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How's That Vance Wilson Doing, Anyway?

As part of a series profiling each major league team position-by-position leading up to Spring Training, Jason Beck has a look at the Detroit Tigers' catchers today. We already know what the story is with Pudge Rodriguez. He's coming back, with an over-inflated contract option in his wallet, as the Tigers didn't see any viable alternative options available on the free agent or trade markets.

But what about Pudge's back-up? In 2006, Vance Wilson gave the Tigers stellar depth at the catching position with a career season. He hit .283/.304/.441 with five home runs and 18 RBI. And with that bat, Wilson provided a key highlight early in the 2006 season, smacking a two-run homer that settled a pitcher's duel between Johan Santana and Justin Verlander.

Unfortunately, the Tigers didn't benefit from either Wilson's bat or glove in 2007, as he injured his elbow late in Spring Training. That sore elbow turned out to be much more serious than originally thought, however. By June, Wilson needed the dreaded Tommy John surgery and his season was over.

So how is Wilson's recovery going? Will he be ready for Spring Training? If not, how about Opening Day? Otherwise, the back-up situation behind Pudge could be extremely murky now that Mike Rabelo is a Florida Marlin.

But according to Beck, things are looking good for Wilson in 2008:

The days start early so [Wilson] can warm up his arm before unleashing some throws, then ice his arm, then warm it up again before hitting the weight room. The progress isn't always evident, and it's more a collection of good days and bad than it is simply a progression of better days.

Through all that, however, is a strong confidence that he's going to be back behind the plate again this year, and that he's going to be the catcher he was before the surgery. His being ready by Opening Day isn't so clear, but for a backup to an ironman starter, it isn't so important, either.

"I'm feeling good," Wilson said. "I'm getting there."

Wilson also says he feels better now than he did before he got hurt, if for no other reason than he's had plenty of time to build himself back up by lifting weights. He began throwing in November, and been working out at the University of Arkansas since Thanksgiving. Next month, he'll begin catching side sessions with the Tigers pitchers, start familiarizing himself with their skills, and formulating game plans.

UPDATE (6 p.m.): Beck posted some additional thoughts on Wilson to his blog. In his words, "It's basically a matter of when he comes back, not if." But it still could be June before Wilson is back at full strength. Because of that, the Tigers could pursue a catcher who would agree to a minor-league contract.