Pitchers and catchers report Thursday. PITCHERS AND CATCHERS REPORT THURSDAY!
Never mind many pitchers, catchers and position players can already be found in Lakeland, the spring home of the Detroit Tigers, but the date that pitchers and catchers report is of course a celebrated one.
OK, with that out of the way, we wanted to give you a quick primer on what to expect. Everyone on the team's 40-man roster gets an invite to major league camp automatically. In addition to that, teams invite a number of players outside that roster, giving young players and veterans a chance to compete for the roster, or at least show why their name should be kept in mind should an opening occur a bit later.
This year's crop of pitchers -- we'll do catchers Thursday and position players next week -- can essentially be whittled to two names you already know, and they're both left-handers: Duane Below and Robbie Ray.
Below, the pride of Britton, Mich., pitched in 41 games for the Tigers in 2011-12 and two for the Marlins in 2013 before going overseas to pitch in Korea the rest of the season. He's a longshot to make the roster, but could find a place as a lefty middle reliever with a good showing.
Ray you know because he was the "prized" return in the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Nationals. He should not be expected to contribute much before 2015 -- and if he were to make the team out of spring training it would be a bad thing, because that would likely mean an injury to a starter occurred. But getting that first look at Ray in the Tigers uniform, and hopefully seeing what Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski saw, should be of interest this spring.
Outside that we have old friend and right-hander Luis Marte, who threw in 17 games in 2011-12, and Drew VerHagen, who had a 2.90 ERA between Advanced-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie in 23 games started last season. Eduardo Sanchez made 47 relief appearances with the Cardinals and Cubs across the past three years, though his results were nothing to write home about. Another righty reliever, Jhan Marinez, projects to have the hardest name to spell correctly on the first try. He has a handful of MLB games under his belt as well.
Left-hander Blaine Hardy had a 1.67 ERA in 30 relief appearances for Erie and Triple-A Toledo in 2013.