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Detroit Tigers News: The Battle of the Bullpen has begun

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Fourteen men enter, only six leave for Detroit. Who will win this epic battle for a spot in the Tigers bullpen?

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Rony Garcia
Feb. 12, 2020; Lakeland, Florida, USA — Pitcher Rony Garcia throws a bullpen session during spring workouts.
Adam Dubbin / Bless You Boys

One of the Detroit Tigers’ Achilles heels since their 21st century Golden Age has been the reliability of its bullpen (or lack thereof) and recent years have been no different. However, coming into the first season of the new decade, the organization continues to take fliers on fringy major leaguers, minor leaguers, Rule 5 selections and washed out veterans, as well as a few budding prospects that are the mix. This makes for a compelling storyline, as up to 14 guys duke it out on the mound for a chance to go north with the team.

Currently, six bullpen spots are presumably up for grabs, as no one relief pitcher outside of Buck Farmer and Joe Jiménez is guaranteed a job in Detroit — and frankly, none of them have earned it yet. Starting with the fringy vets, Hector Santiago, Zack Godley and old friend Alex Wilson are a trio of hurlers on the wrong side of 30 (Godley turns 30 in April) looking to squeeze a bit more out of their big league careers. Santiago is four years removed from his career high water mark, while Godley looks to recapture the success he saw in Arizona and Wilson sports a new arm slot attempting to bounce back into the majors. All three are non-roster invitees to spring training camp, so they have a steep hill ahead of them.

The next cohort consists of the hard-throwing late-inning guys: Jose Cisnero, Gregory Soto, and David McKay. Cisnero is the veteran of the group, while Soto and McKay are young, live arms; one of these guys will likely head north at the end of spring training. Then there are the middle inning men consisting of John Schreiber and Bryan Garcia, both low-level prospects looking to make their marks in the majors, as well as Rule 5 Draft selection Rony Garcia who must remain on the 26-man roster all season or be returned to his former team.

Nick Ramirez and Tyler Alexander represent the southpaws with a major league track record, and at least one of the two stand to get promoted at the end of March. Right-handed prospects Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser are looking to finally make the leap into the majors. Lastly, there is Dario Agrazal, who did a couple rounds of the waiver wire dance after getting his cup of coffee with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019 before settling into the Tigers system.

While the names are not flashy and only a few arms elicit any level of excitement, this is what the 2020 Tigers have to work with. Hopefully, this story ends on a good note and the team begins building its bullpen in hopes of bringing the rebuild to fruition.

Austin Romine brings veteran leadership

One of the most important things a pitcher needs to be successful is a good catcher receiving, and newcomer Austin Romine appears to be bringing some much-needed veteran leadership to the clubhouse and behind the dish.

Last year, the Tigers suffered a brutal 114-loss season with a pair of greenhorn catchers getting most of the playing time behind the plate, which is never an optimal situation to be in. Romine is expected to bring intangibles this season that only a veteran player can offer to better keep the battery on the same page.

More importantly, an experienced presence behind the dish is critical when cultivating young pitching prospects, which the Tigers have put a great deal of focus on during its rebuild. Romine has already begun making his mark in spring training, providing critiques from bullpen sessions and live games alike.

With the possibility of seeing some of the top-rated young arms in the system sometime this year, as well as pitchers like Daniel Norris who are still trying to put the finishing touches on their development, having the sage experience of Romine receiving their throws will likely help give them all a bit of a much-needed boost.

Gotta get JaCoby goin’

JaCoby Jones was having a weird 2019 season when he fractured his wrist last August — his bat had started to heat up, but his glove had gone cold according to advanced defensive metrics. And then the calamity occurred when he was hit by a 95 mph Jorge Lopez fastball.

Now, Jones is looking to get back on track this spring, stating that his injured left wrist is “100%.” He resumed baseball activities in November and has been shaking the rust off since, focusing on his timing in the batting cage and in the outfield.

Hopefully, Jones makes a full recovery and returns to his patrol in center field this summer. If he can wield a decent bat and recapture his previous defensive wizardry, he will a much needed presence in Comerica Park’s vast outfield.

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