DETROIT -- The weather was dreary as the Tigers' equipment truck rolled out of Comerica Park earlier this week, headed towards Lakeland, Fla., and Spring Training. But with temperatures near 50 degrees, it was far better than the sub-zero weather Detroit faced last week.It was a fitting backdrop as the
DETROIT -- The weather was dreary as the Tigers' equipment truck rolled out of Comerica Park earlier this week, headed towards Lakeland, Fla., and Spring Training. But with temperatures near 50 degrees, it was far better than the sub-zero weather Detroit faced last week.
It was a fitting backdrop as the Tigers prepare to open camp on the second full season of their rebuilding project. While manager Ron Gardenhire and players believe they can defy expectations and make a big improvement off back-to-back 98-loss seasons, the front office is tasked with planning for better years ahead.
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This year's camp will provide a glimpse of the players that have a chance to form the core of that next great Detroit Tigers roster.
"You see now some of the young guys coming up like Christin Stewart last year and Spencer Turnbull," general manager Al Avila said last month at TigerFest. "You'll see guys coming in and pushing us to come up to the big leagues. At this point in [Triple-A] Toledo, we're going to have some good young pitchers and players that are going to be pushing to come up in a short period of time, as [will] some guys in Double-A. You're talking about guys that are maybe a year or two from getting here, mixed with the guys that we already have here at the big-league level, the young guys that we have that are hopefully getting better and better. We feel we have a good young nucleus developing and being ready in a short period of time. That in itself is encouraging as we look forward to the future. And when the time is right, then obviously we'll add to that.
"At this point, if you're following the progress of players in our Minor Leagues and at the big-league level, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Stewart wasn't even in Major League camp last Spring Training. The Tigers brought him over as an extra player for a few games, during which he showed his potential as the young impact hitter Detroit desperately needs. This year, he'll be among 14 members of MLB Pipeline's most recent Top 30 Tigers prospect rankings in camp. He'll also have an inside track on an Opening Day spot in left field after his stellar audition last September.
"It's huge," Stewart said of Major League camp. "Being in the locker room with some of those older guys, seeing their routines, what they do well, and how they go about their day, that's definitely going to help me and my game."
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Second baseman Dawel Lugo, ranked 15th on the Tigers prospect list, Turnbull (ranked 30th) and lefty Matt Hall (23rd) also have a chance to turn their late-season stints into a case for Opening Day spots, though team officials are inclined to give Lugo more time at Triple-A to develop. Outfielders Daz Cameron (8th) and Jake Robson (18th), shortstop Willi Castro (10th) and right-hander Kyle Funkhouser (9th) could all put themselves in position for midseason debuts.
Then there's top prospect Casey Mize, who begins his first full pro season with a spot in camp to set the tone for what could be a quick rise up the farm system.
The young talent is building up; expect that process to be a big theme in Spring Training. For those already established in the big leagues, though, the goal is to make the present a lot better than expected.
"I think it helped last year, with all these younger guys who came up last year and had a little taste of the big leagues," Jordan Zimmermann said. "Just that little bit of experience is going to go a long way. Hopefully these guys can take the next step."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.