In February, I posted my nine themes to watch this spring training. With less than two weeks before the season opens, we should probably look back at those a bit, hey?
Back then, I wondered how the rookies would look, how the health of several players would turn out and just who would be in the rotation, the lineup and left field.
Fortunately, we know quite a bit more now. With Dontrelle Willis pitching well, Austin Jackson looking like he'll be the exciting leadoff batter many predicted, and the addition of Johnny Damon bringing a fun, swaggery vibe, things look a lot better in Tigertown than they did just five weeks ago.
So let's revisit the themes!
1. Meeting Austin Jackson
While I cautioned we shouldn't look at spring training statistics too closely with Jackson, I thought it was a good idea for him to get off on the right foot in his Tigers career. And he did in a big way.
Even before going 3-for-4 on Tuesday, he had an on-base percentage of .420 with a double, three triples and a home run in his 15 at-bats. He's also shown good instincts on the basepaths and in the field, cut down on strikeouts and walked a bit more. All around, Jackson has done all you could hope he would.
2. Finding a fifth starter
With Jeremy Bonderman's "fourth starter" -- this is not actual position in the rotation, this is the ranking of pitcher by abilities when I say that -- supposedly locked up, five or six pitchers were competing for one rotation spot.
Now it appears Nate Robertson has the position all but sewn up, but Bonderman's place in the rotation may be in peril. We've also learned Dontrelle Willis is pitching around the plate more than ever in his Tigers' career. Phil Coke and Eddie Bonine have returned to possible roles in the bullpen. The coverboy of last edition of the themes, Armando Galarraga, did nothing to earn his stay in big league camp.
Yet, we still don't know for sure who the final two starting pitchers on the roster are. I think all three starting candidates will be around come opening day, but I'm not sure who will be where yet. So stay tuned!
3. Sizing up Scott Sizemore
He fields better than expected. He seems to be getting healthier, as well. The batting has suffered a bit thus far. And you'd always like to see him have a little more success before the season opens, but I don't think batting is really something we have to fear with Sizemore.
4. Sorting out the left-handed relievers
"There is no such thing as having too many pitchers" was proven correct again. Unfortunately, things sorted out a bit when Bobby Seay was lost to an unknown (or undisclosed, at this point anyway) injury. It now looks like Coke and Fu-Te Ni will be the for-sure left-handers. Daniel Schlereth just needs to continue to work on some stuff in the minors, and fortunately there is no pressure to bring him up too soon. If Detroit wants to go three deep, Brad Thomas is a safe option.
5. Joel Zumaya's "last string"
He's been hittable thus far this spring. He's gone a bit missing as of late, with the last appearance a short one March 14. Zumaya has logged just 4-2/3 innings of Grapefruit League action, though he's pitched in simulated games and such. While it is true Zumaya is working on his curveball, to give a little more to his arsenal than just a 100 mph fastball, the Tigers were said to be "concerned" earlier in camp. Jim Leyland said that everything about the way Zumaya is throwing the ball seems to be the same, but the team was checking video to see if he was tipping his pitches in some way.
I don't know about "last string" but Zumaya's spring and the team's reaction to it isn't real confidence building.
6. Sorting out the lineup
Jackson has shown nothing this spring to indicate Leyland's hunch in using him as a leadoff batter was a bad one. The rest was sorted out when the Tigers signed left-handed batter Johnny Damon late in February. With those two at the top, and the Venezuelans batting 3-4-5, the top of the order seems decent enough. Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera and the switch-hitting Carlos Guillen fit in there. The bottom of the order is just as ugly as before, but at least it's sorted out.
Of course, Leyland won't use the opening day order all that much, but at least it's come together.
7. The 25th Man
The 25th-man battle is kind of boring overall . There will be no surprises. Don Kelly appeared to be the best bet entering camp, and as I recently wrote, it still appears as if he has earned the spot. He is the logical choice to give the roster the most flexibility. He can help both in the infield and possibly as a defensive replacement.
8. Finding a left fielder?
Again, the signing of Johnny Damon helped answer this question. It also helped the manager save a bit of face, after he promised Guillen a position in the field last October. Guillen has gotten his time in the outfield this spring, too, though. He seemed to be playing there just fine, too. So maybe the worry of his inability to play in the field was a bit overblown.
Here are the one I suggested could come into play:
There's a lot of little things. Inge's knees, for instance. He had surgery on both of them this offseason. How will that affect him in the field and at the plate?
What about Miguel Cabrera's battle against alcohol? It sounds like he made all the right decisions during the offseason, but he might be entering a new phase as he is back with his team, playing baseball.
What do we know about those storylines? Inge's knees are doing better, but they're not 100 percent yet. Cabrera has seemingly put the alcohol question to bed. Hopefully he can continue to do so.
The Tigers feel like a different team now than they were entering camp. With the confident start of Jackson and the easygoing swagger of Damon, the team seems to have transformed into one that promises to be fun to follow this season as it definitely contends for the AL Central title.