The 2018 Detroit Tigers were surprisingly plucky early on, but this hasn’t been what I would call a “fun” season of Tigers baseball. Sure, we had the Rally Goose and some solid breakout performances, but the team is 30 games below .500 and challenging for another top-five draft pick. Very few of the players that featured prominently on this year’s Tigers team will be around when the club returns to postseason glory.
With more focus shifting to the Tigers’ minor league system, fans have naturally started to daydream about the future. Hell, we asked you to create your ideal 2023 lineup with prospects, free agents, and a reasonable trade or two. When the Tigers get their Prospect Death Machine up and running, the team will start to win a lot more games.
But the fun and excitement might not be that far off. As our friend David Tokarz pointed out on Twitter earlier this month, the 2019 Tigers could actually be pretty interesting.
Assuming no trades, you have a position player roster that looks like this:— 2020 Optimist (@tokarzontigers) September 12, 2018
1B: free agent/Cabrera
SS: free agent
Sure, the lineup itself doesn’t look great — I’ll be repeating this a few times by this article’s end — but it’s young and fairly exciting. We won’t go through each position, but let’s look at a few highlights.
Catcher: position in waiting
Starter: James McCann
Backup: Grayson Greiner
You may notice this position missing from David’s tweet above, and for good reason. The Tigers will likely bring back James McCann for another season in 2019, even after he has taken a big step back in multiple areas this year. He’s nothing but a stopgap at this point, but one capable of catching 100-plus games while throwing out base stealers aplenty. He has two years of club control remaining, but could be a non-tender candidate after 2019. Grayson Greiner has looked okay in spurts this year, but he and McCann are just the opening act for Jake Rogers’ show, hopefully opening in 2020.
Infield: please re-sign Jose Iglesias
1B: Miguel Cabrera
2B: Dawel Lugo
SS: Ronny Rodriguez or free agent
3B: Jeimer Candelario
Bench: Niko Goodrum
Assuming the Tigers acquire a stopgap shortstop of some sort, this could be a fun group. Miguel Cabrera was hitting well when healthy this season, and Jeimer Candelario looked like the team’s third baseman of the future for a few months before falling off over the summer. Candelario has rebounded somewhat, but we also need to remember that this is only his first full season of MLB action. If he takes a step forward in 2019, that’s a nice piece to continue building around. Dawel Lugo should get a longer look next season as well, at least until some of the middle infielders in the upper minors — Willi Castro, Sergio Alcantara, and Isaac Paredes — are ready for big league action.
Those three aren’t ready yet, though, and Ron Gardenhire has already recognized that fact. Hopefully the Tigers grab someone off the free agent market (we’ll take Iglesias, please) and push Rodriguez into a bench role.
Outfield: let’s see what we have here
LF: Christin Stewart
CF: JaCoby Jones
RF: Nicholas Castellanos
Bench: A whole mess of dudes
The Tigers have a number of fourth outfield types in their system that should get a look at some point in 2019. Jake Robson is the fan favorite of the bunch, while former fan favorite Mike Gerber and Victor Reyes — who will no longer be tied to the 25-man roster — are also in the mix. Mikie Mahtook may still be around too, and the Tigers just picked up Dustin Peterson off of waivers. None of these guys are budding stars, but they all have big league potential.
And they’re just the backups. The starters are interesting in their own right, with plenty of storylines to follow throughout the year, How will Castellanos’ final year of club control go? Can Stewart handle MLB pitching for a full season? Hell, can Jones handle MLB pitching for a full season? How good is Jones defensively? How bad are the other two with the glove? There is a lot to follow here.
Designated hitter: Not Victor Martinez
I’m as thankful as anyone for what Martinez has done for the Tigers organization over the past eight years, but it will be exciting to see what the Tigers do with the designated hitter spot next year. Miguel Cabrera will get a healthy number of starts there, but it will mostly be a rotational spot, allowing the Tigers to keep an “extra” player on their bench, which improves their roster flexibility.
The pitching staff gets even more interesting.
As for the pitchers, you could run the following:— 2020 Optimist (@tokarzontigers) September 12, 2018
SP: Free agent
RP: free agent/prospect
RP: free agent/prospect
David forgot Daniel Norris, who has looked plenty fun (but also somewhat frustrating) over the past few weeks. There is also room for someone like Spencer Turnbull or Matt Hall, though both have seen their prospect shine wear off a bit while struggling against MLB hitters this month. The Tigers may look to add another stopgap starter in the Mike Fiers mold for 2019, but they could also see if one of their top pitching prospects earns a call-up to the majors at some point. Beau Burrows and Alex Faedo spent a large portion of 2018 at Double-A Erie, and might move up to Triple-A at the start of next season. Righthanders Franklin Perez and Casey Mize could move quickly as well.
Then there’s the bullpen. It isn’t very fun right now, but another year of development from guys like Victor Alcantara, Sandy Baez, and Zac Reininger could make them useful MLB pieces. Drew VerHagen has probably won himself a job with how he has pitched over the second half of the year, and Joe Jimenez will be rested and ready to go. Zac Houston will probably get a call-up at some point too, and Bryan Garcia might be a late-season add if his recovery from Tommy John surgery goes well.
There aren’t any statistical projections available for the 2019 season yet, but I think it’s safe to say this roster would not be very good. Those Tigers should improve on their 2018 record, but they would be hard-pressed to even reach .500, let alone push for a playoff spot. But with so many young players starting to reach the major leagues and earn plenty of playing time, they should be a lot more exciting and fun to watch than they have been for the past couple of years.