Might Nick Castellanos make the opening day roster? Only if he’ll see plenty of playing time.
A few weeks ago, we analyzed the five most important Detroit Tigers’ pitchers to watch during spring training. This week, we’re taking a look at positional players. In the infield, things are set with Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Omar Infante. In the outfield there’s a bit more intrigue. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter will be holding down center field and right field. There’s still no left fielder on the roster to complement Andy Dirks, and a few youngsters will be looking to crack the lineup as part time players.
Which Tiger hitters need to have an excellent spring for one reason or another? Who should you keep your eyes on during the exhibition games? Here’s somewhat of a roadmap to Detroit’s position players to monitor during February and March.
1. Jhonny Peralta. The shortstop was the subject of many trade rumors this offseason, but nothing ended up happening. Last year was a down season for Peralta after he batted an unimpressive .239 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI’s. The Tigers will need him to come closer to duplicating 2011′s numbers, which saw him hit .299 with 21 homers and 86 RBI. Can Peralta rebound well and provide the order some much needed punch? Moreover, will his defense remain acceptable? Detroit doesn’t need to be worrying about scrambling to find a midseason replacement, so a good spring would certainly be an excellent way for Peralta to get things off to a solid start.
2. Avisail Garcia. Last season, Garcia burst on the scene late in the year and provided the Tigers with some excellent at bats and defense down the stretch. In the playoffs, he was a fantastic pinch hitter and contributed plenty of clutch moments. This year, what might the role be for Garcia considering Torii Hunter is in the fold? According to early reports, the Tigers want him to get full time action, preferring not to keep him around simply for pinch hitting sake. Might Garcia just play himself onto the roster with a good spring, however? Its never out of the realm of possibility.
3. Nick Castellanos. The wunderkind everyone wants to know about, Castellanos will finally get a big shot in camp to show his stuff this season. There won’t be any coddling, nor will there be an open spot for the rookie immediately. He’ll have to play himself onto the roster as a starter. Impossible? No, given Castellanos’s immense talent and ability. Improbable? Yes, considering his young age and the fact Jim Leyland wants him full playing time. Still, this is the player everyone wants to know about given the hype ever since he was drafted. Watch him close to see his skill set this spring.
4. Jeff Kobernus. In some organizational circles, the former rule five draft pick is being referred to as “the new Don Kelly.” That sentiment could be true, given Kobernus’s ability to play infield positions and outfield positions. The Tigers plan to give him a shot in left field this spring, certainly qualifying him as one to watch. Can Kobernus showcase the speed (95 steals in the last two years) and unique hitting ability (.313 against left handers) which would make him an immediate asset for the hard hitting Tigers’ lineup? Can he handle the defensive load capably? A good spring might land Kobernus on the roster, given his ability to be an everyman type baseball player. That’s something which the Tigers have appreciated for the past few years.
5. Brennan Boesch. The Tigers are now in a major pickle with Boesch. Hunter is the new right fielder for the next two seasons and there is a bevy of other young players in the system with extremely high ceilings, including Garcia and Castellanos. Where does that leave Boesch? The lefty does bring pop to the order when he’s on, but the problem is, that was rarely the case in 2012, a year which saw Boesch hit .240 with only 12 home runs. That’s not consistent enough to hang around a roster. Given these numbers, it might be impossible to deal Boesch immediately. Watch him this spring with the hopes he catches fire, thus making him more attractive for suiters on the open market. If not, the Tigers will likely be saddled with him in some capacity. Some type of move will have to happen soon, because it’s looking like Boesch’s inconsistent, feast or famine power game isn’t a natural fit in Detroit.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax