Happy Opening Day Eve! It sure did come later than last year. I don’t quite know how we got here––my last memory before life became a total blur for five months was booing the Houston Astros at the Tigers’ first Spring Training game––but baseball is upon us! Should it be? Ehhhhh, I’ll let the Bless You Boys Roundtable touch on that topic.
For now, we have something more exciting to discuss: the Tigers’ 30-man Opening Day roster, complete with a three-man major league taxi squad and some interesting cuts.
This morning, Tigers PR announced the roster moves completing the 30-man roster. This leaves Detroit with the following Opening Day roster by position group:
Pitchers (16 Total): Dario Agrazal, Tyler Alexander, Matthew Boyd, Beau Burrows, Jose Cisnero, Buck Farmer, Michael Fulmer, Kyle Funkhouser, Bryan Garcia, Rony Garcia, Joe Jimenez, David McKay, Ivan Nova, John Schreiber, Gregory Soto, Spencer Turnbull
Catchers (2 Total): Grayson Greiner, Austin Romine
Infielders (7 Total): Miguel Cabrera, Jeimer Candelario, C.J. Cron, Niko Goodrum, Dawel Lugo, Jordy Mercer, Jonathan Schoop
Outfielders (4 Total): JaCoby Jones, Cameron Maybin, Victor Reyes, Christin Stewart
Utility (1 Total): (Hittin’) Harold Castro
Taxi Squad (3 Total): RHP Anthony Castro, C Eric Haase, OF Derek Hill
Excluding the three players on the Taxi Squad, who may join the team on road trips, these are your 2020 Opening Day Detroit Tigers! (And no, Blue Jays, this does not mean you just have a 33-man roster.) Now that we have a roster to go off of, let’s talk about it.
The Tigers today announced the following roster moves. pic.twitter.com/4guOCQeh3r— Tigers PR (@DetroitTigersPR) July 22, 2020
40-man roster spots reign supreme
Perhaps the biggest surprise with this Opening Day roster was the exclusion of left-handed pitcher Nick Ramirez and right-handed pitcher Shao-Ching Chiang. Ramirez’s 79 innings in 2019 were good for fifth-most on the entire 2019 squad and topped the next guy on the list––set-up man Buck Farmer––by a dozen innings. The need for long relief being as great as it is, passing on Ramirez for now is a bit surprising. Chiang, meanwhile, has drawn a plethora of positive reviews throughout camp and was pitching well for Detroit as recently as last night.
The exclusion of guys like Ramirez and Chiang, as well as outfielder Jorge Bonifacio, shows that the Tigers were planning to carry certain guys on their 40-man roster one way or another, and didn’t want to expose anyone to waivers just yet. By emphasizing players already on the 40-man, the Tigers avoided decisions that might have cost them a player or an option...for now. This includes right-handed pitching prospects Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser, already added to the 40-man, who are in serious need of reps in 2020 to re-establish themselves following poor 2019 showings in the minor leagues. Speaking of Burrows and Funkhouser…
There are a few fresh faces from the farm
This finalized Opening Day roster has a few new faces up to Detroit from its farm system, as Burrows and Funkhouser in particular will be given an opportunity to sink or swim in a crowded Tigers bullpen. Fellow right-handed pitching prospect Anthony Castro, meanwhile, may make his debut in a road game at some point this year, though it is worth noting that Castro struggled in both training camps leading up to this season.
In fact, most of the prospects that are on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster are in the bullpen, as the Tigers have also included right-handed pitchers Bryan Garcia and Rony Garcia (who, like Harold, Willi, and Anthony Castro, are not related). The former debuted last September in Detroit, while the latter was the team’s #1 overall selection in the Rule-5 Draft and must stay on the team’s roster all season to permanently become a Detroit Tiger, similar to Victor Reyes in 2018.
Finally, we have the Tigers’ first-round selection from the 2014 June Amateur Draft, outfielder Derek Hill. Hill posted a respectable 108 wRC+ in 120 games with Double-A Erie last season and boasts perhaps the greatest fielding prowess and speed on the basepaths of any player in the organization. I’m personally concerned about him not getting many reps at the plate this season, but hey, it’s better for him to be on the taxi squad and get any reps––perhaps as a defensive replacement––than for him to not get any reps this year at all.
No Casey Mize just yet
Speaking of prospects, the Casey Mize Hype Train isn’t ready for departure just yet. It is fairly obvious that Mize was one of the top pitchers in training camp and has, when healthy, absolutely dominated hitters from the moment he entered the system. However, general manager Al Avila would start a riot on Tigers Twitter if he didn’t wait a couple of weeks to call up Mize as to avoid starting his service clock.
