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Tigers' 25-man roster projection: Duane Below could be 5th starter

Mar. 5, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; General view of Joker Marchant Stadium before a spring training game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
Mar. 5, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; General view of Joker Marchant Stadium before a spring training game between the Toronto Blue Jays and Detroit Tigers. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Obviously, one of the fun games fans play in the month(s) leading up to a new season is, Who's Going To Make The Team? The question of who should make the team is an interesting side question to debate. But since I like to ask questions with definitive answers, I'm sticking with "will."

We know the Tigers will take five starting pitchers and seven relief pitchers. That's the way manager Jim Leyland likes to do it. Nine or 10 of those are set in stone. They'll have two catchers among the 13 position players. How many infielders and how many outfielders there will be is harder to nail down, harder yet because of players like Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn who spent ample time in both the dirt and the grass.

That all said, I'm going to lay out my guess, and some justification, in this post. I'll update it every week (probably on Mondays, but no guarantees) as we learn more. Feel free to play along in the comments.

Starting pitchers (5)

  1. Justin Verlander - RHP
  2. Doug Fister - RHP
  3. Max Scherzer - RHP
  4. Rick Porcello - RHP
  5. Duane Below - LHP
For my initial guess, I am saying Duane Below, of Britton, Mich., makes the rotation. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised by any of the candidates. It seems to me way too early to name a favorite among Below, right-hander Jacob Turner, and left-handers Drew Smyly, Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby and Adam Wilk. The Tigers' top prospect, Turner is probably atop a lot of people's lists. If he blows the doors off, the spot could be his. He's learning a slider and still needs a bit more time before joining the rotation full time. Below has experience and buys time for the prospects to develop. If he falters, there should be plenty to choose from. Wilk is up there, too, due to experience in 2011. (I know this list looks like Lynn Henning's, but it's the way I see things, too.)

Relief pitchers (7)
  1. Jose Valverde (RHP, closer)
  2. Joaquin Benoit (RHP, setup)
  3. Octavio Dotel (RHP, 7th)
  4. Phil Coke (LHP, 7th)
  5. Daniel Schlereth (LHP)
  6. David Pauley (RHP)
  7. Adam Wilk (LHP)
Leyland says there will be three left-handed pitchers. What he says in spring training doesn't always come to pass, but it's a good starting point, I guess. So I'm going that route. I think the loser of the Wilk-Below contest has a good chance at being the long reliever. Collin Balester is obviously in the mix, too. I don't want to rule out anybody yet, though, because the relief role is certainly one we could see a surprise.

Catchers (2)
  1. Alex Avila -- LHB
  2. Gerald Laird - RHB
Obviously these are set in stone right now.

Infielders (5)
  1. Prince Fielder (LHB, 1st base)
  2. Jhonny Peralta (RHB, SS)
  3. Miguel Cabrera, RHB, 3rd)
  4. Ramon Santiago, (S, INF)
  5. Brandon Inge (RHP, INF)
You might notice I've omitted 2nd base. The Tigers will end up splitting the time there so much I don't want to call anyone a starter. Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn, possibly Brandon Inge or Danny Worth. Right now I've got Inge making the club, He'll have to play his way off the team rather than the other way around. Worth is on the outside looking in.

Outfielder (4)
  1. Brennan Boesch (LHB, RF)
  2. Austin Jackson (RHB, CF)
  3. Delmon Young (RHB, LF)
  4. Andy Dirks (LHB, OF)
The Tigers don't have a full-time DH, so Delmon Young is a left fielder in today's story. I've got Andy Dirks beating Clete Thomas, but it could be the other way around. As people point out, Thomas does not have any options remaining and Dirks does. That could be a deciding factor. We'll have to see how the two players look during the course of this month.

Ryan Raburn and Don Kelly (2)
  1. Ryan Raburn (RHB, INF/OF)
  2. Don Kelly (LHB, INF/OF)
Are they infielders or an outfielders in the Tigers' eyes? Heck if I know. Raburn should be an outfielder, but it's hard to see Leyland committing to one role or another for him. Kelly plays all over the place.