When the Tigers welcome the New York Yankees into Lakeland this afternoon at 1:05pm ET, there is a little extra intrigue involved. Yes, Michael Fulmer will toe the bump for his first Grapefruit League start of the season. Yes, new second baseman, Josh Harrison, will make his debut in a Tigers’ uniform. We should also get another look at Casey Mize and Kyle Funkhouser, as they are available today in relief. These are important points, and well worth watching. But they’re all just pieces in the larger puzzle, and the Tigers’ scheduled lineup today looks suspiciously like the one fans can expect on Opening Day.
Despite the projected weakness of this offense in 2019, it’s a bit of a treat to see Christin Stewart, Nicholas Castellanos, and Miguel Cabrera all in a row, with Jeimer Candelario capping a pretty decent front five. Josh Harrison gets the nod in the leadoff spot, while Niko Goodrum is taking on the designated hitter duties in the sixth slot. Jordy Mercer, Grayson Greiner, and JaCoby Jones round out the order as the defensive specialists at the back of the line. It’s not pretty folks, but it’s the hand we’ve been dealt.
The players themselves are essentially locks to start for the Tigers this season, so take it for what this is, a likely preview of the 2019 Tigers’ lineup.
There are some bones to pick, however. The Tigers clearly expect Harrison to bounce back from the .293 on base percentage he posted in 2018, but even so, the former Pirate holds a pretty pedestrian .317 mark for his career. Not really ideal in the leadoff spot. Harrison does have experience and some speed and base stealing ability, however, so he may well be their best option.
Christin Stewart batting second is also something of an interesting choice. With two switch hitters who show decent ability to get on base in Candelario and Goodrum, you’d think one of them would be in the Tigers’ top two spots. Goodrum posted a similar on base percentage to Harrison’s career mark last season, and packs a little more power and speed. Instead, Ron Gardenhire has stacked a little more power up front, with Stewart’s left-handed thump breaking up a string of right-handed hitters, and presumably prefers Harrison’s experience leading off the order as opposed to Goodrum. Getting your most powerful bats to the plate as often as possible makes sense, so we approve of Stewart’s placement in the order.
Things could certainly be shuffled around, and you’d expect Gardenhire to tinker and experiment with the lineup over the next five weeks. These nine guys probably won’t start together consistently until the regular season nears. But take a good long look today Tigers fans. However things shake out, this is very likely your Opening Day lineup for 2019.