As the 2019 season (mercifully) comes to a close, the Tigers can finally start turning the page and looking ahead to next year. While 2020 will bring much of the same, there is belief that the team may be on the upswing, as many of the organization’s top prospects are reaching the cusp of the major leagues.
However, there are a bunch of serviceable players already in Detroit who project to feature again next season. The team as a whole might not have been very sightly this season, but there were definitely some individual players who shed a ray of hope for the future.
Below are eight names who have notched at least 100 plate appearances or have pitched in at least 10 names this season who should play a notable role with the Tigers in 2020.
While not quite a diamond in the rough, Niko Goodrum is the exact type of player rebuilding teams look to acquire. The results have been accentuated by a mediocre lineup around him — his 101 wRC+ ranks 38th among cleanup hitters with at least 100 plate appearances this season — but that should not take away from the more-than-adequate production which he has provided at the plate.
Goodrum is extremely versatile defensively and has fielded seven different positions this season. Many are hoping for him to see a larger role at second base in 2020 with no clear occupant elsewhere in the roster or coming up through the minors. Regardless of where he spends his time, though, Goodrum should be a staple of the lineup next season.
The wheels have fallen off for Spencer Turnbull as of late, but that does not completely wipe out a pleasantly surprising 2019. The 27-year-old entered the year with more heralded pitchers both already of him in the Detroit rotation and rapidly catching up on him in the minors, yet he was the one to make a splash, along with Matthew Boyd.
A 3.31 first-half ERA has ballooned to a 7.87 ERA since the All-Star break, but there were still plenty of good signs from Turnbull this season. He will enter 2020 with many of the same challenges as a year ago, especially with the number of electric arms in Double-A Erie, but he proved that he can hang in the big leagues. If he cannot turn his fortunes around, however, the competition might take away his rotation spot sooner rather than later.
No one is expecting to be impressed with Jake Rogers at the plate, but a .115/.227/.260 slash line has been a rough start for the young catcher. A couple months to end the season is not nearly enough time to draw conclusions, but it is hard to ignore his early struggles, especially when his pitch framing is grading out below-average.
Rogers will get plenty of opportunities to improve next season, however. His defense will level out and continue to be his strength, as six thrown-out attempted base stealers have already learned. His hitting might not improve a ton, but it should be better over the course of a whole year.
Daniel Norris has been a popular breakout pick ever since coming over to Detroit in 2015, but perhaps he is finally settling into his role. Manager Ron Gardenhire may not completely be on board with using openers like some other teams, but he has identified a clear plan for Norris.
In each of his last seven starts, the southpaw has thrown exactly three innings; this has resulted in a 3.86 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Of course, the sample size is small, but perhaps this sort of role fits Norris better than a full workload. The reality is the Tigers do not need him to be a true starter going forward, so it makes sense to continue to trot out this plan in 2020.
A mention of Norris should logically be followed by a note about Drew VerHagen, who has pitched after the former in almost all of his shortened starts. VerHagen has never been outstanding, but he has been decent enough to keep his job in a maligned Tigers bullpen over the past few years.
VerHagen is able to step in for a start or too, but his best usage is as a reliever. He is not critical to the team’s success, but his 3.69 ERA since July could give him some good vibes heading into 2020. He might not ever make it into a prominent role, but he can at least prove to be valuable on a staff without many sure things.
Probably the most exciting bat to step into a larger role in 2019, Christin Stewart did well enough to bring some encouragement to the fanbase. His 10 homers and 91 wRC+ are a little below what one would hope to see, but for his first full season in the majors, Stewart has performed well.
A -1 DRS and -6.4 UZR are not great, but he is good enough to earn a corner spot in 2020. There are a handful of outfielders that should make a push for playing time over the next couple years, but Stewart has as good of a shot as any to lock up a role.
Admittedly, Travis Demeritte has not been great since arriving in Detroit, but the amount of playing time he has received shows that the team does have interest in him. His .234/.291/.366 major league debut is probably not good enough to earn him an everyday role next season, but he should mix and match among the outfielders.
Demeritte has an elevated strikeout rate and subpar defensive metrics, but he has only been in the majors for a month and a half. At 24 years old, next season will be a good chance for the Tigers to see exactly what they have in him before the team is ready to truly complete.
Closing out this list is Joe Jimenez, who will enter 2020 as the Tigers closer. The young righthander has long been tabbed as the team’s long-term ninth-inning plan, but this season has been a bit rocky with a 4.53 ERA and 4.71 FIP.
Jimenez has featured 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings and seven saves this season, but an elevated home run rate and five blown saves are what stick out more. Next year he will be given every opportunity to close out games, but if he cannot become more consistent the team will be forced to consider some other options going forward.