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Jordan Lennerton could make Tigers' Opening Day roster in 2015

A Canadian first baseman going into his age 29 season, Lennerton's big league future depends on the health of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Jordan Lennerton went into spring training with a spot on the Tigers' 40-man roster. He was coming off a big season at Triple-A Toledo and was quickly winning the favor of the Tigers' fanbase despite never playing in an MLB game. One year later, Lennerton is not on the 40-man roster, coming off a rather pedestrian season, and has lost his luster with the fanbase. As fate would have it, his chances of making the Tigers' 25-man roster are much higher in 2015 thanks to injuries to Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.

Where did he come from?

The Tigers selected Lennerton in the 33rd round of the 2008 draft. A product of Oregon State University, Lennerton got his professional career off to a slow start with a .678 OPS in 54 games that season. He made big-time strides in his first year of full-season ball, hitting .282/.370/.434 with 42 extra-base hits in 505 plate appearances. Despite solid offensive numbers in a pitcher-friendly league, the Tigers sent him back to West Michigan for the first half of 2010. He continued to hit well, putting up an .842 OPS in 488 combined plate appearances at West Michigan and Advanced-A Lakeland.

The Tigers continued to pump the brakes on Lennerton's development, sending him back to Lakeland in 2011. Likewise, he continued to mash, hitting ..285/.397/.444 with 48 extra base hits in 580 plate appearances. He finally made it to Double A in 2012 at age 26, where he flashed even more power with 56 extra base hits (including 21 home runs) in 582 plate appearances.

Lennerton continued to swing a hot bat at Triple A in 2013, hitting .278/.382/.430 in 607 plate appearances. He was the Tigers' representative at the 2013 MLB Futures Game, where he walked and hit a sacrifice fly in two plate appearances. He only hit .249 in 488 plate appearances last season, but continued to walk at a high rate for a .362 on-base percentage. He only hit 10 home runs, but a .146 ISO shows that his power was not far off from his superior 2013 numbers, which included a .152 ISO.

Scouting report

While Lennerton's offensive numbers are impressive at first glance, it is his glove that sets him apart from other first basemen in the organization. Lennerton was recognized as the top defensive first baseman in the Eastern League by Baseball America in 2012, and won a Rawlings Gold Glove Award as the best first baseman in the entire minor leagues in 2013. Both his glove and arm are solid, making him capable of being an above average defender at the MLB level.

The problem with Lennerton lies in his bat. He has decent power, as evident by his career .150 ISO at the Triple A level, but doesn't have the 80-grade raw power of Mike Hessman or Steven Moya. While Lennerton is able to tap into a little more of his power in game situations, he still possesses a below average hit tool that call into serious question his ability to hit at the MLB level. Lennerton is a sub-.270 hitter at the two highest levels of the minor leagues, and the solid numbers he has racked up have come against younger competition. He has struck out in 23.4 percent of his minor league appearances, a rate that is sure to rise against MLB-caliber pitching.

One positive offensive trait that Lennerton has displayed throughout his career is a keen sense of the strike zone and an above average ability to draw walks. He has a career 10.3 percent walk rate in the minor leagues, including a staggering 15 percent walk rate despite struggling with his batting average in 2014. He won't continue to draw walks at that high of a rate in the majors, but an above average walk rate -- especially if he primarily faces right-handed pitching -- is still a safe bet.

What should we expect from him?

We have yet to learn the extent of Martinez's knee injury, but Lennerton's defensive prowess will likely give him an edge over sluggers Mike Hessman and Steven Moya. Calling up Lennerton would require some shuffling on the 40-man roster, but his presence would give the Tigers a chance to ease Cabrera into game action during the early part of the season. Lennerton has put up some decent numbers in the minors, but does not project to be much more than insurance for the Tigers' biggest stars.

Paul Wezner of TigsTown echoed this sentiment over the weekend while shedding some more light on Lennerton's defensive qualifications.

Lennerton on the other hand is a polished defender, consistently showing up in the TigsTools rankings for infield defense. His long arms make him a big target, and he’s good with the glove. That checks an important box. In addition, Lennerton has more than held his own offensively over the last two years at Toledo, with an .812 OPS in 2013 and a .757 OPS in 2014. Those aren’t amazing offensive numbers, but he’s not considered a top prospect, so that shouldn’t be the expectation. Lennerton has given the club a 0.15 ISO with a great walk rate. For an interim solution, Lennerton should be able to admirably fill in.

Looking beyond the short window of opportunity provided by Martinez's injury, Lennerton could add a fair bit of value by learning to play a corner outfield position. Unfortunately, he does not appear to possess the footspeed or athleticism to undertake such an endeavor, as the team likely would have tried that already if he did. The Tigers could use a player like that on their bench this season, as offensive thump is at more of a premium on the Tigers' roster than we are accustomed to. It's a bit much to ask him to become a poor man's Brandon Moss at this stage of his career, but even a successful showcase in April likely won't boost Lennerton's trade stock enough to make him an attractive option for power-starved clubs.