Tigers to give Lennerton, Westlake extended spring reps
Injuries to Miggy, V-Mart present prospects opportunity to impress
DETROIT -- Jordan Lennerton reported to his first big league Spring Training last year as a talented hitter playing the wrong position at Tigers camp. As impressive as he looked as a 2013 Futures Game participant and Triple-A All-Star, the first baseman was never going to break camp with the club.
A year later, with Victor Martinez likely out for Spring Training and Miguel Cabrera working back from a stress fracture in his foot, the Tigers' situation is a little different. But so is Lennerton, a Minor League free agent who re-signed as a non-roster invite following a frustrating 2014 season.
Aaron Westlake has never been in big league camp, but was once in the Tigers' prospect rankings after Detroit drafted him in the third round out of Vanderbilt in 2011. He had one of the better power bats in the organization until running into recent struggles.
Neither looked like more than an afterthought a few weeks ago. They're now about to get a long look in Spring Training while the Tigers wait on Cabrera and Martinez. At least for now, they're part of the Tigers' insurance policy.
"I've been mulling it over ever since I talked to Victor [on Tuesday]," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
Martinez was Detroit's leading option at first base if Cabrera -- who's expected to be cleared for baseball activities in a week and a half -- isn't ready for Opening Day. With Martinez now likely out six-to-eight weeks with a torn meniscus in his left knee, the Tigers must plan around filling two spots.
Making a plan for DH is simple, given Detroit's surplus of outfielders. Planning for first base is more complicated. While catcher Alex Avila and utility man Andrew Romine will get work there, according to Ausmus, Lennerton and Westlake are now the only two healthy true first basemen in camp.
Lennerton was a breakout player in 2013 after a scorching first half for Triple-A Toledo, combining power with plate discipline. After being cut early from camp last year, however, he struggled to follow it up at Toledo, despite winning a second straight Minor League Gold Glove.
For the year, Lennerton batted .249 (102-for-410) with 26 doubles, 10 home runs, 53 RBIs, 73 walks and 114 strikeouts. After 70 games, he had 42 walks, 42 hits, a .184 batting average and a .313 on-base percentage. He went on a tear down the stretch, batting .337 with a .973 OPS over the final two months, to get his numbers back to respectable.
Lennerton turns 29 next week. If he's going to make a case, he'll have to do it swinging. So, too, will the 26-year-old Westlake, who batted a career-low .236 last season at Double-A Erie, with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in 458 at-bats. His slugging percentage dropped 36 points, despite a move to the traditionally power-friendly Eastern League.
One advantage both players have is that they hit left-handed, a trait the Tigers' lineup needs while the switch-hitting Martinez is out. Realistically, Martinez is Detroit's lone lefty power bat against right-handed pitching.
All of this could be moot if Cabrera progresses quickly, or if Martinez has a relatively minor surgery. As Ausmus pointed out, however, they have to hope for the best while planning for worse.