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5 players from the 2003 Tigers you probably don’t remember

These guys have long faded from memory, most of them for good reason.

Kevin Witt swings at a pitch

Spring training is officially underway and Detroit Tigers are back in action as they ready themselves for the 2018 season, which is projected to be one of their worst seasons in recent memory.

As fans glance over the list of names invited to camp they will more than likely come across a few names they are not familiar with.

Just like the 2003 team.

Sure, they had Bobby Higginson, Dmitri Young, and Carlos Pena, to name a few. But there were a number of names that even the most hardcore fans would be hard-pressed to identify.

Here are five names from that abysmal season that may have faded from your memory.

A.J. Hinch

You read that correctly.

Before leading the Houston Astros to World Series glory in 2017, Hinch was a part of the worst Tigers team in history.

In 2003 the then 29-year-old Hinch was a catcher looking to stick at the Major League level. Following five seasons bouncing in and out of the minors for the Oakland Athletics and Kansas City Royals, Hinch found his way to the Tigers organization.

Mainly a minor league presence, Hinch appeared sporadically for the Tigers in 2003, making 82 trips to the plate in just 27 games during which time he posted a .203/.247/.392 slash line.

He would move to the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2004, where he retired a year later after spending the entire 2005 season in the minors.

Matt Walbeck

Serving as the main backup to then-catcher Brandon Inge, 2003 was part of Walbeck’s second stint with the Tigers, previously appearing during the 1997 season in a backup role. He drifted in and out of the majors before returning to the Tigers organization in 2002.

Walbeck appeared in 59 games in 2003 and failed to impress on either side of the ball with subpar defense and anemic offensive production. He retired following the 2003 season.

Walbeck then served as manager for both the West Michigan Whitecaps and Erie SeaWolves in the Tigers’ minor league system, as well as coaching at the Major League level for the Texas Rangers.

Kevin Witt

Then a 27-year-old utility man, 2003 marked Witt’s return to the majors after a full season in the Cincinnati Reds’ minor league system in 2002.

Starting the season with the Toledo Mud Hens, Witt was first called upon in May to serve as a replacement to the injured Carlos Pena at first base. He would go back to the minors in July before returning to the majors once again in August, where he split his playing time between third base and the outfield.

Witt fared relatively well during his time in Detroit, slashing a respectable .263/.301/.407 with 10 home runs in 93 games. He would move on from Detroit following the 2003 season, spending time in the St. Louis Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays organizations as well as playing in Japan’s Nippon Baseball league.

Gene Kingsale

27 years old at the time, Kingsale was traded from the San Diego Padres to the Tigers in November of 2002 in exchange Mike Rivera.

Their starting center fielder on Opening Day, Kingsale’s time in Detroit would be short-lived. He struggled and made his final appearance for the Tigers on June 8, 2003. He provided a .208 batting average with little power in 140 at-bats over 39 games. He would never appear in the majors again.

Kingsale played in the minors for both the Padres and Baltimore Orioles, but eventually found his way to the Netherlands to play in the Dutch league. [Editor’s note: the Dutch call baseball “honkbal,” which is insanely charming.]

Matt Roney

A career minor leaguer until his arrival in Detroit, Roney was only 23 years old and still developing.

Roney saw use as a middle reliever and spot starter for the Tigers in 2003, where he posted largely unimpressive numbers. He surrendered 102 hits, 17 of them home runs, and 67 runs (61 earned) while recording an ERA and FIP (fielding independent pitching) of 5.45 and 5.84, respectively, over 100 23 innings of work in 45 games. He also posted an elevated 1.49 WHIP.

Despite a brief, three-game return to the majors for the Athletics in 2006, Roney would spend the rest of his career in the minors. After serving a 50 game suspension in 2007 for use of performance-enhancing drugs Roney split his time between Double-A and Triple-A. He has been out of baseball ever since.

Make no mistake, 2018 will hold its names that few will recognize (see Jason Krizan, Chad Huffman, and Dominic Ficociello, all featured in the lineup that took the field against Florida Southern University on Thursday). But the familiar faces Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Michael Fulmer, James McCann, and Mikie Mahtook provide reason to tune into this year’s iteration of Tigers baseball, no matter how rough the road may be.