The Detroit Tigers don’t have the easiest roster to crack for a rookie looking to start his major league career, but the team does have a few good men of limited experience who could make an impact during the 2015 season. Who qualifies as a rookie?
A player is considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has:
- More than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or
- More than 45 days on a Major League active roster during the 25-man limit period (April-August), excluding time on the disabled list.
Bruce Rondon and Hernan Perez no longer qualify as a rookies, because they spent over 45 days in the major leagues on the active roster prior to September during the 2013 season. Tyler Collins qualifies, because he spent just 13 days in the major leagues at the start of the 2014 season and was not recalled until September.
Here are five candidates who qualify and might be the Tigers’ rookie of the year in 2015.
Steven Moya is the prospect in the organization that everyone wants to watch. Barring an injury to a regular outfielder, or a performance in Lakeland that just blows away management, he’ll be opening the season in Toledo. He will not be going north with the major league team to sit on the bench.
Moya was named the 2014 Eastern League Most Valuable Player. He finished the season batting .273 (142-for-515) with 33 doubles, three triples, 35 home runs, 105 RBI, 81 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, a .555 slugging percentage and a .306 on-base percentage in 133 games. Moya set a new single-season Erie Seawolves franchise record for total bases (286), extra-base hits (71), home runs (35) and RBI (105). Moya was named the Detroit Tigers' minor league player of the year.
In 23 games in the Arizona fall league after the 2014 season, he batted .289 with six doubles, a triple, five home runs, and 19 RBI. Moya was also named to the Arizona Fall League Rising Stars Game. The concern is Moya’s strikeout rate of nearly 30 per cent, whiffing 161 times in 549 plate appearances last season.
Tyler Collins is probably fifth on the depth chart among Tigers’ outfielders, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee him a spot on the opening day roster. He made the team out of spring training a year ago, but was over matched at the plate, so he was returned to triple- A for another season before being recalled in September. In Toledo, he hit .263 .335 .423 .758 with 18 home runs and 12 stolen bases.
Collins can play all three outfield positions if needed, but is best suited for a corner spot. He shows better plate discipline, but not nearly as much power as Steven Moya. If a starting job does open up in Detroit, there is no guarantee that the Tigers wouldn’t call up Moya for the task. In fact, there is no guarantee that the club won’t keep two utility infielders, and go with just four outfielders to start the season. My preference would be to keep one utility player and keep Collins for his bat.
James McCann reports to spring training as the favorite to land the backup catcher’s job on the opening day roster, with a shot to be the Tigers’ starting catcher for the 2016 season, if not sooner. He posted a batting line of .295 .343 .427 .770 at triple- A Toledo in 2014, with seven home runs, 54 RBI, 34 doubles and nine steals. More importantly, the organization believes in his defensive skills, which will take time to sharpen in the major leagues.
The Tigers are not going to promote McCann to the starting catcher’s job based on his hitting. He will need to learn the pitchers on his team and the hitters around the league, and work his way into increased playing time. Still, he is a rookie who is an odds on favorite to make the team roster on opening day. He will be taking in all the information he can soak up from Alex Avila, and former catchers Brad Ausmus and Gene Lamont, about calling games at the major league level.
Buck Farmer will be given a shot to earn a major league roster spot in the Tigers’ bullpen this spring, although he will have a lot of competition for the job. He made his major league debut in 2014 after starting the season in low- A West Michigan. He also spent time in Erie and Toledo, as well as in Detroit. In the minors, Farmer posted a 3.08 ERA with a WHIP of 1.17. In Detroit, he made two starts with unimpressive stats, but a solid four innings in his debut appearance.
Tigers’ assistant general manager, Al Avila, said that Farmer will be given a shot at the bullpen this spring. Just the fact that he is rookie eligible with a chance to make the opening day roster gets him on this list.
Kyle Lobstein made his major league debut in August, 2014, making seven appearances, six starts, working five to seven innings in each appearance. He finished with an ERA of 4.35, an FIP of 3.82 and a WHIP of 1.24. He was tagged for six earned runs in his last appearance, which boosted his ERA by almost a full run. He was a pleasant surprise, and not thought of as a star prospect by any means, but could be a serviceable back end of the rotation starter.
Lobstein could be the sixth starter on the Tigers’ depth chart to start the season, which very likely means he’d be starting at least a few games in the major leagues. He will need one of the five starting pitchers to be ineffective or injured to give him a shot at sticking in the rotation, but the reality of major league pitching suggests that is more likely to happen than not.
As a consolation prize, it is also possible that one of Blaine Hardy or Tom Gorzelanny falters or is injured, opening a spot in the bullpen for a left hander, and Lobstein might be the guy to be handed the bullpen mop as the long reliever.
Honorable Mention: Drew VerHagen, Chad Smith, Kyle Ryan, Angel Nesbitt, Joe Mantiply