Now that Miguel Cabrera has arrived in Lakeland, spring training is very much underway for the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers were not very good last season, to put it mildly, but 2020 is a new year. Many of you believe the club had a successful offseason, adding necessary pieces to fill may of the gaping holes that plagued their 2019 roster.
Those new players, plus the continued development of their burgeoning prospect pool makes for a number of interesting storylines as the spring progresses. How will their top prospects fare at Double- and Triple-A? Can players who struggled last year take a step forward? How will 2019 rookies like Spencer Turnbull and Christin Stewart fare in year two?
Let’s put it this way; there are so many interesting storylines to be found, we didn’t mention a single thing about a potential Matthew Boyd trade.
This week’s question: What headline or narrative are you most interested in following this spring?
Adam: Will Franklin Perez last the entire spring or will he fall again to his mysterious ailment?
Trevor: The abundance of catchers should be fun to watch. It will be a true competition, which might not be seen anywhere else.
The rest of this week’s question: ...and why?
Adam: Because, as things stand, the Tigers’ haul from the Justin Verlander trade has been very underwhelming so far — though they have not lost the trade just yet. A healthy and successful Perez adds yet another solid arm to the stable and creates a bit more elasticity when it comes to dealing some of the other pitching prospects for much-need bats.
Patrick: I am most interested in seeing how close the Tigers’ young pitching prospects are getting to the major leagues, and which, if any of them are moved to the bullpen. In particular, Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser; both could be in relief roles relatively quickly, but of course the Tigers would prefer to see them make it as major league starters. The trio of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal are on everyone’s radar and due for a bump to Triple-A, and we have Perez and Alex Faedo on the comeback trail. As a Tigers fan, with all the moves that the front office has not made, it’s just about all we have to look forward to.
Trevor: The competitions are the catchers or... what? Dawel Lugo and Jeimer Candelario? Candelario should win that, but we’ll see how it plays out. So why not take a look at that catching situation? Jake Rogers could benefit from some more time in Triple-A, so maybe Eric Haase and Grayson Greiner win the battle, or it could be Austin Romine. None of these are exciting names, but there should be some fun in watching these guys try to earn a spot. It seems like the Tigers added more catchers than any other position this offseason, so why not pay attention to it?
Peter (who answered before Cameron Maybin was signed): Will the Tigers pick up an everyday corner outfielder, or will someone step up and assert themselves into that role? The Tigers have stepped up and made a creditable effort to fill many of the gaping holes on the roster as they head into another year of their rebuild. The one glaring hole they have not yet filled is right field. They have a number of internal candidates on hand, but none of those inspire much confidence. Christin Stewart, for better or worse, has the upside to warrant another full season chance to show he can handle major league pitching, and JaCoby Jones has flashed potential to be a dynamic leadoff hitter and elite defender in center field. A corner outfielder isn’t a hard commodity to find, and there are still several free agent options still out there. A clear-cut starting option would round out the lineup to make this team more interesting to watch and give them a fighting chance in most games.
Rob: Yeah, Patrick, I’m also interested to see who moves to the bullpen. Funkhouser and Anthony Castro seem like obvious candidates, especially as the pitching logjam we saw in Double-A Erie last year moves up to Toledo. The only real guaranteed spots in the pen right now are Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, and maybe Rony Garcia because he is a Rule 5 pick, but otherwise it’s pretty wide open. Tyler Alexander seems like a good bet to make the team because he is left-handed, but could someone like Funkhouser show out in spring and make the Opening Day roster?
Ashley: Well now I’m interested in Alex Wilson, side-armer. The bullpen is always a big question mark for the Tigers, and I was happy to see them bring Wilson back. Now that reports are saying he is testing out a side-arm pitch in spring training, I AM INTRIGUED.
Adam: Haase is supposed to have a bit of pop in his bat, Trevor, so I’m looking forward to more dingers if he makes the team.
Trevor: I agree with Ashley now! But sticking with the backstops, I hope so, Adam.
Adam: Count me as skeptical about the new arm-slot, as it’s a bit of a new trick for an old dog. I am curious to see what he is throwing now from that angle, however. He could benefit from more horizontal action on his pitches.
Ashley: He asked what I was interested in, Adam, not whether or not I thought it would work!
Brady: As usual, I’m interesting in seeing potential bounce-back seasons. Is Miguel Cabrera truly in good enough shape to carry his weight in the lineup? Will Christin Stewart show the potential we have been expecting to see? Will Candelario return to form after his abysmal 2019 season? How will Michael Fulmer look when he returns healthy in the summer? These are all things I will be looking at very closely. If a couple of these guys are able to come back and perform well enough, that could bode well for 2020.
Brandon: I’m interested to see if Niko Goodrum can post average or better numbers at shortstop. Here’s hoping he still gets the chance with Jordy Mercer onboard again. I’m also curious to see how the Tigers sort out all these “Quad-A” outfielders with Daz Cameron and Derek Hill needing full time work at Triple-A Toledo. There’s a lot to watch for. Still, the way the Tigers introduce all these pitching prospects and the young relief arms is ultimately going to have the most impact on the future, so seeing how they develop and introduce the big three, as well as how they use the back end starters and relievers coming will be the key story of the season.
Brady: I’m also interested in seeing how the Tigers continue to handle Daniel Norris. He pitched very well in his piggyback role last year, going four innings or so and passing the baton. Will they be content in putting him back in that role? Or are they going to try and work him back into a starter that could go five-plus innings on any given night? His redemption arc feels close to coming full circle after being this close to becoming a bust.
Trevor: Norris is a good one. If you use Justin Verlander’s injury arc [following his core surgery], this is theoretically the year that the fastball velocity returns. Obviously that can’t be banked on, but still an interesting wrinkle.
Brandon: Yeah, I’m expecting this to be the decisive year for Norris. Too bad we only have two seasons of control left.