It’s go time, Tigers fans. Hopefully you’ve got your jersey pressed, the brim of your new cap shaped into an elegant curve, and a new glove broken in. Jordan Zimmermann gets the call as your Opening Day starter as the good guys take on the Toronto Blue Jays in the first of a four-game set to get things underway. The 2019 season begins today, and we’re here to introduce you to the Detroit Tigers starting lineup.
2B Josh Harrison
Tigers general manager Al Avila added the veteran infielder just days after we begged him to circle back to a stagnating free agent market. The 31-year-old Harrison has spent his entire career playing a mix of second and third base for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has some experience hitting in the leadoff spot, which is presumably manager Ron Gardenhire’s rationale for leading off with a player who has posted mediocre on-base numbers in his career.
Harrison is a solid player however, and instantly made the Tigers starting infield better. He brings a decent combination of power, speed, and defense to the team, and he and new shortstop Jordy Mercer are very familiar with each other as long-time teammates on the Pirates. Harrison generally plays an intelligent but aggressive style of baseball. He’s a bit of a free-swinger who doesn’t draw many walks, and we’ll have to see if the change in ballpark gives him the boost in average many others have enjoyed coming over to Detroit. If not, the Tigers would do well to drop him down in the order and let him run wild on the bases a little more.
RF Nicholas Castellanos
Castellanos needs no introduction of course. He made his debut with the Tigers all the way back in 2013, and has seen the final stages of a great era of Tigers baseball passing into history. In his final season before free agency, he’s going to be happy to see a lot more muscle around him in the batting order this year.
On an island in 2018, with Miguel Cabrera missing most of the season and little to no support in the lineup, Castellanos managed his best season at the plate anyway. The Tigers will hope he can improve over the atrocious defensive numbers he posted in his first season as an outfielder, and take another step into his prime years with a big season with the bat. If so, he will be a modest trade chip at the trade deadline in July as the Tigers continue their teardown. In the meantime, he, Miguel Cabrera, and Christin Stewart should combine for a lot more home run power than we saw last season.
1B Miguel Cabrera
The engine that powers the Tigers’ offense was missing in action for most of the 2018 season after tearing a biceps tendon in early June. While Cabrera’s numbers and playing time have been ravaged by injury the past two seasons, his strikeout-to-walk ratio and the amount of hard contact remains undiminished. While it was the bicep that shut him down last year, it’s really been lower back issues that have hampered him from driving the ball in the air to the pull field.
This spring? Cabrera has launched five impressive home runs. Two to right-center, two to left-center, and one missile off the batter’s eye in centerfield. He’s posted an OPS over 1.000 in Grapefruit League action, and appears to be feeling great. As long as that state of affairs can be maintained, expect him to look much more Miguel Cabrera-like in 2019.
3B Jeimer Candelario
The Candyman’s season was a tale of two parts. He came out on fire with the bat, showcasing more raw power than was projected when he was a prospect with the Chicago Cubs. The plate discipline and contact ability were as good as advertised, and he played solid defense at the hot corner all year long. Unfortunately, by the time the calendar turned to summer, a wrist issue deflated his batspeed and left him cheating a bit and vulnerable to breaking balls inside, particularly hitting left-handed. His offensive numbers cratered as a result. Entering his second full season after a strong spring camp, look for Candelario to be more consistent at the plate, and provide a nice blend of power and onbase percentage.
UT/DH Niko Goodrum
Tigers fans fell in love with Niko Goodrum last season, and for good reason. He’s not likely to develop into a major piece of the Tigers’ rebuilding puzzle, but the long-time Twins prospect showed a nice mix of speed, contact ability, and power in 2018, and was one of the few bright spots on the roster. While “super-utilityman” status eludes him because of some defensive liabilities, he’s seems primed to get starts everywhere on the field other than catcher. The Tigers have experimented with him in center field in spring training, and he will likely pull a few starts there until JaCoby Jones returns from his recent shoulder injury.
LF Christin Stewart
Rookie left fielder Christin Stewart has a chance to be the most offensively productive, non-Vladimir Guerrero Jr., newcomer in the major leagues this season. Eloy Jimenez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Peter Alonso and others will have their say, but Stewart is a seasoned hitter with excellent raw power, solid contact skills, and ability to draw a walk. Unfortunately, those are the only tools he brings to the table. He won’t impress in left field or on the bases, but Stewart should provide substantial production at the plate for a lineup that sorely needs more of it.
C Grayson Greiner
The first thing you notice about Greiner is his size. Listed at 6’6, 239 pounds, Greiner is the tallest catcher in the history of the major leagues. But the second thing you notice, is his agility and soft hands behind the plate. A quality receiver with good blocking and throwing skills, he should be a defensive upgrade from James McCann. The question is whether Greiner can be more productive than McCann was at the plate.
Greiner has a line drive approach with solid plate discipline, but doesn’t hit for much power. In his first full season in the major leagues, and pegged for a starting role, Greiner may be hard pressed to keep his head above water offensively. However, as the average major league catcher was 17 percent worse offensively than a major league average hitter last year, the bar isn’t going to be very high. In the long run, he probably profiles as the future backup to catcher of the future, Jake Rogers, who is still a year or so away from his debut.
SS Jordy Mercer
The Tigers targeted Mercer early on in free agency this offseason. They clearly had zero interest in signing Jose Iglesias to a free agent contract—despite the fact that Iglesias is somewhat more productive overall—and instead inked Mercer to a one-year deal instead. Mercer won’t do much with the bat, and his defense metrics are headed the wrong way at age 32. As a stopgap measure, he’ll have to do, as the Tigers don’t have any good options at the position in the upper minors yet. He and Harrison should form a reasonably sound double-play combination, but Mercer just doesn’t have much to offer offensively.
CF Mikie Mahtook
After a strong 2017 season, Mahtook was pegged as the Tigers starting left fielder in 2018. Unfortunately, he crumbled at the plate again, appearing in only 67 games. Now 29 years old, hopes of the former Tampa Bay Rays first-round pick ever putting it together consistently are nearly extinguished. The Tigers like him as their fourth outfielder this season, and with JaCoby Jones out with a shoulder injury, he’s going to get a lot of playing time in April. He needs to make it count or he’s a good bet to see his time in the major leagues come to an end sometime this summer.