Due to a rogue fastball from the Yankees' Luis Severino, Cameron Maybin will be out of action for four to six weeks with a fractured left wrist. Maybin's outfield role has been unclear since he was acquired, but it was generally assumed that Anthony Gose would get the majority of the starts in center field. He has not proven that he can play everyday, though, and it would be wise for the Tigers to bring a contingency plan along when they break spring training at the end of March.
Before the Tigers signed Justin Upton, losing Maybin for over a month would've been a big blow to the team. They don't have to worry about a hole in their starting lineup, thankfully, but they will need someone to give Gose a spell in center field. Internally, they aren't stacked with center field depth, but they do have a few options in camp that could provide the relief needed to open the season.
When Maybin's injury was discovered on Thursday, manager Brad Ausmus said that Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles would be emergency options to play center. We're hoping it never gets to that point. Andrew Romine has never played center field, and only amassed a total of three innings in the outfield during his major league career. Mike Aviles has decent defensive numbers in center field, but that is in a minuscule sample sizes of 33 2/3 innings.
Luckily, the Tigers have a few natural outfielders in camp too.
Collins has largely spent the last two seasons in Triple-A Toledo playing the corner outfield spots, but has seen time in center field with the Mud Hens. With average speed and average range, Collins is definitely not going to look like prime Austin Jackson patrolling the deepest area of Comerica Park, but he also won't look like Delmon Young and butcher routine plays. Considering he's the only player on this list that has seen time with the Tigers, he seems like the safe choice.
However, Collins has one thing holding him back: he hits left-handed. If the Tigers bring an extra center fielder north with them, it will almost certainly be someone who hits right-handed and can give Gose a day off against a left-handed starter. Collins has a .263 average against left-handed pitching in major league action, but in only 19 plate appearances. He hit just .188/.217/.266 against southpaws at Triple-A Toledo last season.
Although Bernard is on the 40-man roster, he has yet to make his major league debut. The story of how Bernard came to be a Tiger is a miraculous one, and how sweet would that story be if he ended up making it all the way to Detroit? With Maybin's injury, the chances of that happening have dramatically increased. A prototypical center fielder, Bernard's plus-plus speed allows him to track down balls deep in the gap. At Double-A Erie last season, he hit .301/.352/.408 and swiped 43 bags.
Despite having never played above Double-A, Bernard's handedness is a big advantage. He got on base at a .358 clip against left-handed pitchers last year, and could find himself on the short side of an outfield platoon thanks to his solid glove. He may not hit all that much at higher levels, though. He doesn't have a lot of power, and his high BABIP is evidence that his speed has come in handy when trying to leg out a base hit. Still, since coming over to the Tigers, Bernard has blasted past expectations at every level.
John Mayberry Jr.
Out of these three players, Mayberry has the most major league experience. A solid depth signing when he entered spring training, he now has the opportunity to open some eyes and compete for a big league roster spot. The right handed hitter has experience at all three outfield spots, though he hasn't played center since 2014 during his time with the Phillies.
Mayberry has been in the league for parts of seven seasons, and has hit .235/.299/.421 in 1,519 career plate appearances. At 32 years old, Mayberry's days of patrolling center field might be behind him, but with Maybin's absence expected to be under 15 regular season games, he could be worth a look. An added obstacle, though: Mayberry is not on the 40-man roster.
With plenty of time to sort out which player heads north to back up center field, all three of Collins, Bernard, and Mayberry should get ample time to make their cases. If Collins wasn't a left handed hitter, he'd probably be a shoe-in to fill the spot, but with Gose being a lefty, he doesn't make as much sense. Mayberry has the most major league experience, but his best days, which weren't very good in the first place, are behind him. Bernard is the wild card in all of this. Due to his spot on the 40-man roster, the fact that he's a natural center fielder, and his ability to hit right handed, his chances of beating all the odds and making it to Detroit are now better than ever.