We are now less than two weeks from the opening of Spring Training. While it is still possible that we will still see some additional activity (trades, a waiver claim or two, or MAYBE another free agent signing), we now have a pretty good idea about what the Tigers' opening-day roster will look like.
Let's start with the most obvious group:
Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty are not optionable. Besides those two, barring an injury, Tarik Skubal should be a lock and is probably the Tigers' opening-day starter. Assuming a normal five-man rotation, that leaves two spots, with probably five pitchers competing for those two spots--Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Reese Olson, Sawyer Gipson-Long and Alex Faedo. All of those guys have at least two remaining options with the exception of Faedo, who has one. I think we can safely predict that Joey Wentz will not be in the mix for a spot in the rotation (although he still might have some utility as a long reliever/swing man similar to the way Tyler Alexander was used in the past). I am going to go out on a limb and predict that the opening-day rotation will consist of:
- Tarik Skubal
- Kenta Maeda
- Jack Flaherty
- Matt Manning and
- Casey Mize
I expect the Tigers to carry a normal eight-man bullpen. I can't see them going with a short pen but I also can't see them starting the season with a short bench. Again, there are at least two relievers, Andrew Chafin and Shelby Miller, who are not optionable (and they would not have been signed to major-league deals just to start the season in Toledo, even if they were). I say "at least" because Joey Wentz and Miguel Diaz are both out of options and each will either make the team as a reliever or not at all.
Besides Chafin and Miller, I would think Alex Lange, Jason Foley, Will Vest and Tyler Holton would be locks, assuming good health. That leaves two open spots. Right now, I expect Wentz and Diaz to at least have the inside track on those two spots. So, the bullpen looks like this:
- Alex Lange
- Jason Foley
- Andrew Chafin
- Shelby Miller
- Tyler Holton
- Will Vest
- Miguel Diaz and
- Joey Wentz
Most of the position side of the roster is pretty well set as well. Spencer Torkelson, Javy Baez, Mark Canha and Riley Greene will be in the lineup most days, and I am going to assume the same will be true for Parker Meadows and Kerry Carpenter. Jake Rogers will get most starts at catcher but Carson Kelly will catch his share of games as well. That leaves five spots to be filled. Matt Vierling, Andy Ibañez and Zach McKinstry all played well enough last year to have an inside track, and personally I have a hard time believing Colt Keith will not open the season as a starter, either at third base or maybe at second (that issue has been flogged to death elsewhere), especially given the long-term major league contract he has just signed. That leaves one open spot with a number of possible candidates. That group certainly includes at least Akil Baddoo and Justyn-Henry Malloy, but is also probably includes Ryan Kreidler, Andre Lipcius and Wenceel Perez (Nick Maton has now been designated for assignment and will be in camp if at all as a non-roster invitee). I do not have much of a feel for Malloy although his plate discipline and relative power would give him some appeal. Baddoo may be the most talented athlete of the group but is limited to a corner outfield spot in what is already a full, lefty-heavy outfield. Perez (Al Avila's first big IFA signing) has started to look like a legitimate prospect after treading water for few seasons down on the farm, and he is a switch-hitter who can play several positions, including center field. Lipcius looks like a baseball player, too, but for now he looks like just a decent depth player. That leaves Ryan Kreidler. The team clearly likes him and gave him a shot last season, but he just could not stay healthy enough to stay on the field. Still, he can play pretty much any position on the field except catcher, and is really the only utility player in the group who can provide at least average or better defense at shortstop when Baez needs a day off.
So, here is how I see the roster constructed on the position side:
- First base-- Spencer Torkelson (I wish I could project Carpenter as a backup 1B but there doesn't seem to be any interest in trying him out there, so I will go with Canha or Kreidler as his backup on the rare days he is not in the lineup or is the DH).
- Second base--Andy Ibañez with McKinstry as the primary backup there, or Colt Keith backed up primarily by Ibañez.
- Shortstop-- Javy Baez (Kreidler as his backup)
- Third Base--either Colt Keith with Vierling as his primary backup or Vierling, with Ibañez, Kreidler and McKinstry sharing some time there.
- Left field-- Mark Canha (Carpenter as his backup)
- Right field-- Riley Greene (Vierling as his backup)
- Center field-- Parker Meadows (Greene, Kreidler and maybe Vierling as backups)
- Catcher--Jake Rogers (Kelly as backup)
- Designated Hitter-- Kerry Carpenter (but Keith, Canha, Tork, and Ibañez, at least, will also get their share of AB's as the DH).