As spring training approaches, the offseason — and the acquisitions sprinkled over the last few months — may be a little blurry for Detroit Tigers fans. While there may not be much in the way of position battles to concern ourselves with, it’s still good to know where things sit as the team arrives in Lakeland two weeks from now. With spring training just now getting underway, we here at Bless You Boys are going to refresh your memories as to who you can expect to see hanging around the friendly confines of Joker Marchant Stadium.
If you came here looking for a good old-fashioned position battle, you came to the wrong place. Third baseman Nick Castellanos and first baseman Miguel Cabrera have the corners on lock, and barring injury (please, God, no), will be the Opening Day starters. There are a few other names invited to camp as well, though. Here’s a rundown on everyone making their way to Lakeland.
Miguel Cabrera: I’m not sure what I can say about Cabrera that isn’t common knowledge. He’s as close to a sure thing as it gets offensively. The last time he saw a batting average south of .300 was 2004, and this year is not likely to be the one to break the streak. Father time starts catching up with most ballplayers around age 33, but Miguel Cabrera is not most ballplayers. Prediction-makers have him slated for an OPS north of .900 and at least thirty dingers, so you can safely expect Cabrera to continue crushing baseballs and making opposing pitchers look silly in 2017.
Seasons change. Miguel Cabrera does not.
Nick Castellanos: Prior to his unfortunate injury, Castellanos was on his way to a season that would erase any doubt about his ability to play the hot corner (at least for the next few years). He’s not going to win any Gold Gloves, but as a player who was once a festival of hopelessness on defense, he has blossomed into someone who is mostly adequate. Mostly adequate is high praise when you think of where he started. The story of 2016, as everyone knows, was Nick’s bat. He was tearing the cover off the ball before he got hurt, and the big question is: will that continue in 2017? He hit 18 home runs in his shortened 2016 season, and no one predicts him to surpass that mark in a full season of work this year. Even if he regresses to the .266/.313/.434 slash line Baseball Prospectus predicts, that’s not terrible, but I think we’re going to see better numbers than that.
Efren Navarro: The thirty-year-old first base corner outfield hybrid has been bouncing around baseball since 2007, spending most of his time with the Los Angeles Angels organization. He signed a minor league deal with the Tigers this offseason, and his prior output indicates he’s here for some organizational depth. The two times he has seen significant major league play, he hit in the neighborhood of .250 which isn’t all that bad if you can bring something else to the table. Unfortunately, with an OPS in the low six hundreds and an average at best on base percentage, it’s difficult to make a case for Navarro. He’s likely to spend his time at Triple-A and might end up in Detroit for a short time if there are any injuries.
Brett Pill: Here’s an interesting offseason acquisition. Pill was drafted in the 7th round by the San Francisco Giants. The first baseman made his major league debut with the Giants in 2011, and over 15 games, he hit .300 with an .881 OPS. In two subsequent stints he was unable to replicate his scorching start and he took his talents to Korea in 2014. His time in the Land of the Morning Calm was well spent as he torched KBO pitching for three seasons hitting over .300 and averaging around 20 home runs a year. At 32 years-of-age he’s another guy who is probably slated to spend his days in Toledo waiting for an injury call-up, but keep an eye on him in Lakeland to see if he brought some of that mojo back home from Korea.
Dominic Ficociello: Ficociello is a true organization guy, having been drafted by the Tigers in the 12th round of the 2013 amateur draft. He has managed to work his way up to the Double-A level where he played 123 games in 2016. He showed some promise in his first Double-A stint in 2015, where he posted an average of .284 and a wRC+ of 116 through 43 games. Unfortunately, he was unable to keep that momentum in a lackluster 2016 campaign.
That said, he’s still an interesting invite for spring training. FanGraphs listed him as the No. 13 prospect in the Tigers organization prior to last season.
The thing is, he still has room for another 20-25 pounds on his frame. He’s already proven he can hit for average and hit line drives and gappers around the field. He has a great swing path for fly balls, but just hasn’t had the strength to hit them over the fence consistently. He runs better than you might think and has great hands and feet at first base, prompting one Tigers source to tell me he may end up playing multiple positions. His future may still depend on his power coming around, but there are a bunch of pretty good tools here.
Ficociello will probably start the season back at Double-A, but he has an opportunity to put himself on the radar this spring. Pay attention to this kid.