The Detroit Tigers are probably not going to be very good this season. Sure, there are reasons for optimism. The starting rotation has untapped potential, there are a few bounce-back candidates in the everyday lineup, and the bullpen... well, they probably can’t be much worse. However, that’s a lot of ifs just to get to .500.
No, most of us are expecting much worse. The Tigers might not be a 98-loss team again, but projections think they will flirt with 90 losses in 2018.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to pay attention, though. As hinted above, there are plenty of interesting players on the roster. Michael Fulmer is the unquestioned ace of the staff, while Nick Castellanos might finally have that breakout season. Daniel Norris is still very young and very talented. Oh, and they still have a surefire Hall of Famer hanging around.
But who will be most exciting to watch? That’s up for debate.
This week’s question: Which Tigers player are you most excited to watch in 2018 and why?
Jay: I will be closely watching Victor Reyes, the outfielder the Tigers took in the Rule 5 draft. While I wasn’t overly pleased with the selection — I would have preferred they roll the dice on Nick Burdi’s health — I am interested to see how Ron Gardenhire manages the logjam of fourth outfielder types. With Reyes’ roster restrictions, the old-school predilection towards “sparkplugs” like Leonys Martin, and Mike Gerber and JaCoby Jones both nearly finished products, Reyes’ performance will go a long way in determining how things shake out for the future of Detroit’s outfield. The type of player that could be a lot of fun of he works out, Reyes almost reminds me of a poor man’s Cameron Maybin.
Ron: I’m excited to watch Jeimer Candelario for a couple of reasons. First and most evident is how much he took off at the end of the 2017 season. He finished the season between Chicago and Detroit with a slash line of .283/.359/.425/.784 with three home runs and 16 RBI, and a 30 to 13 strikeout to walk ratio in 38 games and 127 at-bats. The most impressive part of 2017 for Candelario was how much he exploded after making his Tigers debut. He finished with 94 at-bats in 27 games with Detroit and his stat line was pretty incredible, .330/.406/.468/.874 with 13 RBI and two home runs, and a 18 to 12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He seems the most major league ready besides the guys who were already here, so if anyone is going to take that next step into becoming an everyday MLB player, it’s certainly Candelario. He will likely be a centerpiece, at least offensively, the next time the Tigers are contending so it’s hard not to get excited about his growth in 2018.
Brandon: Definitely Daniel Norris. It’s easy to sour on a young player who struggles to live up to their initial impression, but fans are going to have to learn to be a lot more patient with young players, pitchers especially. Norris is still only 24 and as talented as any pitcher in the organization. I’m hopeful his new conditioning program will keep him healthy and on the mound in 2018. If that proves out, pitching coach Chris Bosio is going to have plenty to work with to guide Norris toward fulfilling his potential.
frisbeepilot: The player I’ll watch the closest this year is Michael Fulmer. Will he stay healthy all year? Will he continue to progress? Or did the hiccup at the end of last year portend something a little more sinister? We will see. For the record, I really hope the Tigers don’t do as some on here have suggested and sell him off for hot prospects. This is the kind of player that teams build around, and should be in the Tigers’ long-term plans. Of course he’s a valuable asset, but you have to make sure that when the rest of the parts that we’re all anticipating start to round into shape in a couple of years, a potentially dominant pitcher is there to lead the pack by example.
Kyle: I am interested in watching Nick Castellanos this season on a couple fronts. Offensively, he may be second only to Miguel Cabrera in terms of production, and should see his numbers continue to climb. Additionally, tracking his move to the outfield will be entertaining one way or another, even if it all goes wrong. Castellanos is still young but will have the chance to be a leader through the team’s transition with a lot of prospects set to see time in Detroit. Of course, following trade rumors surrounding him all summer might be more exciting than anything else.
Jeff: I’m most looking forward to Ron Gardenhire. I wasn’t a fan of hiring him. I think he is too old school and will not adapt to new-age strategies despite what he has said to the press. The fact that he lost 90-plus games his last four years with a Minnesota Twins team that had about as much talent as this current Tigers team doesn’t instill much confidence that they are going to overachieve. However, there are many fans of his hiring. I am really looking forward to his lineups, in-game strategies, and pitching moves. I want to see what other people see in him that makes them believe he is a great manager. I want to see what stands out about his managerial decisions, or if he is all talk and no action.
Rob: Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I do wonder if Victor Martinez will bounce back some this year. We seem to have forgotten that he had hernia surgery in October 2016, a procedure similar to the one that hampered both Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander for a full year. Martinez will still be the worst baserunner in the game — bonus points for watching him getting thrown out by 30 feet — but he’s just one year removed from 27 home runs and a 119 wRC+. It might ultimately be a disaster, but I’m hopeful V-Mart will give us a few great moments in his final season.
Ashley: Like Brandon, I’m pretty hyped to see what Daniel Norris can bring to the table this year, and whether or not he can finally live up to the expectations people have been heaping on him year after year. He seems to be taking his training seriously this offseason (don’t let all those surfing selfies fool you, dude is driving 4 hours at a time to get to training facilities). I don’t know what to expect from Bosio with the pitchers, but I’m very hopeful. Hell, Bosio might end up being the Tigers’ best offseason acquisition if he is able to turn Norris around and help Travis Wood rebound. There is plenty to look forward to this season, but Norris is pretty high on my list of expectations.
Kurt: My answer is also Nick Castellanos. He has a lot to prove in right field, and now suddenly finds himself one of the senior members of the clubhouse. He seems to be taking a leadership role on, and let’s face it, that clubhouse sounds like it needs some fresh leadership. We’ll see if he can continue to improve at the plate and do more away from it — or not.
Peter: The player I’m interested in watching this year is Mikie Mahtook. Picked up for nothing from Tampa, Mahtook broke out in a semi-regular role in Detroit and now seems to have earned himself a full time job in a depleted outfield. Through working with the hitting coaches here, he went back to his old swing that helped the former first round pick break onto the scene in 2015 with the Rays. Injurues sidelined him in 2016 and got him into bad swing habbits, but he seemed to get back to his good form last year before an injury in September led him to be shutdown. His strong 2017 was reliant on a high number of infield hits — he finished fourth in the majors in infield hit rate at 14.4 percent — and while that does have a large luck component, his .324 BABIP isn’t too far outside the norm. His overall batted ball profile doesn’t have any major red flags either. This is not to say he will become the next one, but his batted ball numbers look similar to that of Jose Altuve. He grades out as an average outfielder, capable of handling all three spots. If he can repeat his 2017 numbers over a full 2018 season it will give the Tigers a young, controllable, stable to the outfield picture for years to come.