LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigertown has just started to pick up the sounds of Spring Training with formal workouts underway. Position players are not yet required to report, though many have, and Grapefruit League games are still a week away. Still, the storylines are already taking shape, from the bevy of pitching prospects on the bullpen mounds to the roster decisions facing Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire.
Here are four developments to keep an eye on as Spring Training unfolds:
Bullpen Life of BryanThe Tigers like Bryan Garcia a lot. Detroit drafted the University of Miami closer in 2016 and pushed him from Class A West Michigan to Triple-A Toledo the following summer. He missed all of 2018 recovering from Tommy John surgery, but pitched well enough in his first year back to earn his Major League debut last September, working his way into close games by the final couple of weeks of the season.
On a team with an established bullpen, Garcia would probably return to Toledo for more seasoning before joining the Tigers during the season. But aside from closer Joe Jiménez and setup man Buck Farmer, Detroit’s bullpen competition is wide open as Spring Training begins. Add in the expected uptick in stuff in Garcia’s second season back, and there’s reason to keep an eye on the right-hander. Don’t be surprised if the Tigers take a long look at him and begin the Jimenez-type progression up the bullpen ladder.
Victor Reyes earns everyday playing timeDetroit’s outfield is pretty well full following the Cameron Maybin signing. But Maybin has had 400 plate appearances in only one of his last four seasons, in part due to injuries. While Maybin should be able to earn the starting job in right field, he should also get his share of days off. On the other side of the outfield, Christin Stewart is trying to re-establish himself as the starter, but he could sit against tough lefties despite near-even hitting splits in the last couple of years. Add it together, and there’s a real role for the switch-hitting Victor Reyes in a four-man outfield mix, bouncing between left and right while also giving center fielder JaCoby Jones an occasional break from running all over Comerica Park.
Can Beau Burrows be a reliever?While the Tigers try to sort out their 26-man squad in camp, there’s another roster crunch ahead for the rotation in the Minors at Toledo. While Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser never made the expected midseason jump from the Mud Hens last year, the prospect-laden rotation at Double-A Erie is on its way up. Not only are top prospects Casey Mize (No. 7, per MLB Pipeline), Matt Manning (No. 24) and Tarik Skubal (No. 46) looming, but Alex Faedo and Joey Wentz are also on the rise. The Tigers could hold one or two of them back in Erie in the short term, or they could move a prospect or two into relief. Spring Training, with its short stints, provides a lab for that. Within those brief outings, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Tigers evaluate starters like Burrows and Funkhouser as potential relievers. Burrows in particular has the stuff that could play in such a role.
It’s Jake, from the farmEvery Spring Training sees a young hitter take advantage of his opportunity and make an impression. Sometimes, it’s a byproduct of pitchers working on their stuff. Other times, it’s the sign of real adjustments meeting potential. Last year, Daz Cameron played well enough to look like he could warrant an early season callup. This year, Jake Rogers reported to camp with a tweaked swing and a clean slate following his .125 average with the Tigers down the stretch. He has the potential for a hot camp, which may not earn him a spot on Detroit’s Opening Day roster -- especially if Austin Romine claims the starting job -- but it could put him in position for an early callup.