On Wednesday, manager Brad Ausmus told reporters that left fielder Justin Upton will not hit second in the Detroit Tigers’ lineup to start the season. This comes as a surprise, since many had already penciled Upton in as the No. 2 hitter following Ausmus’ comments saying just that earlier this month. When Ausmus informed reporters that Upton would not bat second, he was asked who else would be considered for the spot. His response? “Anyone else.”
Ausmus hinted that J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos could both be candidates to bat in front of Miguel Cabrera this season. When looking at the second spot in the lineup, it’s vital to reach base consistently. Also important are that a player is not a wasted out or a double play liability. Not mentioned were any of our fastest base-runners in Ian Kinsler -- the team’s likely leadoff hitter — Jose Iglesias, and Mikie Mahtook, one of the team’s options as a starting center fielder.
Let’s once again look at who else could take Upton’s place.
When Iglesias had a chance to bat second last season, he did a pretty solid job with a .289 batting average and a .327 on-base percentage. He struck out 10 times compared to six walks in a total of 105 plate appearances in the No. 2 spot. He also tallied five RBI and only grounded into two double plays. In all spots in the lineup last year, Jose lead the Tigers in contact percentage at 91.1 percent.
Castellanos has yet to bat in the No. 2 hole in the lineup for more than four plate appearances in the last three seasons, so it’s hard to know what the Tigers will get out of Nick in that spot. He does have a tendency to hit into double plays, with 21 in 595 plate appearances last season. He also strikes out a lot, including 152 times last season.
The younger Martinez batted mostly in the fifth spot in the lineup last year. However, he had 149 plate appearance in the No. 2 spot. In those 149 plate appearances, he hit .229 with an on-base percentage of .302. He had 14 walks to 45 strikeouts, but did have 23 RBI and nine homers. He also grounded into 8 double plays.
Mahtook has limited experience in the majors, but the majority of his plate appearance have come in the second spot (81 plate appearances in total). He had a batting average of .325 and an on-base percentage of .358 in that small sample. He also struck out 17 times versus two walks, but only grounded into one double play. He also tore the cover off the ball with six home runs and 15 RBI.
Simply based on prior performance, it appears to be Iglesias’ spot in the lineup to lose. Mahthook will be Iglesias’ main competition, and really only needs to work on his strikeout rate in order for this to be a really tight contest. J.D. Martinez would need to show us something different in the second spot in order to have a chance of seeing a good number of at-bats there. Castellanos is the wild card in this scenario since we have never seen him bat second for any length of time.
Although Ausmus said Upton won’t start the season in the No. 2 hole, it’s not set in stone yet. However, unless it’s due to a lack of performance by someone else, I see one of Iglesias or Mahtook grabbing the No. 2 spot to start the season. Both have the speed and base running skills that neither J.D. nor Castellanos have. The Tigers have really struggled with base running in previous years, and this will likely be an emphasis (again) in 2017.