Good morning, and welcome to 2018. It’s dark and cold, and half of the country is covered in snow. Worse yet, we’re still almost two months away from the start of spring training. Given the malaise surrounding the Detroit Tigers, their rebuilding status, and slower-than-Martinez offseason thus far, the wait for spring might feel even longer than usual.
Luckily, there are still plenty of things to talk about. From trade rumors to developing prospects to the MLB draft, the Tigers will still be a fountain of storylines for most of the year. Here are a few of the most intriguing plot lines for 2018.
Michael Fulmer trade rumors
The recent thought of Fulmer being traded to the Yankees sparked a fire in this Tigers fanbase that we haven’t seen in a few years. Commenters all over the internet debated what the best course of action is for the Tigers, and a few Yankees fans chimed in — quite loudly, as they are wont to do — with their opinions. Personally, I don’t think a Fulmer trade is in Detroit’s best interests, but you probably have a different opinion. So does your brother, sister, neighbor, coworker, barista, dog... you name it.
Simply put, this is the story that will not die in 2018 (or longer, if he sticks around). Fulmer is still under team control through the 2022 season, at which point I hope he is leading the next great Tigers team into the playoffs. However, if another team ups their offer to GM Al Avila’s liking, we could see Fulmer dealt at any point.
Just don’t let it be the Yankees, please.
Who will the Tigers take in the MLB draft?
Normally, Tigers fans have had little reason to pay attention to the MLB draft. Set in June, the draft occurs right in the middle of the regular season. With the Tigers mostly in contention over the past decade, the draft was just a sideshow to the actual baseball being played at the same time. Plus, the Tigers were typically drafting at the end of the first round, if not forfeiting that pick entirely. Naturally, those circumstances did not warrant much excitement.
That all changes this year. The Tigers have had relatively high picks in two of the past three drafts, but there’s a heightened level of intrigue that comes with the No. 1 overall pick. From which player they take — early projections suggest Florida righthander Brady Singer — to how they use their slot money, there are plenty of subplots to follow as we get closer to draft day.
The development of young players
Fans will be paying a lot of attention to the Tigers’ flourishing farm system this year, but there are a few names to watch on the big league club as well. The Tigers have several young players on their MLB roster that could potentially contribute in a few years, and how they perform in 2017 is arguably more important than the team’s win-loss record.
Take Jeimer Candelario, for example. All eyes were on him after last summer’s trade with the Cubs, and he shined, hitting .330/.406/.468 in 27 games. Now the entrenched starter at third base, fans want to see how he performs in a full season of work. Left-hander Daniel Norris took a step back last year, but is still only 24 years old and under control through 2021. Matthew Boyd has also been intriguing, but might be running out of time to establish himself in the Tigers’ long-term rotation plans. The shine wore off of Joe Jimenez’s prospect status in 2017, but he’s still only 22. Role players like Mikie Mahtook, Dixon Machado, and James McCann have things to prove this year as well.
Can Nicholas Castellanos become a trade asset?
Speaking of role players, Castellanos might finally be able to step above that title in 2018. Statcast loved his 2017 performance, as he ranked among the best hitters in baseball in exit velocity and barrels. However, that didn’t always translate to in-game production — Castellanos only produced an .811 OPS and 110 OPS+ despite notching career highs in many traditional statistical categories.
With only two years of club control remaining and no traction between him and the team on a contract extension, the Tigers should probably look to trade him at some point. He doesn’t seem interested in giving them a hometown discount — nor should he — and the team probably won’t be ready to contend again in 2019. If Castellanos starts to finally put it together offensively, he might make himself more attractive to suitors looking for a young player who can (sorta) play multiple positions.
The arrival of Mike Gerber and Christin Stewart
Fans will be eagerly awaiting the debuts of each and every one of the team’s top prospects over the next several years. Pitchers Franklin Perez and Beau Burrows probably aren’t far off, and should reach the majors by 2019. First round pick Alex Faedo could force himself into the conversation by then too, but an estimated arrival in 2020 seems more appropriate. Younger prospects like Matt Manning, Isaac Paredes, and Daz Cameron might be even further away.
There aren’t many prospects set to arrive in 2018, save for two: outfielders Christin Stewart and Mike Gerber. They are the hipsters of the Tigers farm system, representing the team’s focus on building from within before it was cool. Both should see the majors in 2018, barring injury. Odds are Gerber will arrive sooner due to his 40-man roster status and superior defense, but Stewart’s bat could easily force its way into the lineup, especially if Victor Martinez is released. Stewart has as much offensive upside as any Tigers prospect we’ve seen since Castellanos, and might only be a hot month or two at Triple-A from arriving in the bigs.