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Why Don Kelly is all but guaranteed a roster spot

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Don Kelly's spot on the roster is not guaranteed but it seems pretty safe.
Don Kelly's spot on the roster is not guaranteed but it seems pretty safe.

Don Kelly has his place on the Tigers' 25-man roster all but sewn up. Really, he just has to stay healthy for the next six weeks, and there's no reason to believe he won't. Sure, it might seem a bit funny to think that the player who is essentially the team's 25th man has it relatively easy. But remember: roster composition is about putting the best baseball team together, not the best fantasy team. (Or maybe Kelly just knows how to get duty-free smokes for his manager. Who's to say?)

Three main theories for why Kelly's spot on the roster is so safe.

  1. He has the flexibility to play both infield and outfield defense at an above-average level and will be getting work in as the emergency catcher. That gives the manager a nice amount of flexibility and a secure feeling.
  2. He has no options remaining, while other competitors for the roster have some. This was put forth by James Schmehl on Twitter Tuesday. I don't know that the threat of losing Kelly forever is a big worry, but this could play into it some.
  3. Jim Leyland loves him. (This one from Paul Wezner of Tiger Town on Twitter). This theory isn't bad either, really. Some managers and team executives just like to have "their" guys around and Kelly certainly seems like one of Leyland's guys.

To me, what it mostly comes down to is that every team needs a collection of skills. You need to stock the bench with different skills than what your starters bring. In Detroit's case, the starting lineup seems like it's going to be able to score some runs. But quite a few of those players have average at best, awkward at worst defense. The Tigers don't need to stock the bench with power bats. Those guys are already in the lineup. The Tigers need defense. Kelly can answer those concerns. It certainly wasn't his .244 batting average and .272 on-base percentage that got him in the lineup last season.

Now, is Kelly the only guy who brings some leather? Of course not. You can look to Danny Worth in the infield, Clete Thomas and Casper Wells in the outfield. But Kelly can play pretty much anywhere on the field. Pencil him onto the 25-man roster along with Ramon Santiago, and the Tigers can spend the rest of spring training figuring out what combination of Worth, Thomas, Casper Wells, Brennan Boesch and the runner-up in the second base sweepstakes fill out the remaining two position player slots.