The overall outcome of the 2018 Detroit Tigers season might not be pretty. Both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus project the Tigers to lose at least 92 games. But that doesn’t mean the individual puzzle pieces along the way can’t still be special. A realistic outlook for most players ranges from bleak to unexciting, but a few Tigers players could be in for a strong year.
Nowadays, there are no shortages of projection systems, each with slight nuances and quirks, though the resulting outcomes are generally in the same range. While the projections themselves may ultimately miss the mark, they do a good job of setting the temperature for a player before the season begins. Depending on the projection system used, three Tigers stand out as players who have the opportunity to take a step forward during 2018.
After brief stints in the majors in 2015 and 2016, Dixon Machado appeared in 73 games for the Tigers last season. He has been labeled as a glove-first infielder during his whole career, but 2018 will be the first time he will see consistent and substantial playing time. With the ability to play at both second base and shortstop, Machado should have no trouble finding a place in the lineup.
The Steamer projection system has Machado with career highs in almost every offensive category. While the bar is set fairly low, 82 wRC+ and 0.7 fWAR would be a great improvement for Machado as he auditions for his long-term viability with Detroit. His ceiling at the plate will be limited, but a season with even slightly below average results will help him secure his place going forward, given his strong fielding.
“Career best” is probably not a reasonable phrase to use about a player who has only accumulated 156 plate appearances in the majors, but all arrows are pointing up for Jeimer Candelario. While many of the prospects acquired by Detroit over the past 12 months are still in lower levels of organization, Candelario will be on full display in the majors duing 2018.
Steamer projects a modest .250/.321/.416 slash line, but sees some power potential in Candelario with double digit homers. While regression may occur from his short stint in Detroit, particularly given his .340 career BABIP, there is also a chance that the young third baseman simply stays hot. A season with close to 100 wRC+ would be an excellent sign for the Tigers’ future.
Of the Tigers’ core during the past five seasons, very few starting position players have risen up through the system. Nicholas Castellanos was more or less the crown jewel as he ascended through the minors, and he has been a staple in Detroit since 2014. Though his numbers are about average on offense and frightening on defense, he still has the appearance of a player yet to reach his full stride.
Much of this belief stems from Castellanos’s ability to scorch the ball. In 2017, he recorded a 43.4 percent hard-hit rate — a top-five figure in baseball — yet did not see the results that one might expect to go with it. With some positive regression, Castellanos should see his numbers rise this season.
The ZiPS projection system believes in this possibilty, tagging him with a respectable 121 wRC+ and 2.3 fWAR. If he continues his approach at the plate, these numbers are more than attainable. Perhaps the more interesting facet of his game is his move to the outfield. While he still projects to be a below-average defender, getting away from third base will only be a positive for Castellanos in 2018.