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Worth hoping to prove value to Tigers

Infielder still searching for full-time role in big leagues with Detroit

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Danny Worth knows better than to get his hopes up, even if everyone around him gets their hopes up for him. He has been through this too many times.

Worth was the one left in the clubhouse at Osceola County Stadium at the end of last Spring Training, told on the next-to-last day that he wouldn't make the team. He was literally the last roster cut, losing out to Ramon Santiago for the utility-infield job.

"He looks like a big leaguer, and he is a big leaguer," then-manager Jim Leyland said at the time, "but that's not much consolation for him today."

It still isn't. Instead, it was a lesson.

"To just miss out on a roster spot by one guy, like the last guy, it was heartbreaking," Worth said. "But it toughened me up this year. 

"I learned from it: Just not to try to be as emotionally involved as I was last year. I know it's just business. I know all the stuff that can happen. I know I'm just a baseball player, and I don't have to worry about that [stuff]. Just play ball."

Worth has been a big leaguer, many times over. The Tigers' transactions list shows it. He was called up nine times over the 2011 and '12 seasons. Worth was sent down that many times, too.

Worth was called up and sent down a day apart in August 2011. He was promoted and demoted the same day in August 2012. Three other stints lasted no more than two weeks, including Worth's time on the Opening Day roster in 2012. The hour-long drive along Interstate 75 between Detroit and Toledo became ingrained in his mind like a commute, potholes and all.

It was all worth it when the Tigers put Worth on their postseason roster at the end of 2012, providing an extra defensive replacement and late-inning pinch-runner.

"I was in the World Series the year before, coming off a high," Worth said. "Everything felt good, even though I was still unhappy with how I played in 2012 for the Tigers."

Worth never got the chance even for that last year because he wasn't healthy. Soon after being sent to Triple-A Toledo, he bruised his heel making a lunge at first base, trying to beat a throw, and ended up missing two months. When Detroit needed an extra infielder in July with Omar Infante on the disabled list, Worth was just starting to get back into a rhythm. Hernan Perez got the call.

Worth eventually got the call as a September callup, played in three games as a late-inning defensive replacement, then busted his shoulder trying to make a diving stop. Personally, it was a lost year. From an organizational standpoint, it was worse for him, because the next wave of infield prospects began to arrive.

Come December, when the Tigers had to make room on their 40-man roster for Rajai Davis, Worth officially became expendable. Detroit, after gauging attempts to trade him, designated for him assignment. Instead of finding opportunity elsewhere, though, Worth cleared waivers. With most rosters largely set after the Rule 5 Draft, and Worth out of options, no team opted to make a claim.

"I kind of saw it coming," he said. "I had a really bad year last year, on the field and injuries. I was almost expecting it."

Worth took it in stride. One good, healthy spring, one opportunity, he told himself, and he could easily play his way back on the roster. However, it came around the same he and his wife, Bree, found out she was pregnant with their first child.

Suddenly, that purgatory between Triple-A and the big leagues felt a little bumpier.

"So it was good news and bad news [this offseason]," Worth said.

These are the guys that complete an organization, beyond the star players, beyond even the veteran utility players. Often, they end up bouncing from one organization to another, leaving as Minor League free agents each fall, looking for the best chance at a callup, battling for a spot in a big league camp. For every Don Kelly who breaks free of the cycle, there are dozens more who don't.

Then there's Worth, now 28, still in the same organization that drafted him, but never up in the big leagues for longer than two months. He was the second-round pick in the Draft that brought Rick Porcello to Detroit. If Porcello feels much more like a veteran than he really is, Worth is the reverse, having played 315 games in a Mud Hens uniform since 2008.

After ending last spring as the final cut, Worth came to this year's camp with seemingly no hope of even that. Then came the injury to Jose Iglesias.

Now, it's not just a roster spot Worth is vying for, but potentially a role. And among a field of in-house candidates, Worth is, oddly enough, the proven veteran.

"Danny Worth is under consideration," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said earlier this week. "It's Danny Worth, and I understand that, but Danny Worth has been hurt a lot the last few years. Every time he gets to the point where he's going to play, he gets hurt. We've liked him in the past. He's been the last guy cut.

"He's played in the big leagues over two years. He can run a little bit. He's a smart player. You have to remember what you're looking for."

The Tigers are looking for a shortstop who can make the plays in the field, first and foremost. In that sense, Worth is the known quantity of the candidates. And yet, because he hasn't been healthy in recent years, and hasn't gotten a lengthy look when he has been healthy, they're still discovering parts of his game.

Of the in-house candidates, Worth has hit by far the best, having quietly enjoyed one of the better offensive springs on the team. Get past the 11-for-33 hitting, and he has shown some extra-base power, doubling four times to go with a triple and seven RBIs. Worth's numbers are near identical to what he did last spring, and similar to his two springs before.

Worth has picked up his hitting as the Grapefruit League has rolled on, as pitchers have worked deeper into games and started to round their full selection of pitches together -- and, obviously, as the spotlight has turned on the shortstops in camp.

"He's got the most experience playing at the big league level, played shortstop at the big league level," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He probably wouldn't be as starstruck by the big stage."

Worth insists he isn't focusing on that. He isn't falling into that trap again. All he wants to worry about is his play. When asked if this camp feels different with a bigger role potentially at stake, Worth shrugs. He can't think that way.

"It's not a different feel," Worth said. "If anything, I feel less of it from last year, just because I know all the stuff that can happen. I don't read too much into it or think about it too much. I'm just trying to get ready for the year. There's still a lot of spring left. Anything can happen."

For players in Worth's situation, anything often means something bad. Here, it could mean anything from a nod to youth at shortstop to a end-of-spring trade that renders the competition moot. Then again, this might finally be the situation where something goes right. And while he isn't going to get his hopes up, he isn't jaded, either.

"Whatever gets me to the big leagues, however I can help the Tigers, I'd be completely happy with it," Worth said. "If they want to use me at short, I'd be happy doing that. If they want to use me as a utility guy or whatever, I'll fill in for any role that they want, and accept it with open arms."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.

Detroit Tigers, Danny Worth