5 Tigers storylines to watch entering camp

June 30th, 2020

DETROIT -- When last we left Tigers camp, the team had lined up pitching prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo to pitch against the Yankees on a Friday night in Tampa, Fla. Fellow prospect Tarik Skubal was the talk of camp with an upper-90s fastball and swing-and-miss stuff. Miguel Cabrera was on a hitting tear through the Grapefruit League. Matthew Boyd looked like a well-rounded pitcher set to take another step forward.

Fast forward 3 1/2 months, and the storylines are much the same as the Tigers prepare for Summer Camp. Add in the arrival of top Draft picks Spencer Torkelson and Dillon Dingler, who were still in college ball when the Tigers were in Spring Training, and Detroit will have an intriguing mix of present and future at Comerica Park for the next few weeks getting ready for the season.

As we await the first workout for Tigers pitchers and catchers on Friday, and the first full-squad workout Monday, here’s a look at the storylines to follow in Summer Camp:

1. The kids grow up so fast
As Mize, Skubal, Manning and Faedo impressed manager Ron Gardenhire and his coaching staff in February and March, the Tigers had a plan for them to open the season at Triple-A Toledo. Under a normal schedule, some of them would’ve been in line to make their Major League debuts this summer, maybe right about now. As it stands, they’re still likely headed to Toledo when the season starts, but they’ll be working out with others in the player pool who don’t make the Opening Day roster. Gardenhire and general manager Al Avila have left open the idea of bringing one or more of them up at some point when the big league club needs pitching help.

The good news for them with this break is that they’ve had a chance to take what they learned in Spring Training and apply it in their workouts. They had group texts and chats with Boyd to share ideas on workout routines and pitch designs. So it’s possible they’ll be more well-rounded pitchers than they were even just a few months ago.

2. Apply Tork
Under normal circumstances, Torkelson probably would’ve spent a good portion of his summer at Double-A Erie. Instead, the former Arizona State slugger’s first taste of professional baseball will be alongside big leaguers in camp, allowing him to observe how veteran players establish a routine and prepare for a season right at the outset of his career. More importantly for Tigers fans, it gives him a chance to see Major League pitching as well as top pitching prospects, putting one of the best college power hitters in years up to the test.

Though some believe Torkelson could hold his own in the big leagues soon if not immediately, he isn’t going to make the Major League roster. Remember, the Tigers announced on Draft night that they intended to move Torkelson from first to third base to begin his pro career. This camp and the ensuing workouts in Toledo once the season begins will get him a head start on that while also letting him work with coaches and instructors.

3. Can Miggy still mash?
While much of the intrigue surrounding Tigers camp involves the future, this is the question of the present. Cabrera made a very good impression in Spring Training between his power swing and his slimmer physique, and he looked poised to rebound from the knee issues that slowed his bat last year. He spent the past few months working out at home and swinging in the cage in hopes of keeping that form. He won’t see much live pitching in Summer Camp aside from intrasquad games, but he should still have a chance to ramp back up.

The better Cabrera hits, the better the Tigers will be. Even with the additions of C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Austin Romine, Detroit's offense revolves around 37-year-old Cabrera, who got off to strong starts the past few years before the wear and tear on his body either hampered him down the stretch or ended his season early. In that sense, a 60-game season could help him.

4. Fulmer speed ahead
Michael Fulmer spent Spring Training in rehab, working his right arm back from Tommy John surgery, with hopes of rejoining the team around midseason. Instead, he could be ready for Opening Day, having been cleared for game action after throwing simulated games in Lakeland, Fla. Detroit’s rotation already appears set with Boyd, Daniel Norris, Iván Nova, Jordan Zimmermann and Spencer Turnbull, but Fulmer could provide a healthy dose of competition. If he doesn’t crack the rotation out of camp, Detroit could use him in a bullpen role like it did with Norris for stretches last year, allowing the team to watch his innings.

5. Outfield, third base to be determined
While most of the focus in Spring Training was on pitching, the Tigers still had position battles to determine. Cameron Maybin, JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes are likely set, but Christin Stewart, Travis Demeritte and Jorge Bonifacio resume a competition for one or two roster spots as well as playing time in left field. Neither Jeimer Candelario nor Dawel Lugo stood out in their competition at third base, but a shortened season gives Isaac Paredes a chance to make a new impression in his attempt to jump from Double-A to the Majors.