After undergoing successful right ankle and foot surgery last October, much has been made about whether or not Miguel Cabrera will be ready to open the 2015 season, and for good reason. The Detroit Tigers need to get Cabrera back to full health before he plays again, regardless of whether or not he has to miss Opening Day. However, if he is not ready to play when April rolls around, who takes over at first base may not be someone currently playing at the major league level.
Arguably the best right-handed hitter in baseball, the Tigers would have a colossal hole in their lineup if Cabrera is not healthy. Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski has stated that the organization will search for internal replacements should Miguel Cabrera need more recovery time, and obvious names such as Victor Martinez and Alex Avila have been mentioned by Dombrowski. Martinez and Avila are probably the two best options, but they are currently starters at other positions, which would essentially create a hole somewhere else in the lineup.
While Triple-A Toledo first baseman Jordan Lennerton was not directly named, he did receive a non-roster invitation to spring training. Lennerton, who was added to and then removed from the 40-man roster in 2014, has been in the system for a long time but was never a highly touted prospect.
There is one other name that I would like to add to the mix for first base depth. I guess I'm not surprised that no one else has thrown it out there, but I think this idea might have a chance because it's so odd. What if — now, bear with me — the Tigers' first baseman in April was Mike "King" Hessman?
Crazy, right? Mike Hessman has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in minor league baseball. He is the International League's all-time home run leader, with 307, and will be entering his 19th season in professional baseball. Hessman is basically the definition of a Quadruple-A player. He's the Hank Aaron of the minors. He's the real life Crash Davis.
I started thinking about Hessman the other day as I was browsing over the 2015 ZiPS projections for the Tigers. I stumbled across his name and didn't really think anything of it. Then I started to browse his projections, which got me thinking about this scenario I am now laying out in front of you. Take a look at what ZiPS thinks Hessman could do next year.
Low batting average, low on-base percentage, but look at those power numbers! Twenty-four home runs and 17 doubles in 438 plate appearances is good for a .228 ISO, which ZiPS projects to be second on the team in 2015. His .317 wOBA, while not overly impressive, is still projected to be seventh on the team.
If Hessman were to play for the Tigers in 2015, he would almost surely not get 400 plate appearances. He would most likely only be on the roster for the first month of the season, and even then would probably not play every single game. He has mastered the art of home run hitting in the minors, but has never proven anything at the major league level. He has only played in the majors for parts of five seasons, totaling 250 plate appearances and 14 home runs. Still, ZiPS seems to like his power a lot, and thinks that if given the chance at 37-years-old, Hessman could hit a lot of home runs in the majors.
This is probably not a realistic idea. Hessman is an extreme long shot to play for the Tigers in 2015. The most likely minor leaguer to play first base for the Tigers in 2015 is Lennerton, simply because he will be at big league camp while Hessman will not. Still, ZiPS projects Hessman at 0.1 WAR to be a better option than Lennerton at -0.7 WAR.
Then again, this is baseball and crazier things have happened. Just look at Brad Eldred, Matt Tuiasosopo, and even J.D. Martinez. Hessman is significantly older than any of those players, but maybe, just maybe, the King can find his way back to the big leagues one more time as the Tigers' first baseman.