Spring training is underway and the first steps have been taken in a month-long competition to settle a few roster spots currently up for grabs. Obviously, with not even a week of games in hand, the results should be taken with a grain or seven of salt.
Still, let’s dust off our paczki-coated lips and taking an early look at who’s on the rise and who’s falling behind for the Detroit Tigers.
On the rise
Jordan Zimmermann: 2.0 IP, 2 H, ER, SO
Zimmermann finds his name on here because of the impact a return to form can have on the Tigers’ 2017 campaign. After struggling with injuries through most of 2016 and lingering neck issues through the offseason, Zimmermann was clocked at 94 mph in his first spring game action. This is especially good considering his fastball topped out at 94.1 miles per hour in all of 2016. After he looked to shake off a few flakes of rust in his first inning of work, he retired the side on just seven pitches in his second frame. This is only a first step, but a good first step in assuaging the trepidation of fans, steeling hopes that he can return to be a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Tigers.
Mikie Mahtook: 0-for-6, R, 2 BB, SO, SB
Mahtook actually has three hits if you count the season opening exhibition against Florida Southern. He has also added two walks and a stolen base, along with one strikeout in his limited action thus far. With a wide open competition for center field underway and frontrunner Tyler Collins semi-sidelined with a lat injury for two weeks, Mahtook is probably the early favorite to start in center field come Opening Day.
Mark Lowe: 2.0 IP, 0 ER, 4 SO
In his two innings of work, Lowe has struck out four of the six batters he faced in clean innings against the Astros and Nationals. It’s not much, but it is a solid start in what looks to be a crowded competition for a couple bullpen spots. Combined with the $5.5 million owed to him this year, even an average spring will all but guarantee him a spot on the Opening Day roster. A strong spring could have him back in the late-inning mix early on.
Anibal Sanchez: 1.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, BB
As good as Jordan Zimmermann looked in his debut performance, Sanchez looked the complete opposite. He barely topped 90 miles per hour with his fastball and had trouble locating in the zone. When he did hit the zone, he had a hard time missing bats, as he allowed the first three batters he faced to reach base. The silver lining was that all his pitches stayed in the ballpark, and there was not an extra base hit among the four hits he allowed. But the contact was hard, and he did not strike out a batter. Even the final out was a would-be double snared by Nick “We’re not calling you Nicholas yet” Castellanos. Sanchez said he felt fine after the start. It was just his first outing, but he will have to show improvement through the spring or he could be on the outside looking in for a roster spot when the team heads north.
Mike Pelfrey: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, SO
So far, Mike Pelfrey has seemingly picked up right where he left off in a miserable 2016 season. In 3 2⁄3 innings, he has given up three runs, six hits, and walked three while striking out just one batter. If Zimmermann is healthy, and Norris and Boyd have strong spring showings, it will be very hard to justify putting Pelfrey in the starting rotation. He may be relegated to long-man work out of the bullpen (or worse) if things don’t improve going forward.
Anthony Gose: 2-for-9, 2B, R, 2 SO
While he, like Mahtook, has only one hit that came against non-college pitchers, Gose also has no walks and two strikeouts. This is going to be an intense competition for center field all spring and every little bit one way or another could play up much more than in past springs. Collins’ injury works in Gose’s favor, as he bats left-handed like Collins. But with lefty hitters like Steven Moya out of options and Gose already off the 40-man roster, he is fighting more than just the other centerfielders for a spot. He will need to go above and beyond to wow his way onto the roster this year if he wants to be up with the big club on Opening Day.
There is still plenty of time to see how things shake out. It’s too early to write anyone off or declare winners and losers, except perhaps Daniel Stumpf’s haircut. A couple of guys will catch fire later in spring training, and a few will crash to earth after looking good out of the gate. We’ll be watching each race closely and helping to sort out what it all means as we continue the march toward Opening Day.