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.
Much like the corner infielder roles, there won’t be any surprises in the middle infield this season, barring injury. The well-established one-two punch of Ian Kinsler and José Iglesias will remain in place at second base and shortstop, respectively. This is the third season the pair have teamed up — Iglesias having missed Kinsler’s debut Tigers season in 2014 — and their partnership seems to be working beautifully, with no reason to shake it up.
Ian Kinsler: Without sounding too biased, Kinsler is one of the top-five active second basemen in baseball. Kinsler is a producer at the plate; he hit .288/.348/.484 in 2016, and crushed a monster 28 home runs, the same number he hit in 2014 and 2015 combined. His wRC+ was 123, proving that even as he ages he can actually get better at the same time. He’s just as impressive in the field. He turned 109 double-plays last season, and was worth +12 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). This led to him taking home the Gold Glove award for the first time in his career. His 2016 WAR was a career-high 6.1, so fans shouldn’t anticipate seeing anyone else at second unless Kinsler takes an off day.
José Iglesias: After Iglesias took the 2014 season off to recovered from bilateral stress fractures in his lower legs, there was concern as to whether he and Kinsler would be able to find a rhythm in time for the 2015 season. There were some minor growing pains at first, but it seemed like the pair fell into step in no time flat. Iglesias has proven to be reliable and immensely watchable in the field. He was worth 2.1 WAR las year, and while his DRS was relatively average at +3, his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) was +11.6, which was better than all his previous seasons combined. Iglesias doesn’t seem to be showing any ill-effects from his 2014 injury, continuing to move like a natural acrobat in the shortstop position. At bat, his slash line dropped to .255/.306/.336 in 2016, but he compiled a career-high 32 RBIs. Like Kinsler, Iglesias will be a sure-bet in the shortstop role.
Andrew Romine: The Tigers’ utility man is most consistently used in infield roles, and is the go-to guy to step in at second base or shortstop when Iglesias or Kinsler need to sit a game out for any reason. Romine is a textbook utility player, and his stats are consistently decent. He is a career .240/.296/.322 hitter. Last year, he played 12 games at second and 12 at short. There was nothing particularly remarkable about those games, but also nothing to put a red mark against Romine being used in either role. When Iglesias was out for the 2014 season, Romine played 83 games at short, making him an obvious choice to step in when needed.
Dixon Machado: By some accounts, Machado is already good enough to be playing everyday shortstop in the majors. He has made repeat appearances in a Tigers uniform, but with the presence of Iglesias on the field, there’s just no need for a player of Machado’s skills. Still, the Tigers have not dealt him to another team yet, which implies they see a future for him within the organization. He appeared in six games for the Tigers as shortstop last season. His minor league hitting numbers aren’t great, but he has shown improvement over the past few seasons. He hit .266/.349/.356 in Triple-A last year, showing there’s definitely a good player there, if given the opportunity. Expect to see Machado at least briefly next season.
Omar Infante: Infante is on his third go-round with the Tigers, having played the part of starting second baseman in two previous stints. If he returned to the regular Tigers roster, he would join Justin Verlander as the last relics of the 2006 World Series team. Time, however, has not been as kind to Omar as it has to Justin. In his most recent season with the Kansas City Royals, he was demoted from place as the starting second baseman. The 35-year-old is entering his 16th season, and it seems unlikely he will get much play with the Tigers, unless rumors of his interest in playing a part of the center field platoon pan out. With Romine on the 25-man roster, there’s simply not a place nor a need for Infante.
Brendan Ryan: Ryan is a 34-year-old utility player who has shifted between second base, third base, and shortstop for a variety of teams over the course of his 10 MLB seasons. Last year with the Los Angeles Angels, he appeared in a mere 17 games and got only one hit in that time. Still, his career line is .233/.294/.314 which is decent enough to make him consistently interesting to teams. He is, at best, average, and with Infante’s previous experience on the team and superior hitting numbers, Ryan is very unlikely to make an appearance in Detroit next season.
Daniel Muno: Muno’s sole major league experience came in 2015 when he played 15 games for the New York Mets. He has otherwise been relegated to a Triple-A role for the bulk of his career. The 28-year-old infielder has spent six seasons with various minor league organizations, and is a .270/.385/.398 hitter. As the most recent addition to the Tigers’ minor league invitee list, it is improbable Muno will see any substantial major league play, but may end up being a strong player for the Toledo Mud Hens.