Spring training has finally arrived. A long winter of trades, claims, welcoming, and goodbyes, most teams are making their finishing touches to their spring training rosters, and are set to get ready for the regular season. The Tigers were definitely not quiet this off season, adding 5 players on major league contracts. One thing general manager Al Avila stated during winter meetings that he wanted to see a lot of competition within players, and he stuck to his word, because there are multiple tight battles at certain positions. Lets dive in to some.
#1: Backup catcher
The Candidates: Grayson Greiner, Jake Rogers, Eric Haase
Sleeper: Kade Scivicque
My Pick: Grayson Greiner
The Tigers biggest weakness at any position last season was catcher. Cycling through 4 guys, the Tigers catchers combined for a fWAR of -3.3, only better than the Texas Rangers. With the signing of Austin Romine, the Tigers now don’t really need to worry so much on who is starting, at least for the first few months. The question now is who is going be the second backstop. Looking at the candidates, the most recognizable name to the common Tigers fan is most likely Jake Rogers. Rogers, originally a piece in the Justin Verlander trade, really made his name for himself as a legitimate prospect in the Tigers system being known as one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. However, when Rogers was promoted to the Majors, it was clear he just wasn’t ready, slashing a horrid .125/.222/.259 with a 27 wRC+ and a 39.8% strikeout rate. In just a small sample size, there is still hope that Rogers can develop into a solid starter, but for now he needs more time. The next candidate is Grayson Greiner. Greiner surpised many when he came to the scene in 2018 when he showed very solid plate discipline walking 14.7% of the time. However, the Tigers might’ve made the smartest decision in 2019, when they gave him the starting role. Greiner does have decent defense. In 58 games, he was a slightly below average framer with a -2.4 frm and with a -1 DRS. The biggest question for Greiner is does he have enough offense to make it onto the roster. In 2 seasons, Greiner is currently slashing .207/.277/.299, with 5 home runs, and in 2019, the walk rate dropped and K rate increased. The final realistic candidate is Eric Haase. Haase spent almost all of 2019 in the Cleveland Indians organization with their AAA affiliate, the Columbus Clippers. The biggest eye opener when it comes to Eric Haase is that he has a ton of power. In just 102 games, Haase smacked 26 home runs. Haase does not have as good defense and neither Rogers nor Greiner, but has the best bat of the 3. My biggest question when it comes to Haase is how will he fare if he’s in the major leagues for an extended period. Haase got 17 at bats with the Indians last season, in fact, his only hit was a home run, but how will he do in an extended period. Haase is HR/BB/K guy. He struck out over 35% of the time in AAA, walked over 10%, and as you know hit over 25 home runs. My biggest question is will he be able to hit the ball for at least a decent average, or is he going have a Jake Rogers type line. Overall, all 3 candidates have their strengths and all three have their weaknesses. If I had a choice, I would go with Grayson Greiner. I like the defense and with the experience last season, I think he would be solid as a backstop every 5th or 6th day. I like Rogers for later in the season, but for opening day, I have to go Grayson Greiner.
Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
#2: Fourth Outfielder
The Candidates: Victor Reyes, Jorge Bonifacio, Travis Demeritte
Sleeper: Derek Hill
My Pick: Travis Demeritte
The Tigers outfield situation is one of the most interesting position groups in the organization. With the signing of Cameron Maybin, the Tigers currently have 8 outfielders on the 40 man roster, and at least 3 others that are around the AAA level. With Maybin, Jacoby Jones, and Christin Stewart most likely locks for the 3 starting jobs, the fourth spot is up for grabs. The first candidate is the definite favorite, Victor Reyes. Reyes was the first pick of the 2018 Rule 5 draft, and after a rough rookie season, the second half of 2019 for Reyes was one the nobody saw coming. Reyes after the all star break slashed .313/.330/.446 for 3 home runs, and a 105 wRC+. My biggest problem with that second half eruption is that he was getting very lucky. Reyes had a .399 BABIP in the second half. He walked 4.2% of the time, and Reyes had a groundball rate of 42.5%. Based on those 3 factors, I don’t see that success Reyes had being sustainable. Reyes still needs to prove himself that he can be consistent, and with a 6’5″, 215 lb build, Reyes needs to start hitting for more pop. Even with the lack of plate discipline, if Reyes can hit for more power, it would be a lot easier to pick him making the roster. The next candidate is Travis Demeritte. Demeritte was acquired on the 2019 trade deadline as part of the return the Atlanta Braves gave up for Shane Greene. Demeritte is almost the opposite of Victor Reyes. Demeritte has good discipline and hits for some power, but struggles defensively and cannot hit for much of an average. Demeritte has more offensive upside than Victor Reyes, but the question is will he reach it. I like Demeritte a lot, but I don’t know if he will be able to take the spot from Reyes unless he puts on a show come spring training. The final candidate is recently added Jorge Bonifacio. Bonifacio was signed early in the offseason after being released by the Kansas City Royals. Bonifacio was once viewed as a decently promising piece for KC. In 2017, Bonifacio had close to a league average wRC+ (98), and a fWAR of 1.0, but after a suspension for a failed PED test, Bonifacio hasn’t really recovered only accumulating 0.3 fWAR over the last 2 seasons. However, like Travis Demeritte, Bonifacio brings solid plate discipline and decent pop, and even though he did take PEDs he does have the most major league experience, and has performed at a decent level. Overall, I definitely like all 3 candidates, but I feel like Travis Demeritte has the most upside and I think keeping him at the major league level could help him in developing his bat. While MY pick would be Demeritte, I think Reyes performed too well not to make the roster for 2020, and if I had to predict, I would say the Tigers chose Reyes and not Demeritte.
#3: Filling up the bullpen: Long reliever/spot starters
The candidates: Tyler Alexander, Rony Garcia, Dario Argazal, Zack Godley, Hector Santiago, Shao Ching-Chiang
Sleepers: Anthony Castro, Tim Adleman
My picks: Tyler Alexander and Rony Garcia
The Tigers rotation for 2020 is pretty much set barring injuries. The question now is who are the 2 pitchers that will be carried as long relievers or spot starters in case one is not good to go. With the expansion of the 26 man roster, the Tigers from now on will be able to hold 13 pitchers all season, and I think 2 of those spots will go to long relievers. Looking at the candidates, to me I think the 3 realistic candidates are Rony Garcia, Tyler Alexander, and Zack Godley. What’s interesting about this is that Rony Garcia was the Tigers rule 5 pick, so it’s hard to see them dumping him, even if Godley or Alexander or the other candidates may be slightly better options. Garcia is a 22 year old who made 20 starts with the Yankees AA affiliate and put up decent numbers. It was a bit of a surprise when the Tigers took him with the first overall pick, but it seems like they like his profile and they believe it’s the best for the organization. The next candidate is southpaw Tyler Alexander. Alexander was a mid-season call up and performed better than expected with a 4.86 ERA in 13 appearances. Alexander does not have the stuff to last in a big league rotation, but he does have very good control, and pounds the strike zone. Alexander had a walk rate of 1.17 batters per nine innings which is well above average. I like Alexander a lot and think he would be reliable coming out in the 4th inning and throwing 2 or 3 scoreless frames if the starter got knocked out early. The final candidate is Zack Godley. Godley was once a 3.5 WAR player in 2017 with the Diamondbacks, when he had a 3.37 ERA and 9.58 K/9 in 25 starts. Godley then struggled badly in 2019 and was eventually cut by the Diamondbacks and last with the Blue Jays late in August of last year. Godley has the most upside out of the 3 pitchers for this season. The biggest question for him is what version will we get of him. If we can see the 2017-18 version of Godley, the Tigers not only have themselves a spot starter, but a potential 3 or 4 guy with control. Looking at the other candidates, Argazal has some decent upside with his sinker that is comparable to Julio Teheran. Santiago is another lefty arm that pitched over 30 innings at the major league level last season, but I think he’s more emergency depth and will be released once spring training ends. Shao Ching-Chiang also looks like a guy who is emergency depth. Overall, I got to give the 2 spots to Garcia, for his rule 5 status, and Alexander for his impressive performance last season. I like Godley a lot, but I think it would be best for him if he got consistent innings as a starter in Toledo.
