We are just over one week into Grapefruit League action, and while small sample sizes still rule the day -- I'm all for our catchers hitting .500, just saying -- there are a few things worth noting. Not all of these observations will stick. Guys will improve, others will drop off, and some of these things may look downright ridiculous next week.
Still, there are things we can pull out of these limited glimpses of game action. Spring training is more about the process than the results, and we've seen some interesting things during the last couple weeks in Lakeland.
Victor Martinez is finally healthy
Hoo boy, is he healthy. Anyone who has watched the Tigers' first few televised spring training games has seen how much more comfortable and fluid Martinez looks in the batter's box compared to last season, particularly when swinging from the left side. He hit a paltry .219/.276/.339 as a lefty in 2015, but already has a pair of homers to his name in spring action. Martinez is hitting .400/.429/.750 after Wednesday's action, and looks like a safe bet to at least rebound to his solid 2013 production.
Better yet, Martinez also looked healthy legging out a double in Tuesday's win over the Tampa Bay Rays. While he wasn't exactly burning down the first base line, he looked much faster than at any point in 2015, and was easily able to beat a throw from Tampa right fielder Taylor Motter.
Bryan Holaday looks like a different hitter
Sure, it's easy to say this when the guy is hitting .636/.636/1.636, but the swing changes Holaday has been working on throughout the offseason appear to be paying off. He has been rather aggressive thus far, with no walks or strikeouts on his ledger, but is doing plenty of damage once he makes contact.
A word of caution in Holaday's case, though. As someone who is coming into camp fighting for his job, Holaday could be a bit more locked in than most other players in early March. We will see what happens once pitchers start ramping up their velocity and throwing more off-speed pitches. For now? Holaday is at least making the Tigers' end-of-spring roster decision more difficult.
The bullpen depth might not be as good as we think
It's easy to fall into a false sense of security when your front office acquires three new relievers (Note to outsiders: we're not used to this). However, outside of Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Lowe, and Justin Wilson, there are some question marks. Both Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy faded down the stretch after otherwise excellent 2015 seasons, and neither is off to a good start this spring. Wilson hasn't thrown a baseball in more than a week due to shoulder soreness, while Hardy's struggles have continued into early game action. Hardy, in particular, is a concern because he is having trouble getting lefthanders out, something the Tigers need him to do in key situations this year.
Looking further down the bench, the Tigers are without two more relievers in Montreal Robertson and Jeff Ferrell. Options like Bruce Rondon, Drew VerHagen, Shane Greene, and others come with their own question marks, and Wilson's injury could force them into a few early high leverage situations. Things may eventually work out -- Rondon has looked sharp thus far -- but this unit is still not a strength.
There is a legitimate fifth starter battle
At least, there appears to be one. Shane Greene and Daniel Norris have traded starts thus far, the Tigers' hallmark of an actual starter battle in past seasons. Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly piggybacked off one another in 2013 before Smyly was shipped to the bullpen, and the Tigers operated under similar circumstances when Smyly won a rotation spot in 2012.
That said, Norris probably has a sizable lead. His work down the stretch in 2015 all but handed him a rotation spot this season, and his early work this spring has not dented his chances at landing on the Opening Day roster. Both Greene and Norris struggled with their fastball command on Tuesday against the Rays, but both displayed sharp breaking balls at times. Both will start at some point in 2016, but expect Norris to get the nod in early April.
Joe Jimenez is a stud
Few players entered spring training with more hype than Jimenez, who is coming off a dominant season at Single-A West Michigan. He has backed up those claims and then some in the couple appearances of him I have watched thus far. His fastball may not quite be in the high-90s yet, but his command has been decent and his breaking ball is, as Kirk Gibson put it, a "bowel locker."
Again, it's early. However, if Jimenez can continue to make hitters look foolish with his dominant stuff, he's not long for the minor leagues. The Tigers won't take him south for Opening Day, but it's not outlandish to think that Jimenez could help the bullpen this season, especially if the team is in a pennant race come August and September. His stuff is that good.