The news that Victor Martinez is back is great for the Tigers and really bad for the rest of the AL Central. He can instantly slide back into the designated hitter role and move Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose back to a strict platoon in center field. This, of course, leaves the Tigers with too many outfielders, which explains why Tyler Collins has been sent down to Triple-A Toledo.
Collins, of course, was in line to be the hero of Wednesday night's better-if-you-just-forget-it marathon in Cincinnati when he smacked a pinch-hit homer in the eighth inning to put Detroit up by one run. It was already the second pinch-hit big fly of his young career, which is probably a meaningless distinction, but is a distinction nonetheless. Collins is hitting .275/.315/.490 in 54 plate appearances on the season in the major leagues. We will likely see him back at some point this season, be it when rosters expand in September or as an injury replacement.
Will Collins get an opportunity to see playing time in the Old English D over the next few years? There are available spots in the outfield next year. Yoenis Cespedes and Davis are free agents after this season. Presumably, one of these spots will be filled either through trade or a free agent signing. Maybe, though, the Tigers could choose to cut costs here and go with Tyler Collins as the left side of a left field platoon. Most of his mashing has been against right-handed pitching, with a career .284/.324/.493 batting line against them in 71 plate appearances. Even though those power numbers likely will regress if he is given 400 plate appearances against righties, Collins could be a good bet to hit .270/.310/.420 -- all while making a league minimum salary.
Collins does come with red flags. His plate discipline is decidedly below average, as his poor strikeout-to-walk ratio can attest to. He is also not the most graceful of corner outfielders. Tigers fans have been used to those, from the immortal Brennan Boesch to the legendary Matt Tuiasosopo. Collins would likely be a below average defender, but by no means terminally awful defensive player. Honestly, Detroit can probably cope with that since they have Anthony Gose in center.
This isn't to say that Collins will automatically have a spot next year. There are other players in the upper minors competing for that same spot, such as Steven Moya or Daniel Fields. Fields might be the most advanced of all of the outfield options in the pipeline; he has an amazing .378 wOBA in Toledo this season, and seems to bear the mantle of the fourth outfielder of the future for the Tigers. Moya is still a long shot, but he hits for a lot of power, something that Dave Dombrowski has always valued.
Between these three guys, there is likely just one roster spot to be had. Fields and Collins would have made a nice platoon in left but they both bat left-handed, and all three prospects are running out of time. I would not be surprised to see at least one traded by the end of July.
While the Tyler Collins era in Detroit has a tenuous future, he has a lot of upside and has shown the ability to hit major league pitching in a limited sample. Time will tell whether he will have a lasting roster spot with the Tigers, or if he does not fit in the master plan of the team.