LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers finally get to take the field at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday, facing pitchers and hitters with uniforms other than their own. The plays they’ve been practicing all week will be tested in game situations, as will the pitches they’ve been tinkering with on the
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers finally get to take the field at Joker Marchant Stadium on Friday, facing pitchers and hitters with uniforms other than their own. The plays they’ve been practicing all week will be tested in game situations, as will the pitches they’ve been tinkering with on the back fields.
After nearly two weeks of practicing baseball, it’s time to play.
Over the next five weeks, the Tigers will try to use game action and track records to sort out a cluttered bullpen, name a starting third baseman, figure out their catching mix and map out a lineup. Just as important, they’ll try to determine where their top prospects should start and which ones deserve to open the season at Triple-A Toledo, a call away from the big leagues.
Even in workouts, though, some things are clear. Here are five things learned from the first part of Tigers Spring Training:
1. Cabrera is healthy and swinging like it
Yes, concern about Miguel Cabrera’s health has seemingly been a Spring Training ritual for the past few years. But never has he faced injury questions with his career in the balance like the chronic knee issues that hampered him last year and forced him to take the matter of his weight seriously for the first time in his tenure with the Tigers.
Cabrera is lighter -- by how much, we don’t know, since his listed weight hasn’t changed in recent years -- but the difference is noticeable in the way he moves around the field. More importantly, with his knees carrying a little less weight, he’s recapturing the back-leg push that put power in his swing over the years, a swing he had to alter last year to put more weight on his front leg. We’ll learn more once Cabrera faces live pitching in game situations, but so far, so good.
2. The kids are all right
Put 11 of a team’s top 12 pitching prospects in big league camp, including three members of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 and an entire Double-A rotation, and the kids are going to get attention. So far, Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, Alex Faedo and others have made an impression, both with their eagerness to soak up advice from more experienced Tigers pitchers and with the stuff they’ve thrown against Detroit hitters in live batting practice.
“They’ve got some good arms in this system,” said Cameron Maybin, who knew about a couple of them but has been surprised by the depth as he took his swings against Skubal and Manning.
Look for the prospects to get some outings early. Skubal is scheduled to start Friday’s exhibition. Others could get work on Sunday, when the Tigers have split-squad games at the Pirates and Braves.
3. Perez is healthy and dealing
Remember Franklin Perez, the Tigers’ top prospect a few years ago before injuries limited him to 27 innings over the past few seasons? He’s back throwing after right shoulder issues limited him to two appearances last year. The nasty stuff that made him the centerpiece of Detroit's return package in the Justin Verlander trade is still there.
Perez was clocked throwing 92-93 mph in his first live BP session Monday. On Thursday, he mixed in the rest of the arsenal, including some nasty breaking pitches.
“We have a lot of really top prospects,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “But [pitching coach Rick Anderson] said watching him throw his ‘pens, he could be the top prospect if he can stay healthy. Because the ball really comes out of his hand. I mean, it’s pretty powerful. That’s encouraging, if we can just keep him on the mound. Hopefully, he’ll get his way through this thing.”
4. Boyd diversifies the menu
There were times last summer when a Matthew Boyd start resembled a late-night run to White Castle, in that both featured a big batch of sliders. It’s still the out pitch of choice for the Tigers left-hander, for obvious reasons, but he’s working on complementing his fastball-slider mix with more changeups and some curveballs. Though Boyd likes to work on refining his pitches in front of high-speed cameras and a Rapsodo machine to read the spin and movement, Spring Training sessions and games are where he can read hitters’ reactions. He began getting those this week, and he will carry that forward into his starts.
5. Clubhouse chemistry matters
It’s tough to maintain clubhouse chemistry when a team is on its way to 114 losses and trading away most of its few veterans. But before his trade last July, Nick Castellanos noted the leadership challenges the Tigers faced with so many young players all over and veterans potentially being moved or replaced. Now that their top prospects closer to the big leagues, the team made offseason moves with clubhouse culture in mind, especially with last week’s signing of Maybin.
Maybin, Austin Romine, Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron all bring a good attitude. Moreover, the decision to hold onto Boyd for now is paying similar dividends, as he has been a sounding board and source of advice for many of the young pitchers in camp.
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.