We made it.
While we still have a few days until the Detroit Tigers officially open camp for spring training, the long slog of the MLB offseason is behind us. The 2019 season is almost here; even though we may start complaining about spring training games in just a few days, boring, meaningless baseball is still better than no baseball at all.
Unfortunately, our beloved Tigers are not expected to be competitive this year. They may not be all that good in 2020 either, or even in 2021. We are at the frustratingly slow apex of the rebuild, and still aren’t sure when the Tigers will next be ready for postseason glory.
That said, there are still reasons to be excited for the upcoming season. The Tigers are finally starting to graduate prospects to the majors, and have some other interesting players in their system that haven’t quite reached their potential yet. Even the established veterans have some interesting question marks hanging over them.
This week’s question: what is the one thing you are watching for from the Tigers this spring?
Ashley: I’m really excited to see how well Daniel Norris performs this spring. Call me a dumb optimist, but I’m really hopeful to see this be the year he gets it all together and just does something magical.
Adam: Given the MLB team’s lack of commitment to winning, I’m going to be looking for those diamonds in the rough — those bricks in the rebuild that should give us some consolation in these trying times. Someone like a Niko Goodrum, or a player who wills his way into the discussion when the team heads back north.
Peter: I want to see if any of the prospects can force their way onto the big league roster with a great spring. We know the incumbents are, for the most part, not the future of this team. I’m chomping at the bit to see how the future looks.
Kenon: Do we have a list of fringe 25-man guys who are out of options? Those are the ones I’m watching, as they are the ones likely to make the team and then get designated for assignment on May 1.
/short interlude to build suspense
Kenon: It looks like it’s just Buck Farmer and Drew VerHagen, really.
Adam: Farmer was who came to mind first for me.
Kenon: Reed Garrett obviously and Dustin Peterson also.
Zane: I want to see strong performances from the starting rotation. Specifically, I really want to see a return to form from Norris. At his peak prospect status, he was as highly touted as Casey Mize is now, and that potential is still there for him. He will turn 26 in April and it takes plenty of guys a while to come around. Corey Kluber, for example, did not break out until he was 28 and didn’t post his first successful season until 27.
That said, if 29-year-old Matt Moore flashes his 2016 form, or if Spencer Turnbull continues to dazzle, I want to see them have important roles on the team, as well. I would rather see Turnbull in a 2013 Drew Smyly type role in the bullpen before sending Norris into the ‘pen — I’d be interested to see Moore in the bullpen as well. Having too many starting pitchers is a great problem to have, and I hope the Tigers have it.
Kenon: How can Peterson have no options if he only did one two-game stint in the majors with Atlanta? Need one of you contract experts to explain that to me.
Cody: Once you are added to the 40-man, they have to option you to send you down to the minors.
Kenon: Okay, this is a better resource than Spotrac for options, I guess. Peterson has two options remaining.
Cody: Even if they do it at the start of the season and you never play a game in the majors that year, you still burn an option.
Kenon: So it’s Farmer, VerHagen, and Mikie Mahtook that I’m watching, along with Reed Garrett.
Cody: Yes I think those are the guys that can’t be optioned, but just going off memory
Jeff: The one thing I’m looking for in spring training: health. We are told Miguel Cabrera, Daniel Norris, and Jordan Zimmermann are healthy this year. I’ll believe it when I see it. Jeimer Candelario was battling a wrist injury for most of the 2018 season; is it fully healed? Michael Fulmer had knee surgery in the offseason; is he 100 percent ready to go? We already have a team with a lot of rookies and prospects. We will see even more if these players have to spend a significant amount of time on the disabled list.
While the DH coming to the National League is inevitable, don’t expect it full-time (it will still be in play when NL clubs play at AL parks during inter league) until 2020. It’s just too late for NL clubs to be prepared for such a drastic change. But it is coming.— Pedro Gomez (@pedrogomezESPN) February 7, 2019
Rob: Well there’s one thing we won’t be looking for.
Chris: I’m looking forward to seeing some of the younger guys in action. With a 2019 season outlook that’s just as bleak as the last, a good look at the glimmers of light that are on the horizon for this team is going to be a welcomed sight. If MLB.com’s roster is to be believed, we’ll be seeing Casey Mize, Franklin Perez, Kyle Funkhouser, Jake Rogers, and Daz Cameron in Lakeland. And who knows? There may even be the outside chance of one of them cracking the roster and traveling north with the team.
Brandon: Jeff’s point about assessing the health of Cabrera, and a lot of other players coming off injury plagued seasons is probably my key focus as well. But I am very interested in seeing the prospects who will be in camp. They, and younger players like Norris, Fulmer, Candelario, Stewart and Joe Jimenez are hugely important to the future, so while spring training performance doesn’t particularly matter much, getting a look at all these guys together should be pretty interesting, and will function as a guide to where our attention is going to be focused in another lost season from the team perspective.
Rob: I think I’ve pondered this elsewhere around the site over the past few months, but I’m interested to see how the minor league rosters shake up this spring. Casey Mize could potentially start as high as Double-A, though an early logjam in that rotation might push him down to High-A Lakeland. Parker Meadows is another interesting case study; will he start the year in full season ball? Kody Clemens and Brock Deatherage both need to prove last year was no fluke, so where will they start in 2019?
Kyle: I am curious to see if any of the younger players perform well enough to steal away some projected playing time from some of the older signings, even if it does not happen right away. Tyson Ross and Matt Moore will start in the rotation, but could a big spring from someone like Spencer Turnbull force his way into a starting spot? Likewise, Gordon Beckham and Jordy Mercer were added to plug some gaps in the infield, but it would be much more interesting to see those at bats go to someone like Willi Castro or Dawel Lugo, assuming they look good enough to be ready. Since wins are not the end goal of the season, it makes sense to see what the organization’s youth can do in Detroit this season.
Rob: I’d also like to see if they add anyone. The Tigers could probably use another catcher, and there are still some interesting players at other position (hi, Josh Harrison) on the free agent market.
Adam: On Rob’s point, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Tigers already have the minors mapped out for a lot of guys. It’ll be fun to watch them in action, but I’m not terribly sure they’re playing for the highest spot in the minors they can get to. Especially given the focus the franchise currently has on developing talent — there’s no sense of urgency from the front office. For instance Mize, I just can’t see starting any higher than Lakeland unless something supernatural occurs.
Rob: Avila basically said they will probably start him in Lakeland because of the weather. It makes sense too, because there are a lot of guys for those five rotation spots in Erie.