The weather has been cold and snowy for weeks in Michigan, and people are stuck inside. But just as the winter doldrums seem unending, the Tigers’ annual trek to Florida for Spring Training is here to get us through it.
Pitchers and catchers have reported to Tigertown in Lakeland, Fla., and the full squad is just around the corner. It’ll be a different camp for them due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but with a bevy of young talent and an influx of free-agent signings, the Tigers have signs of hope in the Florida sun, waiting to bring better times to Detroit.
Here’s what to know about the Tigers’ 85th Spring Training at Tigertown, the longest ongoing relationship between a Major League team and its Spring Training host:
How is Spring Training going to be different this year?
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a lot of changes for this camp. Workouts began this week in smaller groups before full-squad workouts begin next week. Major League camp rosters are smaller to limit crowding. Players are spread throughout the complex, including the Minor League clubhouse. Minor League camp will begin later, though the Tigers invited about a dozen or so pitchers and catchers for a Minors minicamp. Players have individually packaged meals and eat outside. Off the field, players and staff are expected to limit their interactions in the first weeks of camp.
“We can’t be going to theme parks. We can’t be going to movie theaters or bars or anything like that,” Tigers pitcher and player rep Matthew Boyd said. “We have an obligation to keep all of our teammates and everybody safe. No one wants to miss time being on the field, especially in Spring Training at a crucial time when we’re all growing and getting better, growing closer as a team. So we just have to stay vigilant and go forward.”
Are workouts open to the public?
Workouts will be closed this spring due to COVID-19 protocols.
When is the first Spring Training game?
The revised schedule has the Tigers opening Grapefruit League play on Sunday, Feb. 28 at 1:05 p.m. ET against the Phillies at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Are the Tigers playing a college team this spring?
No, the game against Southeastern University was canceled as part of the revised schedule and related health precautions.
Is the team planning to sell Spring Training tickets?
Yes, the Tigers are selling a limited number of tickets in pods of one to six seats, with each pod separated by about six feet. The left-field berm will be marked off in squares of six feet by six feet, which can accommodate up to four fans. Total capacity is expected to be around 2,000 fans, about 20 percent of the stadium’s normal capacity. More information is available at mlb.com/tigers/tickets/spring-training.
Will there be Spring Training games on TV and radio?
Yes, the Tigers are scheduled to have five games telecast on Fox Sports Detroit and 17 games on the radio in Detroit on WXYT, either 97.1 FM or AM 1270. Other games could be broadcast through the opposing team’s network. All broadcasts will be available online at MLB.TV and through MLB Gameday Audio.
Which new faces do I need to know?
The Tigers have a handful of them, from former Marlins starter José Ureña to veteran catcher Wilson Ramos to corner outfielders Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara. Grossman in particular could have a nice impact on a lineup that has struck out too much and reached base too little over the last few years. Former Orioles slugger Renato Núñez could win the first-base job after signing a Minor League deal.
What are the key roster battles to watch?
The Tigers have some competition thanks to a flurry of veteran free-agent signings. The arrival of Grossman and Mazara leaves Christin Stewart and Daz Cameron fighting for a role on the big league roster. Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner, Eric Haase and Dustin Garneau will compete for catching duties behind Ramos. But the most intriguing battle could be in the rotation, where top prospects Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal are competing with swingmen Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander and non-roster invites Derek Holland and Erasmo Ramirez. The Tigers have one or two rotation spots available, depending on whether they decide to use six starters.
Is this the year the prospects make it for good?
Probably not. One reason the Tigers signed so many free agents was to ensure none of their talented youngsters would be handed regular roles by default. Though Mize or Skubal could certainly make the Opening Day roster, they could just as easily open the season at Triple-A Toledo to gain experience they didn’t get last year after the Minor League season was canceled, or simply to watch their innings workload after limited work. One notable exception is shortstop Willi Castro, whose strong stretch last summer seemingly has him in position to keep it going this year.
Who are some underrated prospects to keep an eye on?
Top prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene will obviously receive a lot of attention, but there are plenty of others worth watching. Keep an eye on Zack Hess, a right-handed reliever who received a non-roster invite to Major League camp. The 2019 seventh-round Draft pick hasn’t pitched above Class A ball yet and will most likely open the season in the Minors, but the Tigers believe he can climb the farm system quickly. The former LSU starter stands 6-foot-6 and uses all of that frame to generate velocity on a fastball that touches the upper 90s.
Among position players, don’t lose track of Derek Hill, who became the talk of Summer Camp last year with highlight catches in center field. He’s likely ticketed for Triple-A Toledo so he can work on his hitting, but he’ll surely have an amazing grab or two before he goes. Look out, too, for infielder Zack Short, who came over from the Cubs in the Cameron Maybin trade last August. He primarily plays shortstop, but he’s a versatile infielder with some pop, having hit 17 homers in 2018 before an injury-plagued '19 campaign. With Sergio Alcantara gone, Short has a chance to fill a similar role if he can hit.
When is Opening Day?
The Tigers open their regular season on Thursday, April 1 at Comerica Park with a 1:10 p.m. ET game against Cleveland.