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2017 Detroit Tigers spring training roster preview: The outfield

Center field is one of the few positions up for grabs, making the outfielder invitees in Lakeland worth following.

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

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.

As full squad workouts get under way in Lakeland the outfield is like that random pastry you find in the break room at work. You know what you’re getting on the outside with J.D. Martinez in right field and Justin Upton in left, but what’s in the middle is a mystery. The outfield preview is here to help you figure out what that filling might be, and if you’re gonna like it.

40-man roster

J.D. Martinez: Martinez is the starter in right field, and will remain there for the entirety of the season unless the Tigers are way behind at the trade deadline. At that point a trade could make right field a bit of a mystery, but until then you can look forward to J.D. picking up where he left off last year. Steamer has him slated for a .275/.337/.486 line with 27 dingers, which would be just fine. Other projections are more bullish, as am I. He’s also coming in with a renewed focus on his defense after finishing last in the league in that metric among right fielders last year. We’ll see how it works out.

Justin Upton: When the Tigers signed Justin Upton last season, fans were more excited than my grandmother at a church craft bazaar. After Upton limped into the All-Star break with a .239 average and a .670 OPS, disgruntled might have been a more apt description of the overall fan mood. Upton turned it around, hitting .260 in the second half with 22 home runs and a .916 OPS (and an especially hot 1.132 OPS in September and October). He’s locked in at the corner opposite of J.D. Martinez, and will be looking to build on last season’s strong second half.

Tyler Collins: Our first entrant in the “Who’s going to play center field?” sweepstakes, Tyler Collins is out to prove he can do more than wag his middle finger around Comerica Park’s expansive center field. After a promising 2015 stint, Collins failed to impress in 56 games last year. He split time between all three outfield spots in 2016, but saw the majority of his time in center. He looks to at least make the case for a platoon role in center — or that of a 4th outfielder — but he’s going to have to prove he can do better than the .235 average and wRC+ of 84 that he produced last year, especially since his defense numbers are below average at best no matter what stat you’re looking at. He’s also going to have to stay healthy, which already seems to be an issue as a lat injury will keep him out of the field for a few weeks. Take it easy on those pulldowns, bro.

Mikie Mahtook: Our shiniest, newest Tiger was brought in specifically to compete for playing time in center field, and he appears to be the favorite as things are getting underway. The former first round pick of the Tampa Bay Rays had a good — if limited — 2015 run, hitting .295 with 9 home runs over 41 games, but the bloom was off the rose in 2016. He made a poor offensive showing, with a 34 percent K rate over 65 games. Some off-season acquisitions and a guy named Kevin Kiermaier made the less talented, and far less handsome, Mahtook expendable. What the Tigers know they’re getting in Mahtook is above average defense. What they’re hoping to see is a rebound in offensive numbers. They don’t need Mahtook to dazzle, necessarily. They just need him to suck less than he did last year, and his track record in the minors indicates he could be serviceable. The Tigers will be watching him closely, and you should, too.

Steven Moya: It feels like Moya has been “on the cusp” for close to a decade. People have expected him to be the Tigers next regular right fielder for so long they’re starting to feel apprehensive as to whether it will ever actually happen. He had an opportunity to ply his trade with the big club for a stretch last year and he came out of the gate swinging a hot bat. Unfortunately that bat cooled itself right off. His final line of .255/.290/.500 looks pretty good, but it doesn’t tell the whole story of a player who struggled. I don’t need Bill James to tell me a 38 percent K rate is unsustainable. Add to that a questionable ability to cover right field, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion Moya needs to show he’s figured some things out before he gets a spot. He’s candidate for a bench bat or fourth outfielder, and the fact that he’s out of options leaves the Tigers with some decisions to make, and Moya with something to prove.

JaCoby Jones: After starting 2016 on a 50 game vacation Jones hit his way through the minors in pretty short order. A .286 ISO during a short stay in Double-A punched his ticket to Toledo, and he got a quick look in Detroit. That didn’t go so well, and he showed some growing pains at the Triple-A level as well where he struck out almost 30 percent of the time and finished with a slash line of .243/.309/.356. Prior to the Mahtook acquisition there was a little more buzz around his possibilities to make it as a platoon center fielder. Jones isn’t approaching things any differently than he was before Mahtook became a Tiger. He’s been focusing on barreling the ball, and making contact, and he hopes to make enough noise to earn himself a spot this spring. He’s versatile and fast, which could work if his offense cooperates. Chances are he starts the season in Toledo to get a little more seasoned.

Non-roster invitees

Juan Perez: At the ripe age of 30, and only hitting .224 in 118 games over three years, there’s not much to say about Perez. His signing is the equivalent of digging through the bargain DVD bin and hoping you find MacGruber or Stepbrothers, but don’t hold out much hope that you’re finding anything better than Deuce Bigalow 3. With enough injuries he might have an outside chance of playing in Detroit at some point, but don’t count on it.

Jason Krizan: Krizan is a tough case. On one hand, he hit .294 between Double-A and Triple-A last year while maintaining walk and strikeout rates both in the neighborhood of ten percent. On the other, he’s already 28, and doesn’t have much to offer beyond those minor league stats. It’s difficult to see Krizan sticking with the Tigers based on their other available options. Look for him to start in Toledo, and finish there as well.

Alex Presley: At 30 years old, Presley is a guy who has managed to make a seven-year career out of playing less than 100 games a season. He’s ostensibly here to compete for center field, but it’s unlikely to work out for him. He’s a classic case of a player who crushes Triple-A pitching, but can’t deliver consistent production at the major league level. With a defensive profile that wasn’t ever great and isn’t getting better, Presley doesn’t strike me as one to watch. If you see him playing in CoMerica Park, something has probably gone terribly wrong.

Mike Gerber: ErmahGerber is an interesting invite and worth keeping tabs on. He tore his way through a couple levels of minor league ball in 2016 and after settling in at Double-A he has established himself as a contender for a future corner outfield spot in Detroit. He finished the season with 18 home runs and a .275 average which isn’t too bad for a 23-year-old. His strikeout rate could stand to come down a touch, but he walks a decent amount, and has a strong enough arm to be a solid corner outfield defender. How he does this spring will be a good indicator of his progress. Look for him to start at Double-A, but he could be knocking on Toledo’s door pretty soon.

Anthony Gose: To say the one-time viable center field option has had a fall from grace would be generous. In 2016 his stock plummeted like a concrete kite. After poor performance in Detroit and a dugout argument in Toledo, he found himself on the outs with the organization. He’s only 26 years old and having hit .254 in 2015 he has the talent to be adequate on offense, and the tools to be the best defensive center field option in the organization. It appears the Tigers are giving him another chance this spring. If he takes advantage of it, we could certainly see him roaming center field for the Tigers in 2017.