The Detroit Tigers are coming into the final stretch of spring training. The World Baseball Classic is now over and more players are being send down to minor league camps. The major league roster battles have become more well defined and there are definite front-runners and others who are decidedly not front-runners. So after fully recovering from our Team USA victory hangovers, lets look at who's hot and who's not.
On the rise
JaCoby Jones: .310 avg, .907 OPS, 2SB, 2HR
Initially thought to be a long shot for the center field position based on managements comments stressing the need to not rush him, Jones has found himself surging to the head of the pack. His strong spring combined with a lack of results from literally any other center field candidate has left the Tigers in an interesting position. They continue to look for other options, as they'd like to stick to their stated desire to give Jones more time to develop in Triple-A. However if nothing presents itself on the waiver market, Jones may very well find himself in Detroit come opening day.
Matt Boyd: 16.1 IP, 3.24 ERA, 16K, 0BB
To the surprise of no one, Boyd has emerged as the clear front runner for the fifth starter spot in the rotation. He currently leads all Tigers’ pitchers with 16 strikeouts, and has not issued a walk yet this spring. He came in as a front runner to take the fifth starter spot and has effectively lapped the field at this point, due in no small part to poor showings from his closest competition. Brad Ausmus has all but named him the fifth starter, but with an option remaining on his contract there’s a small chance the Tigers might still test the waters with Sanchez or Pelfrey before officially determining them to be lost causes.
Nick Castellanos: .324 avg, .954 OPS, 1SB, 1HR
Castellanos is the obvious candidate right now for the second spot in the batting order and certainly hasn't done anything to hurt his case. He is hitting .324/.395/.559 through 13 games which has left him in a strong position to hit behind Ian Kinsler on Opening Day. His improved physique has given him a bit more speed over past years and bodes well extra base hustle. Should he find himself batting in front of Miguel Cabrera every day, he could be in line for a breakout 2017 season.
Center field sans JaCoby Jones: (cringe)
A large reason Jones is considered the leader for Opening Day center fielder is that literally no one else seems to be challenging him for the role. The trio of players vying for the job have all had underwhelming spring outings. Anthony Gose is hitting .267 thanks to a strong week of play but he only has a .646 OPS and also has 12 strikeouts to two walks in 30 at bats and no steals. Tyler Collins was limited to DH duties in the first weeks of camp due to a lat strain, making it difficult to assess his outfield quality. At the plate, however his numbers are decidedly dismal. He is hitting .206, with a weak .546 OPS, 1HR, 9K and 1BB. The biggest disappointment might be new arrival Mikie Mahtook. Offensively, he has been almost non-existent at the plate thus far, hitting .200 with a .556 OPS, 11 strikeouts to three walks and no home runs. Obviously, the Tigers would have liked a standout from this group by now, but that has not been the case. It’s possible one of these three can still crack the Opening Day roster as a reserve or platoon partner, but time is running out to make a case for the starting job.
Anibal Sanchez: 9.2IP, 10.24ERA, 9K, 3BB
This spring started out as a disaster for Sanchez. Through his first four appearances, he had given up 11 runs, four home runs, and plenty of hard contact and only four strikeouts to three walks. His fastball velocity has been barely in to the 90s, and he struggled to find an answer as to why he was no longer the power pitcher he’d been in previous seasons. The Tigers’ coaches have taken notice, and after a bullpen session stressing mechanical adjustments, Sanchez went on to have two solid starts. It’s a step in the right direction, but his velocity is still low and he'll need to show more confidence in his pitching ability if he wants to have a significant role with the team this season. Having an improved Sanchez stashed in the bullpen might be the best case scenario.
Mike Pelfrey: 12.2IP, 7.11 ERA, 6K, 5BB
As bad as Sanchez’s spring started, Pelfrey’s was probably worse. While Sanchez has a possible fix in the works, Pelfrey is showing the same stuff he used in 2016, and to similar results. At this stage in his career things aren’t likely to improve. Given the recent improvement Sanchez has shown — not to mention the cost of Sanchez’s contract — Pelfrey finds himself in the unenviable position of having to get creative to find a role on the 25-man roster. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him placed on waivers next week if something does not drastically change soon.
The best case for the center field and rotation problem might be for Sanchez and or Pelfrey to be dealt for a center fielder from someone else’s camp. While its never bad to have as much rotation depth as possible, Sanchez and Pelfrey cannot be unwillingly stashed in Toledo and Al Avila has said repeatedly that he will only take the best 25 players north at the start of the season. So sending Boyd to Toledo in favor of someone else would fly in the face of those statements. With less than two weeks left to go before decisions have to be made, its high stakes time, and we'll be following it every step of the way.