The 2019 season went about as good as anyone could have expected: terribly. We saw some younger players look overwhelmed, we signed some veterans who couldn’t stay on the field, and we saw a team flirting with the record for losses in a season. While 2020 is likely to be better than this past season, fans still should have no expectations of competing for a playoff spot in the American League.
However, there are some reasons to be optimistic. Here are four players who have the potential to change the course of their careers in 2020.
Niko Goodrum has already changed the course of his career in the past. After virtually being given up on by the Minnesota Twins, Goodrum signed a minor league contract with the Detroit Tigers, and was invited to Spring Training. He not only made the team, but he has become an extremely useful utility player for the Tigers, recording a near-.750 OPS in each season to go along with double-digit home runs and stolen bases in each. However, it is possible that Goodrum has yet to reach his peak.
Goodrum is a player that offers at least something at all five major tool categories. He has flashed some power and hitting ability, to go along with his speed and defensive versatility. He is also a player who takes walks with regularity. Being an above-average utility player in the MLB can already be considered a win for Goodrum, but I believe that he could become more. If everything goes as planned in Spring Training, Goodrum will be the starting shortstop for the Tigers in 2020. If Goodrum is able to avoid injuries, and is able to put together all of his tools on a consistent basis, it would not surprise me to see him hitting more along the lines of .280 with 25 home runs and 20 steals in 2020. He could become a key building block for a Tigers team that is in desperate need of offense.
Prediction: AVG: .282 OBP: .368 HR: 26 SB: 19
Jeimer Candelario burst onto the scene for the Tigers in 2017 after coming over in a trade with the Cubs. To close out the season, he hit .300 with an OPS of .874. It had looked like all he needed was an opportunity, as Kris Bryant was ahead of him Chicago. However, things changed very drastically for Candelario. In 2018, he was sidelined for a short time with a wrist injury in May. After that, he never really looked the same, as he ended up hitting only .224 with an OPS of .710. 2018 wasn’t even the worst for Candelario. In 2019, everything went wrong. He battled injuries, he struggled hitting, and he was even sent down to Triple-A Toledo for a period of time. To go along with this, he lost the starting third basemen job to Dawel Lugo, and had to move to first base to find playing time.
Candelario, who looked like a franchise cornerstone in 2017, is now battling just to stay in the big leagues for the MLB-worse Detroit Tigers. I, however, still believe that there is some 2017 Jeimer Candelario waiting to break through. Candelario has shown in the past that he can be a productive MLB hitter. We’ve seen it with his hitting in 2017, his power in 2018 (19 home runs), and his ability to walk throughout his short career. He has also improved greatly in the field, and could become an above-average defender at first base. If Candelario can be healthy from the start, and maintain that health throughout the season, I believe that he is a guy who could hit up around .290 with 20 home runs in 2020. He could also end up hitting at the top of the order for the lowly Tigers. It is absolutely too early to give up on Jeimer Candelario.
Prediction: AVG: .286 OBP: .379 HR: 23
In many ways, Christin Stewart’s story is similar Jeimer Candelario’s. Stewart was called up by the Tigers at the end of 2018, and he hit well during the month that he was in the league, he slashed .267/.375/.417 while hitting a couple of home runs. Things looked to be pointing up for Stewart, as he won the starting left fielder job out of Spring Training for 2019. However, things took a horrible turn after starting the season with a game-winning home run on opening night. Over the course of the season, he was injured on multiple occasions, and didn’t show the same ability to hit the ball that he did in his short stint in 2018. He finished the season slashing just .233/.305/.388 with 10 home runs in 369 at-bats.
Despite the struggles he experienced in his first full season, Christin Stewart will likely have another opportunity to prove himself as a major league hitter. Of the players mentioned in this article, he has the highest potential in my opinion. He has hit at every level of the minor leagues, especially for power. If Stewart can stay healthy and find consistent playing time this season, I believe that he has the power to hit 35 home runs. I also believe that he will be able to re-discover his ability to get on base that he has had throughout the minors. With the competition for outfield playing time in Detroit, it is likely that Stewart won’t have a lot of time to prove his abilities this year.
Prediction: AVG: .258 OBP: .346 HR: 33 RBI: 84
Throughout his career, it has always been the same story for Jacoby Jones. He has always had the raw tools, but has lacked the hitting ability and plate discipline. In 2018, he graded as one of the better defenders in the MLB despite his struggles hitting the ball. Jones is a player who has always had the word "potential" surrounding him, but he hasn’t been able to capitalize on it. However, 2019 was different. He struggled early with the same things that have been holding him back throughout his whole career. But towards the middle of the season, something began to click. Both his batting average and walk numbers increased greatly. It was finally looking like Jones had found his stride, until an injury derailed his season. He would finish the season slashing .235/.310/.430, with 11 home runs in only 298 at-bats.
This season will be critical for Jacoby Jones in establishing his role for his career. He will turn 28 in May, and Daz Cameron is already after his center field position. If Jones can build off his success last season, he could solidify himself as a building block to this young Tigers team. The defense, the sneaky power, and the speed are all there. If he can stay healthy for a whole season, and hit anywhere close to the way he was hitting before his injury, it would not surprise me to see him with an average of .260 with 20 home runs and 20 steals. This would be a huge win for Jones. However, he has the most going against him of the players included in this article.
Prediction: AVG: .243 OBP: .309 HR: 9 SB: 8
Of the players listed above, only Niko Goodrum has major league role locked in, as he has proved to be a solid utility player over the past two seasons. 2020 will be a year where the other three will be fighting for their careers. This could be their last chance to prove their worth in the MLB. Overall, the way that each of these players perform could drastically shift the course of their careers. They are all players that fans should be optimistic about while watching what will most likely be another losing season in Detroit.