There's a reason the national media and projection systems don't like the Detroit Tigers' chances of returning to the postseason in 2016. Baseball Prospectus thinks the Tigers will have a losing record, while the USA Today projected a fourth-plate finish. We have vehemently disagreed every step of the way, but Thursday's news that Anibal Sanchez will miss time due to a triceps injury is a "told you so" moment for those outside Detroit.
Most of these doubts stem from how their team is constructed. The Tigers are still relying heavily on a "stars and scrubs" model to fill out their roster, and many of those stars are now on the wrong side of 30. Losing Sanchez (or another starter) for a significant amount of time will be a big blow to their playoff chances, even with the depth added during the offseason. Even a healthy Sanchez needs to perform well for the Tigers to move up the standings, and an early flare-up from his balky shoulder is not a good sign.
@BYBRob WHO IS NEXT IN LINE TO REPLACE SANCHEZ IF HE IS SIDELINED FOR ANY CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF TIME?— #NoHubris (@tokarzontigers) February 26, 2016
It's too early to worry about Anibal Sanchez's status for the regular season -- you can panic after the next setback -- but the Tigers will undoubtedly have a contingency plan in place should Sanchez start the season on the shelf. All of the candidates I mentioned last week in competition with Daniel Norris for the fifth starter's job should be in line for Sanchez's innings, and I don't know if there is currently a frontrunner.
Shane Greene seems like an obvious answer on paper, but I'm interested to see how the Tigers treat him coming off of last fall's surgery. He has been throwing since early November, but his blood clots are still resolving and he only logged 118 total innings last season. They will likely limit his innings in some fashion, but it remains to be seen exactly how they will do so.
Matt Boyd and Michael Fulmer are the other likely candidates to replace a hobbled Sanchez, depending on how they perform in spring training. Boyd showed flashes of competence in 2015 and has been working on a slider, but Fulmer has the higher ceiling. However, Fulmer's service time clock hasn't started yet, so Boyd is the smarter short-term option if Sanchez's issues aren't serious.
What does Bobby Parnell have to do in spring training to make the club?
While he is only signed to a minor league deal, I would almost consider Parnell a favorite to make the team out of spring training. He has a longer track record of any of the pitchers competing for the final two spots in the bullpen, and his only sin is missing most of the past two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. Parnell struggled in 2015, walking 17 batters in 24 innings, but his fastball velocity trended positively as the year went on.
Moreover, it makes sense for the Tigers to take a healthy Parnell north over a young pitcher. He is not currently on the 40-man roster, but a spot will open when the Tigers
designate Bryan Holaday make a decision on their backup catcher at the end of the spring. This gives the Tigers a chance to watch Parnell throw a few low leverage innings in the regular season, further distancing him from his 2014 surgery.
The Tigers don't lose any assets taking this route, but cutting Parnell for a young player in March takes away a potential bullpen arm that can be of use later in the season. If they are contending and he pitches well, he's a valuable piece. If the team falters, he's trade bait in July. You can always cut Parnell at any time, but you can't bring him back once you do.
@blessyouboys what would you consider to be a "breakout season" from Castellanos?— Jason (@jumpinmurphy) February 23, 2016
After a brief benching on June 23, Nick Castellanos hit .283/.329/.487 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI in 87 games. That projects out to 21 homers and 88 RBI on a 162-game pace, which would make for a solid age-24 season. His WAR total may not reflect that breakout thanks to his subpar defense, but I'd happily take an .817 OPS from the sixth spot in the lineup.
FanGraphs' Tony Blengino has been breaking down the batted ball profiles of every full-time major leaguer, and his recent synopsis of Castellanos was interesting.
On the positive side, he never pops up and has posted liner rate percentile ranks of 96 and 79 in his two seasons as a regular. He also uses the entire field, avoiding infield overshifts. On the negative side, he hits more fly balls (excluding pop ups) than grounders, an indicator of next-year decline...If he can learn to selectively pull in the air a bit more without upsetting his positives in the progress, he can become an above-average bat.
Castellanos started to pull the ball more often after the All-Star break last season, and his line drive rate was a scalding 27.7 percent. This could either be statistical noise or a breakout in the making; let's hope for the latter.
What is Josh Turley's ceiling: 4th starter, 5th starter, bullpen, or organizational depth?
Josh Turley is a 25-year-old lefthander who posted a 13-8 record and 3.29 ERA in 153 innings at Double-A Erie in 2015. Those numbers would be worth roughly three wins at the major league level, but Turley didn't even earn a non-roster invite to spring training. Why isn't Turley being hyped as the next big thing in Detroit?
Because his stuff isn't that good. Turley's fastball sits in the 85-88 mile-per-hour range, and he has a litany of below-average offspeed pitches at his disposal, including a knuckleball. The knuckler is his best pitch according to many scouts -- I'm not sure how you evaluate a knuckleball, but that's another question entirely -- but TigsTown's Mark Anderson notes that Turley "doesn’t throw it enough or consistently enough to carry his profile."
While he's not likely to reach it, Turley's ceiling is that of a fifth starter. He could feasibly progress enough to mix enough pitches to stay alive at the major league level, and seems like the rare pitcher that could survive as a starter but not as a reliever.
@blessyouboys is there ANY chance Confesor Lara makes it to the majors in September? I say yes.— Imperfectlyhappy (@MyCaribbeanLife) February 25, 2016
A Confesor Lara appearances doesn't seem likely, but I probably would have said the same thing about Guido Knudson and Jeff Ferrell at this time last year. Lara, a former outfielder, checked in at No. 38 on TigsTown's Top 50 prospects in 2016 after spending most of the year at Double-A Erie. He dominated Advanced-A Lakeland in a short stint last season, striking out 20 hitters in 16 1/3 innings before a quick promotion.
Lara's Erie numbers weren't quite as impressive, but he has a fastball that reaches 96-97 miles per hour on the radar gun. His slider lags behind, but he has come a long way in just a few years since moving to the mound. If everything clicks, he could be a serviceable bullpen arm, but that's still far from certain at this point.