The Detroit Tigers have seemingly had a quiet spring training thus far. The lack of publicity can be good — few injuries means few articles written about said injuries, for instance — but it can also lead fans to focus on the bad in other areas. The battle for playing time in center field has been uneventful, as frontrunners Tyler Collins and Mikie Mahtook have not impressed so far. The final spot(s) in the starting rotation may also already be decided, depending on how much stock the Tigers put into certain pitchers carving up a Tim Tebow-led Mets lineup on Monday.
The lack of national focus on the Tigers this spring is also due to a thrilling World Baseball Classic. Detroit sent an MLB-high 15 players to the WBC, leaving major holes throughout their lineup in most Grapefruit League games. The WBC has overshadowed spring training itself as well, with thrilling games and raucous crowds on television almost every night.
However, with less than two weeks until Opening Day, it’s time to check in on things in Lakeland.
This week’s question: What has been your favorite or most intriguing spring training storyline thus far?
Pat Whelan: I wouldn't call it my favorite storyline, but the center field competition has to be the most compelling. There are as many as six players currently competing for reps if you count Omar Infante, and no one has distanced themselves. I'm not in love with any of the options, and get increasingly angry about the Cameron Maybin trade every time I turn on a game. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. It feels like this will be a running story throughout the season.
Grace: The storyline I'm most intrigued by this spring is the starting rotation. Matt Boyd had a few bad starts early on, but he gave up only three hits and no runs with five strikeouts in five innings on March 14. This comes after many had ruled Boyd out of the fifth starter equation. You also have Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey in the mix, but let's face it, it doesn't look like both of them will be starting come April 3. At this point, there's a distinct possibility that one or both won't even make the Opening Day roster. You also have Daniel Norris vying for a spot. There are two available spots in the starting rotation and four capable pitchers trying for them. It will be interesting to see how this one shakes out.
Jacob: In my opinion, the most intriguing storyline this spring has been the massive number of losses that that team has suffered. While I feel that spring training is of no consequence, there is a point where it has to become concerning. Some people see this as a blatant sign that the Tigers should have held a fire sale this offseason — much like that of the Chicago White Sox — rebuilding their farm. Others see it as clear evidence that the brass ought to have done something to upgrade center field. Also of note: the 1984 Detroit ballclub of such fame had a poor spring training record of their own.
All factors considered, this poor spring record could mean nothing, or it could mean that July will be the birthplace of a sell-off for the record books. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch unfold.
Patrick OKennedy: My favorite baseball topic this spring has been the World Baseball Classic. The Tigers are returning with almost their entire roster unchanged. This means few position battles to watch, and few young players with a chance to crack the Opening Day roster. Frankly, the team has sucked eggs in their Grapefruit League games. Meanwhile, the WBC has had some great contests with loads of enthusiasm and energy from players and fans. The Tigers players have done very well, between Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, and even Franscisco Rodriguez and Joe Jimenez. I'm looking forward to the semifinals and finals at Dodger Stadium.
Brandon: The WBC has been flat-out awesome so far, no doubt, but I'll stick to the Tigers' spring training and say the rotation, Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey excluded. The other five pitchers have all looked strong and healthy, and are showing good velocity for spring training. I still think general manager Avila is making a mistake in center field, but it's still the starting rotation where my hopes are pinned. I've been particularly glad that Matt Boyd is pitching so well and really forcing the Tigers’ hand for the last spot in the rotation.
We've seen a million examples of teams keeping guys around that were actively hurting the team, because they couldn't trade them and they cost too much. The Tigers are facing a really rare scenario here, where they may have to drop Sanchez, Pelfrey and Lowe, $34 million in salary before the turnstiles start rolling. Of course, for those same reasons they’ll likely give one or two of them more time. I wish those guys no ill will, but barring any miraculous turnarounds, I'm perfectly happy for them to make the Tigers' decision as easy as possible.
Ron: The most intriguing storyline thus far to me has to be the starting rotation and how good it already looks. Along with Boyd and Norris' solid performances thus far, we also have Michael Fulmer and Justin Verlander doing just as well as we thought, maybe even a little bit better. This puts together one hell of a rotation going into the season, especially if we can get former All-Star Jordan Zimmermann back on track. Even when Boston has a healthy David Price, I still see the Tigers rotation up there with the best in the league. My favorite part about this rotation is how young it is. The future looks good in Detroit as far as starting pitchers go, and there are several prospects currently being groomed for the majors that I haven't even mentioned.
Ashley: I'm intrigued watching the Anibal Sanchez show. It's a disaster, but at the same time, having seen him be excellent in the past, part of me wants to see him do an about-face and return to form. I don't believe it's going to happen, but every good outing adds a bit of interest to the story. Where will he end up, what will his role be, how much money will be wasted? So many elements to make it very watchable.
Kyle: The biggest question for the Tigers all offseason is who would take over in center field, and that question has not really been answered this spring. Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Collins are still probably the favorites to earn the most reps by the end of the year, but Anthony Gose and Andrew Romine have both found a way to enter their name into the conversation. Many would like to see JaCoby Jones get a shot as well, but with the number of names ahead of him it might be tough to drag him out of the minors. The Tigers have plenty of options, but none of them have clearly put themselves ahead of the rest this spring. This is an intriguing storyline to watch not just this month but also into the start of the season as well.
Peter: Lakeland, March 2017. I fear this letter may never reach you. The enemy has been assailing the Tigers for some time and they can do little to stop it. Pitcher after unheard-of pitcher go into battle only to be ambushed. Our offensive guns can barely muster a shot in return. I pray that the BABIP will turn in our favor soon, but with every loss hope grows dimmer. If this letter should find its way to the shores of Lake St. Claire, please tell the rest of the fans we miss them, and we pray for April to come soon.