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Where to Plant Them: Tiger Second Basemen

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This is the third installment in a series where I'm trying to guess at how the Tigers will staff the starting role at each position for their four full season squads. We've already covered the catchers and first basemen and now we move on to second base. This position gets a little tricky because you have the potential for players who had always been shortstops to get moved to the other side of the keystone.

I'm not going to mess around with that idea, though. I might give a brief nod to the possibility of shortstops or utility players stepping in at the position, but I'll focus on the players who played more games at second base last season than anywhere else.

West Michigan

Alexander Nunez, Born: 5/4/90, Bats: R

I struggled trying to figure out who I thought would staff both the catching and first base positions in Grand Rapids and second base is no different. I ended up going with Alexander Nunez by default as much as anything. He was the every day second baseman in Connecticut last year, but struggled badly against NY-Penn pitching. He hit just .223/.265/.328, and while we shouldn't put too much stock in stats at that level, striking out (76) more than five times more often than you walk (14) is not a good sign at any level.

Other possibilities I considered were Jimmy Gulliver, who was assigned to West Michigan last season when the Tigers looked to shake up an ineffective roster. He's 24, though, and I assume would only get the job if nobody else were deemed ready. As I alluded to above, that seems like a scenario with a greater than zero probability.

Another possibility is the Tigers looking at three young shortstops, Hernan Perez, Dixon Machado and Javier Azcona and trying to see how one of them looks at second base. If they go that route, Azcona would seem like the most probable candidate since he moved around the GCL infield last season. When the other two are discussed, it seems like their defense always comes up first. I don't know why, then, you'd move them off the position that puts it to best use.

Lakeland

Corey Jones, Born: 9/14/87, Bats: L

When doing an exercise like this, I'm always thankful for an assignment that seems as clear cut as this one. The most frequent Lakeland second basemen from last year had mid-season promotions to Erie, leaving a clear vacancy for somebody. Jones was assigned to West Michigan right out of college and handled himself pretty well against Midwest League pitchers, making a promotion seem likely.

That's not to say Jones isn't without his blemishes. He showed very little power last season and achieved a line of .360/.450/.460 mostly on the back of a .417 BABIP. His defense doesn't seem to get rave reviews either, but I fail to see how any of these issues are going to be addressed by him having another go in the Midwest League. At 23, with a good (if brief) debut, he seems like a lock to be Lakeland bound.

Assuming the Tigers didn't sign William Bergolla to stow him at such a low level, it's difficult to imagine who else they might consider for Lakeland. As I mentioned above, Brandon Douglas and Alden Carrithers both had a go at second in Lakeland last season. Both also showed that they are more than ready for a greater challenge than Florida State League pitchers can provide (hence, in-season promotions for each).

Erie

Brandon Douglas, Born: 8/27/85, Bats: R

I put Douglas side-by-side with Alden Carrithers to see who seemed like the more likely starter at this position. It was an easy decision to go with Douglas. When the two were both in the lineup in Erie last season, Douglas was clearly the preferred second baseman. After going through a few random lineup cards from the time when both were playing for the SeaWolves, I didn't find an instance of both being in the lineup and Carrithers being at second base.

In fact, Carrithers' best shot at getting the starting job at second base in Erie would probably be if the Tigers decide to let Douglas have a go in Toledo. After all, he did hit .359/.405/.503 in 159 Double A plate appearances last season. It seems at least possible the Tigers would decide to let him see what he can do against Triple A pitching. The fact that he's unlikely to be a starter if and when he makes it to the majors would seem to encourage such a move.

If Carrithers does get the starting job, his charge will be getting back to the success he found while in Lakeland last season. His .359/.464/.423 line with the Flying Tigers allowed him to force his way onto the SeaWolves' roster. His luck with balls in play suffered from the promotion (dropped from .408 in Lakeland to .300 in Erie). That and his lack of power overmatched his continued ability to work the strike zone and he will now have to prove he hasn't bumped up against his ceiling in Double A.

Other candidates for the second base job in Erie were Justin Henry and William Bergolla. Henry seems to have settled in as a utility player and since Bergolla hasn't even played since 2008, I don't expect him to step into a starting job.

Toledo

Will Rhymes, Born: 4/1/83, Bats: L

This choice obviously turns on how the second base job in Detroit shakes out. If Guillen proves ready for Opening Day - less and less likely as spring training marches on without him having played - he will get the job. In that scenario, Rhymes would seem to be a more likely candidate for the Detroit bench since he could come in as a defensive replacement or a lefty bat.

If Guillen opens the season on the disabled list, the competition most likely comes down to Sizemore and Rhymes. In Rhymes' favor, you have what seems like a widely held belief that he's better on defense. He's also another lefty bat, better suited for the second spot in the lineup and has shown he can be productive at the major league level.

So why did I choose Sizemore as the more likely winner of the job? I think his track record shows much more offensive potential and when Sizemore is healthy, the difference between his defense and Rhymes' is overstated. I fully admit a bias here.

Rhymes is a player whose productivity is dependent on his batting average. It's been shown time and time again through his pro career that if he's not hitting .300, he's a below average offensive player. Sizemore is better equipped to fight through the times when the hits aren't falling as frequently by drawing more walks and hitting for better power. Given a choice between those two types of hitter, I prefer the guy who can better overcome hitting .260 of .270.

Barring injury, I don't think there are really any other serious candidates for the starting job in Toledo. If one of these two were to suffer an injury, the job would probably fall to a mix of Danny Worth and other previously mentioned players: Brandon Douglas, Justin Henry and William Bergolla.

Summary

I feel pretty good about my picks for this position. I'm most shaky on the West Michigan job - Azcona might actually have the best shot at it - but I feel alright about the other selections. Even if I'm wrong on the other picks, I think the scenario that would cause it is likely found in my explanations.

In the end, though, nobody cares whether I get these predictions right. They care about the Tigers' strength at the position. I think the second base position for the Tigers is interesting. At the major league level, Guillen, Sizemore and Rhymes offer a fair amount of depth and good potential for league average production from the position. In other words, solid contributions without much potential for star-level quality.

Go down further to guys like Douglas and Jones and you see more of the same. Players who have weaknesses in their game, but whose strengths don't force you to regret having them on the roster. While you'd obviously prefer to have a star either at the position or coming up through the ranks, providing a steady stream of solid contributors isn't a bad alternative.