Every year, there are players that surprise, others that fall flat on their faces, and roster moves that seemingly come out of nowhere. Some, like Danny Worth driving between Detroit and Toledo at least five times, aren't that surprising. Others, like Brennan Boesch completely falling out of favor, are a little more unexpected (shut up, Tokarz). Here are five things that you might not expect to happen for the Tigers in 2013.
1. Brayan Villarreal will be the closer by the end of the season
With Bruce Rondon being sent to Triple-A to start the season, it's clear that the Tigers aren't just going to force anyone into the closer's role without earning it first. Joaquin Benoit has never expressed the desire to close out games, while Phil Coke and Octavio Dotel have struggled too much against right- and left-handed hitters, respectively, to earn the trust of Jim Leyland. Al Alburquerque has struggled to stay healthy, and the Tigers don't like increasing his injury risk by using him on consecutive days.
Enter Villarreal. He struggled against lefties in 2012, but took a major step forward overall before struggling a bit down the stretch. His fastball-slider combo can be devastatingly effective at times, and he is able to get swings and misses with both pitches.
2. Someone outside of the organization is playing shortstop after the trade deadline
Ok, so maybe predicting a deadline deal from Dave Dombrowski isn't the boldest prediction in the book. That said, the Tigers seem to think that they can upgrade over Jhonny Peralta. Either that, or the mainstream media was feeding us crap trade rumors all offseason long. Wait, bad example...
Regardless, with Jhonny Peralta's contract up at the end of the season, I don't see him lasting the entire year as the starting shortstop. Whether the Tigers go all-in for offense or look for someone with a bit more range is yet to be seen, and largely depends on how the rest of the lineup fares through the early part of the season.
3. Justin Verlander gets even better in 2013
It might be easy to sit back and just count money all day when you're owed $180 million over the next seven years, but Verlander seems like he has a chip on his shoulder after taking the loss in Game 1 of the World Series last fall. Verlander has talked about nothing else besides bringing a championship to Detroit this season, and knowing him, he's fuming inside after coming up short again last year.
4. Nick Castellanos gets called up before June
The organization has done nothing but rave about his bat all winter long, and be backed up the hype by hitting .360/.484/.560 during Spring Training. If the Tigers were planning on keeping him in the minors for the majority of the season, odds are he would be back in Double-A, where he struggled at times last season. Combine that with the permanent move to the outfield, and I give you your starting left fielder by June 1st.
5. Austin Jackson steals 40 bases
This one is a pure shot in the dark. Jim Leyland has emphasized that the Tigers will run more this season, and the organization has gone so far as to hire a baserunning coach to help rid the club of its "station-to-station" stigma. They may not improve the entire team's speed (tanks only go so fast), but they will definitely be more aggressive on the bases in 2013.
What about you? Have any bold predictions for the upcoming season?