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As season nears, Tigers' roster not quite set

March 19, 2017

LAKELAND, Fla. -- A month into Spring Training, with just over two weeks left before the Tigers break camp and head north, their projected roster doesn't looks much different than it did before camp began.Part of it has to do with the number of players -- stars and prospects alike

LAKELAND, Fla. -- A month into Spring Training, with just over two weeks left before the Tigers break camp and head north, their projected roster doesn't looks much different than it did before camp began.
Part of it has to do with the number of players -- stars and prospects alike -- playing in the World Baseball Classic. Another part is a low number of breakout performances in key positions. Center field is no clearer than it was a month ago. The bullpen might be even murkier, with some seemingly established names requiring some thought while starting options have to be pondered as alternatives.
Expect a number of key decisions to wait until the final week of camp, especially with J.D. Martinez dealing with a sprained right foot, two key young players out of options and three veteran pitchers fighting for jobs with guaranteed contracts topping $27 million.
Here is an updated breakdown of the projected Opening Day roster:
Catchers:James McCann, Alex Avila
This looks no different than a month ago. McCann has been a workhorse this spring, making a number of road trips while working with pitchers. Avila has settled back into the clubhouse he knew for years while projecting to a similar role as in 2015, complementing McCann. The only change might be their depth, with John Hicks looking more like an insurance option should someone get hurt.

First base:Jose Cabrera
Cabrera was on a tear before heading off to the Classic, and he'll likely show no chill once he returns. As long as he's healthy -- and his back tightness doesn't appear to be a long-term concern just yet -- he looks set for more greatness. Victor Martinez grabbed his glove and did some work at first base for protection, but Avila and Andrew Romine are both looking like safer backup options.
Second base:Ian Kinsler
At age 34, his health is good, and he came to camp ready for game intensity sooner than usual thanks to his spot on Team USA.
Shortstop:Jose Iglesias
Iglesias has put on a defensive show this spring while trying to make a claim for the second spot in the batting order. Dixon Machado has made an impression on Tigers coaches and evaluators, but this is still Iglesias' spot.

Third base:Nicholas Castellanos
The only change here has been the usage of the full first name. Castellanos' performance early this spring not only entrenches him at third, it has him in position for a potential breakout beyond the 18 home runs, a .285 batting average and an .827 OPS he posted last year.
Starting outfield:Tyler Collins, Michael Mahtook, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton
The J.D. Martinez injury puts further uncertainty into a group that was already in flux. The Tigers have a deeper crop of center-field candidates than they did coming in thanks to Anthony Gose looking like a Major Leaguer defensively, Romine looking good in limited time out there, and Omar Infante creating debate within the organization whether to try him in center. That said, this still looks like a platoon between Mahtook, who has produced big hits in recent days, and Collins, who couldn't play center for two weeks thanks to a strained lat but kept his bat fresh by playing games at DH.
DH: Victor Martinez
His health is clearly a concern after general manager Al Avila revealed that Martinez played through a hernia injury for much of last season's stretch run, but the 38-year-old has looked healthy between his early time in camp and his WBC '17 stint with Venezuela.

Bench: Romine, Machado
Infante has made a strong push for a spot, and might have earned one on another club. The Tigers, however, are committed to Romine, and they want to keep the slick-fielding Machado -- out of Minor League options -- for future years. Like Machado, Steven Moya is out of options but could make the team if J.D. Martinez isn't healthy for Opening Day. If not, some believe Moya's defensive limitations and mercurial nature at the plate give him a chance to clear waivers.
Rotation:Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd
Decision time is nearing for Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey, both of whom had encouraging performances in recent days. Norris and Boyd, meanwhile, have strengthened their case that they're the best options for a chance to win, based on strong outings for most of the spring.

Bullpen:Francisco Rodriguez, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Bruce Rondon, Kyle Ryan, Mark Lowe, Sanchez.
This could be tough to sort out, with Sanchez and Pelfrey and Lowe contracts being just part of it. The only dominant performances so far have come from Arcenio Leon, who was being called over from Minor League camp until he pitched for Venezuela in the Classic, and Angel Nesbitt. Meanwhile, the two Wilsons have been among the struggles. In the end, Sanchez could make the team -- at someone's expense -- not just as a veteran reliever but as starting insurance in case the Tigers need a fill-in early in the season.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast.