When the Detroit Tigers acquired Cameron Maybin and signed free agent Justin Upton during the past offseason, Tyler Collins looked like the odd man out. Maybin was sidelined after being hit by a pitch in the first game of spring training, though, re-opening the door for the left-handed hitting corner outfielder to win a job on the Opening Day roster.
Collins will add a left-handed bat with some power to a very righty heavy lineup. He can play all three outfield positions but is not a natural center fielder, though he has looked passable in spring training this year. He hit just .188 against lefthanders at Triple-A Toledo last season, so he is not the ideal partner for incumbent center fielder Anthony Gose.
Collins would also give the Tigers some insurance for Victor Martinez -- the only left-handed hitter in the starting lineup (other than Gose) -- in the event that the veteran slugger's recently fragile legs feel wobbly on a given day. Collins does have a minor league option left, so he can be sent down to Toledo when Maybin returns.
The question remains, though: who gets the at-bats Maybin was slated for?
When Maybin went down with his injury, manager Brad Ausmus told MLB.com:
"We've got options that we will continue to look at. Those two [Wynton Bernard and Collins], plus we're going to play Andrew Romine in center field to see how he is out there. We only have to cover a little bit of time at the beginning of the season, so I don't think it's anything too drastic."
It's a bit anticlimactic, but Gose should get most of Maybin's playing time. After playing 137 games in center field last season, Gose came to spring training expecting to battle and share time with Maybin in center field this season. With Maybin on the disabled list, Gose figures to start against right-handed pitchers. However, he is a weak hitter against left handed pitchers, hitting just .202 with little power against them.
Wynton Bernard would have been a natural center fielder to replace Maybin on the roster. Bernard is a right-handed hitter who hit .317 with an .803 OPS against lefties at Double-A Erie in 2015. He has plenty of speed, and plays solid defense. He will play every day in the minor leagues rather than sitting on the bench in Detroit.
Romine is a career .287 hitter against left-handed pitchers, but he has hit more often from the left side of the plate, where he bats just .229 against righties. Mike Aviles, the Tigers' new second utility infielder, is also a right-handed batter who played 39 games in the outfield last season, including five games in center field.
If Romine and/or Aviles can play center field against left handed pitchers [Ed.: /shudders] the club can use Collins as a left-handed bat off the bench, whether or not he is used in center field. He need not be used against left-handed pitchers, when Gose should be firmly seated on the bench.
Collins was left off the roster to start the season in 2015, with little playing time available for him in Detroit, and the club being wed to carrying two backup infielders, which included Hernan Perez and Romine at the time. When called up to the major leagues, he provided league average production, hitting .266/.316/.417/.732 in over 200 plate appearances. He played both outfield corners after Yoenis Cespedes was traded.
The roster opening is a temporary one, and the need for a right-handed bat to compliment Gose in a lineup that features plenty of right-handed hitting is not a huge concern. Until Maybin returns, Collins provides the greatest additional benefit on the current roster.