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 the beginning of spring training drawing ever closer, 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.
We kick off our first installment with the catchers. It’s a position that is pretty well locked down by starter James McCann and newly-signed backup Alex Avila, who returns to the team after signing a one-year deal in December. You should be pretty familiar with these two gentlemen.
Not wanting their glut of pitchers tossing into old tires or empty 55-gallon drums, the organization has invited a few other backstops with a pulse. You might not be as familiar with some of these other players (though many were around last spring as well). I’ll try to remedy that. Here is a breakdown of the six catchers you will see with the big club this spring.
James McCann: He took over the full-time job last season and, as he recently revealed, he spent a good chunk of 2016 with the lower half of his body operating at a less-than-optimal level of performance. McCann looks to remain the primary starter. Coming into 2017 fully healthy, he is hoping to show that last season was just a down year.
Alex Avila: In December, the Tigers brought Avila back to the Motor City on a one-year contract worth $2 million. He looks to be a good backup and platoon partner with McCann. Avila fills a bit of a weak spot in McCann’s skill set, with his ability to hit right-handed pitching well. A lingering familiarity with some of the pitching staff and a solid on-base percentage don’t hurt either. Avila should be a more than serviceable back-up and platoon catcher for the Tigers this year.
John Hicks: A former fourth round pick of the Seattle Mariners, Hicks was scooped up by the Tigers last April when the Minnesota Twins released him. Hicks has always been looked at as a defense-first catcher with a fringy bat. He has managed to exceed offensive expectations. This was especially true last season, when he hit .303 with a 143 wRC+ over a nice 69-game stretch at Triple-A Toledo. A high batting average on balls in play (BABIP) suggests he may have been a bit lucky, though. He will get the chance to prove he can keep those numbers up in Toledo to start 2017 while he awaits the inevitable catcher injury that will bring him to Detroit to fill in.
Grayson Greiner: After a disappointing year in 2015, Greiner’s 2016 season turned into something of a bounce-back campaign. Singing the praises of Lasik eye surgery and some tweaks to his swing, Greiner hit .293 with a .762 OPS across three levels of minor league ball last year. He will not be breaking camp with the big club in 2017, but he’s not there just to be a warm body catching breaking balls either. At 6’6’ and 220 pounds, he is not built like a prototypical catcher, and that has had some scouts wondering about his staying power at the position.
Despite the challenges his size provides, he has proven himself to be a more than adequate defensive catcher, showing a solid glove and a plus arm. The bat has always been the concern with Greiner. A long swing path and relatively low power profile for his size has had most scouts pegging him as a future back-up catcher. If he can carry his 2016 adjustments forward, he could change some minds. He figures to start the season at either Double or Triple-A, and he is someone you will want to keep an eye on.
Miguel Gonzalez: Gonzalez has been bouncing around the minor leagues since 2009, and has spent the last two seasons working as a backstop for the Toledo Mud Hens. He has only endured a brief five games at the major league level over his eight years of baseball. Gonzalez is a career minor league catcher, and shouldn’t garner a great deal of attention in Lakeland.
Austin Green: Green was a 13th round selection of the Tigers in the 2013 amateur draft. Since then, he has methodically plodded his way through the Detroit farm system. With the exception of a solid 2014 season in which he put up a .263 average with 15 home runs, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself in the minors. At 26 years old and having not played above Double-A, it looks like time is running out on his chances to show that he’s more than organizational fodder.