Assuming good health, it seems a near lock that Mize will see plenty of playing time in Detroit this season, and there’s a chance that fellow top prospects Matt Manning, Tarik Skubal, and Isaac Paredes all join him at some point. Avila is just doing his job here in not starting the service clocks on his organization’s most valuable assets just to have some fun during a 60-game season.
Third base and the outfield are of particular interest
2020 will be a crucial season for the Tigers’ third base and outfield positions moving forward. Third baseman Jeimer Candelario has a make-or-break year in front of him as he attempts to prove that he can be a regular starter on a contending Detroit team. Candelario is only one season removed from his impressive 2.5 fWAR 2018 season, but he was also hitting .181 two months into last year’s campaign before missing most of June and August.
Dawel Lugo will attempt to steal playing time from Candelario, as Lugo is out of options and facing a sink-or-swim year as well. Given his 3.9% walk percentage and -1.0 fWAR in 104 major league games, however, I wouldn’t hold your breath on him seizing any type of role. The odds that another team would bother with him if bumped from the 40-man aren’t great either, but with Isaac Paredes breathing down the collective necks of the third base options, Lugo is a non-factor at this point.
Meanwhile, in the outfield, the Tigers have two young outfielders in Victor Reyes and Christin Stewart looking to seize their roles on the team, along with 28-year-old JaCoby Jones. Jones has shown flashes of brilliance in the outfield and come up with a few big hits over the past few years, but it’s hard to see him becoming a full-time player at any point. While advanced stats have showed Jones improving his discipline every year, the constant injuries have sapped any momentum he’s generated.
As somebody who has thought that Jones has passed the “eye test” at times, I was shocked to notice his .211/.276/.369 triple-slash career line in Detroit, complete with career 70 wRC+ and 0.3 fWAR marks. Ouch. To put that into context, Victor Reyes is 2.5 years younger than Jones and posted a .304/.336/.431 triple-slash with a 1.6 fWAR in just 69 games last season alone.
Stewart, meanwhile, sits in the middle of the two agewise and is coming off a miserable debut season in which he posted a -1.2 fWAR, only slugged ten home runs in 104 games, and posted a subpar 80 wRC+. While outfield prospects Daz Cameron and Derek Hill are likely next up and aren’t really breathing down anybody’s necks given their minor league track records, it’d be great to see just one of Detroit’s three younger outfielders (sorry, Cameron Maybin) carve out a longer-term role. If one of them do, perhaps they will join Riley Greene (knock on wood) and a free agent signing in Detroit’s 2022 outfield.
A few notes on the rotation and bullpen
Finally, let’s talk about the rotation and bullpen for a moment. Detroit will be starting Matthew Boyd, Ivan Nova, and Spencer Turnbull in their Opening Weekend series against the Cincinnati Reds, but from there, the rotation is currently a little hazy.
For now, it appears that manager Ron Gardenhire will piggyback Tyler Alexander with Michael Fulmer due to their divergent pitching repertoires until Fulmer can handle a full load himself. Meanwhile, 25-year-old right-hander Dario Agrazal is in line to start for a bit without Daniel Norris or Casey Mize in Detroit.
Agrazal posted a 4.91 ERA with a very poor 5.90 FIP and xFIP in 14 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates during his 2019 rookie campaign, and he currently has one minor league option that Detroit will likely utilize at some point during this abbreviated season. A sinkerball specialist with little to recommend him otherwise beyond durability, Agrazal is presumably going to require some long relief help in his outings as well.
Meanwhile, Detroit has ten different relief options to choose from, as the 30-man roster allows Detroit to embrace quantity over quality in their bullpen even more now than they have with their poor eight-man bullpens in years past. As mentioned, prospects Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser will be of special interest this season. Bryan Garcia looks fully back to form after a mid-2019 return from UCL surgery and will be a name to watch. So too will Rule-5 selection Rony Garcia who has been fairly impressive in camp.
Right now, it’s Jimenez and Buck Farmer with the most to prove. Farmer put together the best year of his career and settled nicely into a setup man role. Jimenez was handed the closer’s gig after Shane Greene was traded last July, but hasn’t done a whole lot to seize the role long-term. They may be the Tigers two best trade chips at the halfway mark if they can put their best foot forward over the next five weeks.
Jose Cisnero and hard-throwing lefty Gregory Soto are probably the next tier down from Jimenez and Farmer. Both have electric stuff but struggle to harness it. If either could step up and be a consistent performer it would do a lot to bolster the soft middle of the Tigers’ relief core.
If you have any comments on Detroit’s Opening Day roster, myself and the rest of the Bless You Boys staff are extremely excited to have baseball back (whether it should be or not), and we would love to hear from you!