Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland have stated their preference to have a right-handed hitter who can play left field along with Andy Dirks on the opening day roster. With the news that rule five selection Jeff Kobernus is being returned to the Washington Nationals, there are only two players, and only one healthy player left in the Tigers' major league camp at Lakeland who fits the description of a right-handed hitting left fielder. That player is 26 year old utility man Matt Tuiasosopo.
So what do we know about the Tigers latest front runner for the last outfield spot on the roster? Matt is the son of Manu Tuiasosopo, the former Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman, and brother of Marques, the former Raiders' quarterback. In fact, Matt himself has a football pedigree, as a High School All American quarterback. He had signed a letter of intent to play at the University of Washington but chose baseball instead when he was drafted by the Seattle Mariners.
Seattle selected Matt in the third round (93rd overall) of the 2004 amateur players' draft. He has spent parts of three seasons in the majors and eight seasons in the minor leagues, all with the Mariners until last season, which was spent in the Mets' organization.
Tuiasosopo made his major league debut when the Mariners called him up in September 2008, and he made the opening day roster in 2009, but was optioned to the minors two weeks later. He made the team again to start the 2010 season, which was spent back and forth between the majors and triple-A Tacoma. Matt spent the 2011 season in Tacoma and was released at the end of the season. He signed a minor league contract with the Mets for the 2012 season and spent the year in triple-A Buffalo.
In almost 3700 plate appearances in the minors, he has a batting line of .260/.355/.399/.754 with 79 homers, 438 RBI, and 47 steals. In parts of three major league seasons with Seattle from 2008- 2010, he logged 210 plate appearances, hitting just .176/.234/.306/.540 with five home runs and no steals. He bats right, throws right, and has played mostly third base, with some time at shortstop, first base, and all three outfield positions.
The Tigers signed Tuiasosopo as a minor league free agent last December, with an invitation to spring training, and he has made the most of the opportunity. After a slow start, he has hit .318 with a .400 on base percentage, four home runs and four doubles in 46 plate appearances. He has the highest OPS of any Tiger with at least ten at bats this spring and has obviously caught the eye of Tiger management.
Jason Beck at MLB.com reported that Jim Leyland all but ruled out Avisail Garcia winning a spot on the Opening Day roster
"It would be fair to say that the timing of the injury probably put a little bit of a damper on him as far as breaking with the club," manager Jim Leyland said. "I think that's fair to say."
"I don't want to make it look like we don't like Garcia and we sent him down," Leyland said. "He's probably not going to get enough time to maybe break camp. But, once again, don't etch that in stone, but I think that's common sense."
It would seem by process of elimination, then, that Tuiasosopo now has the inside track to make the opening day roster, as there are no other healthy right handed hitting outfielders still in major league camp, other than Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter. Nick Castellanos was sent to minor league camp last week, while Avisail Garcia has been nursing a bruised heel and the club has said neither prospect would be on the roster to play on a part time basis. Unless the Tigers change their minds about giving a part time job to a top prospect or about having a right handed hitting outfielder on the bench, it would seem that Tuiasosopo will make the team.
Mlive reported that Leyland would only confirm that Tuiasosopo has a shot to make the team.
"There’s going to be fans that will email and tweet -- as soon as they see that Kobernus is gone, they’re going to have Tuiasosopo on the team," he said.... All I’m telling you is that he is a candidate and he has accounted for himself very well. I think he’s made a very good impression and he is a candidate. And that’s the way it stands right now," Leyland said. "He is a candidate."
The interesting question then, is this: If Tuiasosopo makes the team as a utility man able to play first, third, and outfield, does the club have any need for Don Kelly? They have Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth who can both play three infield positions. Kelly has an opt out clause in his contract if he doesn't make the opening day roster. We will know the answers shortly.