearances for the Twins, made the Tigers' Opening Day roster with a torrid Spring Training. Then after a slow opening month, he started hitting again, at a time when starting second baseman Dixon Machado wasn't.
By May 9, Goodrum saw playing time at every position but pitcher, catcher and center field. By mid-June, he was primarily playing second base. Meanwhile, though he was a streaky hitter, he produced, finishing second on the team with a .747 OPS and a .432 slugging percentage. He was third on the team with 16 home runs, 29 doubles and 55 runs scored; fourth with 53 RBIs, and sixth in Wins Above Replacement.
"I'm glad Detroit gave me the opportunity," Goodrum said. "That's all anyone needs: Allow them the opportunity to show what they can do. Our job is to take advantage of that opportunity and make the most of it."
Now he wants to build on that, particularly a .245 batting average and a relatively high strikeout rate (132 strikeouts compared to 109 hits in 492 plate appearances).
"Just boosting the average, that's all I'm worried about," Goodrum said. "Hitting the ball hard, finding gaps where I can show off the speed, get in scoring position. If I get on first, steal second and score runs. That's the name of the game, getting runs. You have to stay in rhythm and find a way, that routine where every day when I come in and have a quality at-bat. Every at-bat, I'm competitive."
The Tigers went into the offseason with second base on their shopping list, but Goodrum's production made it a lower priority after shortstop and pitching. Detroit's lone addition to the mix was Gordon Beckham, the former White Sox second baseman, on a non-roster invite. Ronny Rodriguez remains on the roster, but he, too, has a utility history.
Now Detroit heads into camp needing to figure out if it's better off with Goodrum starting regularly at one position or using his versatility to glean regular playing time while rotating positions.
"If [Beckham] makes the team as a second baseman, that frees up Niko Goodrum a bit more to maybe play first, second, short, third, outfield," general manager Al Avila said. "And Niko will still play second. Gordon Beckham, maybe he has a great Spring Training, but I can still see Niko playing a lot of second base."
Gardenhire loves Goodrum's versatility, but also recognizes the potential need to put him in one position.
"It's fun to have a guy like that. You need versatility," Gardenhire said at the Winter Meetings. "But if I need to plug him into a spot that we think he's better than the person that we tried to pick up and put out there, I'll do it, because I have a lot of confidence in him. He showed us a lot."
Goodrum, for his part, says his mindset is the same either way.
"It's just knowing that you're going to be playing," he said. "When I wasn't playing every day early in the season, I still had to have my mind set as if I was. I'd get my work in so that you're ready whenever they call you. It made that process easier going into playing every day.
"As far as going to different positions, I did that in Triple-A in 2017 [in the Twins' system]. I played every day, but I [bounced around]. It didn't matter. Just as long as I come in, and I'd just look at the lineup, and OK, I'm here. And then you find out you're [at a position] for two weeks straight. It's all good either way."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.