One question that doesn’t seem to have crossed the Detroit Tigers organizations’ mind as the 2017 spring approached was “who will replace Cameron Maybin as the starting center fielder?” Maybin was traded to the Los Angeles Angels in November 2016 for prospect Victor Alcantara. This seemed like the first move in the big “sell” that could have happened this offseason. Instead, the Tigers have roughly the same roster as they did last season. If they can remain healthy during the regular season, they will contend for a playoff spot.
The Tigers cannot slough off the center fielder position, though. They will need a competent defender who can also handle a bat on a day-to-day basis. Now, the big question is: who will be the starting center fielder come Opening Day?
There are a few options still in major league camp, including JaCoby Jones, Mikie Mahtook, Tyler Collins, Andrew Romine, and Alex Presley.
The most likely candidate from an analytical perspective, JaCoby Jones was landed in a deal that sent Joakim Soria to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline in 2015. Jones made his name known hitting and fielding in several positions between the Tigers’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates as well as the Arizona Fall League. Defensively, he would be the best choice for the Tigers, but his offensive production (especially at and above the Triple-A level) is still relatively unknown. He played 13 games with the Tigers last season with mixed results at the plate, managing a .214 average with 12 strikeouts in 28 plate appearances. He did hold his own defensively at third base and in center field, though. Jones has shown a solid approach at the plate during spring training and has found success as a result, which really makes a strong case for being the starting center fielder on Opening Day.
2017 Spring Training Centerfield Defensive Stats
Mahtook was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. He has had only limited experience at the major league level, with just over 100 games played. However, unlike Jones (his former college teammate), he is a true outfielder and has spent his professional career entirely in the outfield. Mahtook tore it up when called up by the Rays in 2015, batting close to .300 with nine homers in 41 games. That success fueled a solid season the following year at Triple-A, only for that to quickly disappear upon being called up. Mahtook set a career low in OPS for any level in his professional career, at .523. Overall, he has been pretty successful in the minors. There is a bit of doubt about his consistent performance as a major leaguer, though. He only has limited experience at the major league level, and suffered a rough season last year when he was given more at-bats. So far this spring, Mahtook hasn’t done a ton to help himself stand out. Then again, he hasn’t done much to hurt his case either.
Tigers fans are somewhat familiar with Collins, who has been with the organization since being drafted in 2011. He has shown a decent ability at the plate, and he’s serviceable as a late game replacement at the corner outfielder positions. However, he is somewhat lacking defensively, especially in center field. This calls into question his ability to handle defensive responsibilities in center field on a day-to-day basis, especially in Comerica Park. For this reason, he’s not the first guy on the Tigers’ list of options. However he is a lefthander and the Tigers are really short on those. He has also improved over the past couple of seasons, so he’s not the last guy on their list either.
2017 Spring Training Batting Stats
The utility man, Andrew Romine, has been with the Tigers the last three seasons after he was acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in 2014. While primarily a shortstop, he has become quite adept at defense in the outfield the past couple of seasons. In 2016, he played 130 2⁄3 innings in center without committing an error. Romine’s track record at the plate is also solid; apart from a strong spring training from JaCoby Jones, the only real argument against Romine is whether the Tigers need him to play other positions. However, depending on who makes the final roster, Jones could help serve as the Tigers’ utility man if they decide to place Romine in the outfield full-time. They also have Dixon Machado around, so it’s not out of the question for Romine to be the center fielder come Opening Day.
Presley was signed by the Tigers twice, first in July of 2016 after he was granted free agency by the Brewers, and then re-signed in January 2017 after he was granted free agency in October. Alex has been a journeyman, with the Tigers being his fifth organization in seven major league seasons. He has had a decent career thus far, keeping his OPS just over .600 every year except 2015 and 2016. However, there has been a noticeable drop off in offensive production these past two years. His defense has never been excellent, although he would hold his own defensively if given an everyday role. He’s not very high on the Tigers list for a couple of reasons, including his age and decline in offensive numbers. It’s hard to hand a 31-year-old an everyday position when you have a 20-some-year-old who can perform just as well. Regardless Presley is still a valid option. Even if he doesn’t make the club out of spring training, the Tigers could sign him to a minor league deal and bring him up later on.
Who should be the Tigers’ center fielder on Opening Day?
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