Who makes the cut for Tigers' 2023 Opening Day roster?

March 17th, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Now that most of the Tigers’ prospects have been optioned or reassigned, manager A.J. Hinch and his coaching staff are down to the business of sorting out an Opening Day roster over the final week-plus of Spring Training. This is where the Tigers have to judge not only Spring Training performance versus track record, but also providing young players with opportunities in the Majors versus going with experience. That bears out in a couple key areas.

With Spring Training heading into the home stretch, here’s an updated look at a potential Opening Day roster:

Catcher (2): ,
This group has seemed set for a while. The only question is playing time between Haase and Rogers. In that sense, it was interesting that Hinch this week called Haase “one of our catchers” rather than a No. 1 or primary catcher.

First base (1):
Torkelson is finally reaping the rewards of solid contact this spring, going 7-for-17 with three doubles and three strikeouts in a seven-game stretch -- including 2-for-3 in a dress rehearsal against the Rays at Tropicana Field -- before going 0-for-3 Thursday night. He remains homerless this spring, but that’s not for a lack of long drives. He’s making good decisions in the strike zone, catching up with fastballs and recognizing spin. 

Second base (1):
Schoop returns from the World Baseball Classic needing to find his timing for Opening Day; he went 1-for-8 early this spring before leaving for the WBC, where he went 1-for-13 with six strikeouts for Team Netherlands. He’s not fighting for a job, but it could be interesting to see if Hinch gives him playing time at third base.

Shortstop (1):
Báez has had a solid World Baseball Classic for Puerto Rico with four hits, three doubles, four RBIs and a slick swim slide on a stolen base.

Third base (2): ,
At this point, the only question with Maton is who shares playing time with him at third, a decision that could come down to these final days. The Tigers received good news this week when Ibáñez was cleared to resume baseball activity after being sidelined from the World Baseball Classic with a sprained left ring finger. He made a good first impression in Tigers camp before leaving to join Team Cuba. Ibáñez also played third, second and first base in early Grapefruit League games, so versatility isn’t a question. The Tigers still have a Minor League option left with the 29-year-old if they decide he isn’t ready to step in just yet.

Outfield (4): , , ,
The one question with this group is whether the last spot will go to Baddoo or , a competition that could be defined by what the Tigers need out of that role. If the Tigers platoon a left-handed-hitting outfielder with Vierling (a .228 hitter with a .624 OPS off righties in his brief Major League tenure), that could be favorable to Carpenter, who pounded right-handers in the Minors and in Detroit last year. If the role is more of a fourth outfielder, that could lean towards Baddoo, who hasn’t hit well until recently this spring but brings a valuable skill set for late-game situations.

Designated hitter (2):
Cabrera is expected to serve as the primary DH, rather than a platoon, unless his health forces a change of plans. If that were to change, that could open some at-bats for a fourth outfielder.

Bench (1):
How serious are the Tigers about at-bats for young players? Here’s a spot where we could find out. The switch-hitting has had a good spring with doubles power and walks, but with his 33rd birthday coming up in May, his role doesn’t move the organization forward. He also has played almost exclusively at second base this spring. Kreidler was having an uncharacteristic rough spring before heating up in recent days and has played second, third, short and center. Unless the Tigers don’t see enough at-bats here for Kreidler to continue his development, he would seem to be a better fit.

Starting pitchers (5): , , , ,
The one question here is Manning, who had a rough Spring Training before tossing 3 2/3 scoreless innings Friday. But it’s worth remembering that Casey Mize had a similarly rough spring two years ago when he was competing with Michael Fulmer for a rotation spot. Hinch stuck with Mize and moved Fulmer to the bullpen. But unlike 2021, when Fulmer didn’t pitch all that well in spring either, has pushed Manning with a strong performance.

Relievers (8): , , , , , , ,
This is another area where veteran stability could go up against development opportunities. Hill gave up three walks in one outing, then hit two batters and gave up four runs in his second inning of work in Thursday’s 10-1 loss to the Phillies. But his stuff continues to play up in a multi-inning relief role, and he continues to get swings and misses on multiple pitches. If Hinch wants bridge relievers to protect his starters early in the season, Hill remains an option.

Regardless, this is a group that will probably change frequently, including between Opening Day on March 30 and the home opener on April 6. The Tigers open the season against the Rays and Astros, two teams that hit lefties significantly better than righties last year.