Photo by: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images
#4: Filling up the bullpen: middle relievers
Candidates: Jose Cisnero, Greg Soto, Bryan Garcia, Alex Wilson, John Schreiber, Nick Ramirez
Sleeper: Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows
My Picks: Jose Cisnero, Greg Soto, Alex Wilson
The only true locks for the Tigers bullpen are Buck Farmer, Joe Jimenez, and most likely David McKay. Outside of that, every other spot is up for grabs. Looking at the middle reliever spot, this is probably the position with the most uncertainty going into the season. Looking at the candidates, Jose Cisnero and Greg Soto to me are the guys that seperate themselves from the others. Cisnero despite struggles ended up having a decent campaign in the Tigers bullpen last season. In 35 games, Cisnero finished with a 4.33 ERA with a 10.19 K/9, 4.84 BB/9, and a 1.27 HR/9, for a 4.66 FIP and 0.2 WAR. While that’s not amazing, it’s definitely major league bullpen material and I think a full season at the major league level wouldn’t be terrible for him. Cisnero also had a very good winter league, posting a 0.96 ERA in 8 games. Another player that performed very well in his winter league was Greg Soto. Soto made his major league debut last season and showed signs of potential, but struggled mostly. Soto has very good stuff, up to 97 from the left side with a very good slider as his secondary pitch. Soto is more of a high upside guy but if he gets the opportunity I think he could do very well. In his winter league, he had a 0.82 ERA in 12 appearances. The next guy is Alex Wilson, a familiar name among Tigers fans because of the fact that he pitched with Detroit from 2014-2018. Wilson returns on a minor league deal but is definitely a candidate to make the roster, even with his struggles in 2019. Wilson has sort of been a get the job done type guy. Wilson has never been the guy that you love to see pitch, and touches 100 striking out 13 per 9, but Wilson usually didn’t have much trouble with base runners and was reliable for most of his Tigers career. Looking at other candidates, Schreiber is a very possible candidate as he debuted late in 2019 and had a crazy 13.15 K/9 over 13 innings, but I don’t think he continues with his stuff, and I think he ends up being one of the final cuts. Garcia, a similar type of player to Schreiber also has a solid chance to make the roster, but after taking a beating once he got to the MLB, I think with Schreiber, the young duo of possibly future reliever arms starts in Toledo for now. The final major candidate is Nick Ramirez. Ramirez was a minor league signing in the 2018 offseason and came up to the majors all the way from Erie and did not dissapoint. Ramirez had a good K rate and overall solid peripherals, but he was outrighted at the end of the season, and only 89-92 with at best average secondary pitches, how far can he take you in his age 30 season. Overall, I think that all 6 of the players I mentioned have legitimate potential to make the 26 man roster, but if I had to choose, I would take Cisnero, Soto, and Wilson.
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
#5: Jeimer Candelario vs Dawel Lugo: Winner stays, loser goes…
Candidates: Jeimer Candelario, Dawel Lugo
My Pick: Jeimer Candelario
While this is a competition for a starting spot, this is the last competition I’m going over, because it’s more a competition with the Tigers and themselves of how stubborn they are. Let’s be real here, Jeimer Candelario is clearly the better option for third base. He has better defense, walks a ton more, and has decent power. The only thing Lugo had on Candelario last season was that he had a higher batting average, but Lugo also had a higher BABIP so how much does that even mean. The Tigers know that they got absolutely fleeced out of JD Martinez, but the questions is when will they finally acknowledge it and move on. Candelario isn’t anything good either, but still has upside unlike Lugo. If Lugo makes the roster over Candelario, be prepared for an article of me ranting on Al Avila and the Tigers front office, but even Al Avila should know that Dawel Lugo just isn’t it at third base. With both having no options and Jordy Mercer most likely holding the backup infielder role Gordon Beckham had last season, whoever loses out on this job will likely be DFA’d.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Overall, there are multiple competitions for roster spots this spring training for the Tigers. I am glad that you read this article and check out my instagram @Tigers.News_ where I post almost daily updates on the Detroit Tigers.