Stolen base threat: Tigers robbing the Grapefruit League

Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers are currently leading all of Major League Baseball in stolen bases.

The news about Jose Iglesias is disheartening no matter how you look at it so let's talk about something more cheerful. The work on the base paths of the Detroit Tigers hasn't been in a legitimate conversation for a long time -- at least in a positive way -- and it's about time we discuss it.

To date, the Tigers have stolen 30 bases in 21 games this spring and aren't just leading the Grapefruit League, they have the most nabbed bags in all of baseball.

By comparison, the Tigers only stole 35 bags during 162 games last season and were caught 20 times. This exhibition season has been vastly different and the green light to steal that was given to every player at the beginning of spring training is still brightly lit.

Of course, we know this is only spring training and the competition will be not be so easy during the regular season. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said as the exhibition season winds down he will begin putting the brakes on certain players who can't run well or don't read an opportunity correctly. But for now there are no limits.

Enter left fielder Rajai Davis, who currently has five stolen bases in 11 games. Contrary to what you may think, he's not leading the team. That's the next guy. For now anyway. Davis' numbers come as no surprise since he robbed teams of 45 bags last year, but it's still nice to see Davis giving the Tigers an offensive aspect they haven't seen in years.

Steve Lombardozzi is currently leading the Tigers with six stolen bases and he hasn't been caught. While the Tigers have not said whether Lombardozzi will make the team, that seems likely given the ongoing shortstop and left field situations. His fielding capability at multiple defensive positions certainly helps his case.

Ian Kinsler has a good track record even though last year was not kind to him. In 2013 Kinsler was caught 11 times and stole just 15 bases. But when you take his entire major league career into account he's stolen 172 bags while being caught 42 times. Kinsler has stolen two bags and hasn't been caught, so Ausmus is not likely to limit him just yet.

Austin Jackson has stolen two bases so far and like Kinsler, has yet to be caught. He has a history of being able to run the bases well with a low percentage of being caught stealing. The last year he didn't run much because of the ballgame former Tigers manager Jim Leyland preferred, so Jackson may need to get re-acquainted with his speed. He's off to a good start.

Even Torii Hunter has resorted to stealing and has two in his back pocket this spring. In 17 seasons he's stolen an average of twice as many bases as he's been caught. Depending on what he does with the remaining two weeks Ausmus may put the brakes on him on occasion in the regular season but it's still spring training and we haven't gotten there yet.

Nick Castellanos is unproven in the majors on a full time basis, but his track record this spring is solid. He's putting the Tigers at ease with what he's shown both offensively and defensively and he's stolen twice without being caught. And we aren't even talking about his .400 avg, the two homers or the 16 RBI he has in 14 games.

If there's a player least likely to steal a base, it's Miguel Cabrera. By chance if it does happen he'll probably just walk over to second because, well, he's Miggy. In 11 years Cabrera has stolen only 36 bases and has been caught 18 times so no one is expecting him to pull a "Rajai Davis" act anytime soon. However because of his ongoing home run love affair and RBI obsession he won't need to steal any bases.

Ausmus is happy with the Tigers' situational awareness. He's only had to put on the steal sign once in spring training and the countless hours of practice have been paying off. Sunday's game is the latest example of what smart and aggressive base running can do to make the difference in a game.

In the regular season, one game could be the difference between making the postseason or not. The Tigers were the Central Division champions by only one game -- although that's due in part to losing three games after clinching the division title -- and they can't afford another close race, especially with the noticeable absence of lefties at the plate and loss of power hitters.

Despite the projected drop in home runs the Tigers are expected to produce, a new kind of show will keep things eventful. If you're concerned that the Tigers won't be fun to watch this season, you may want to reserve judgement. Things are going to be interesting in 2014.

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