Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 2/12/13
Rick Porcello once again has to prove his worth to the Tigers. The Detroit Tigers open spring training on Tuesday, as pitchers and catchers report, with the rest of the club due in later this week. Expectations will be high in Lakeland (as well as back in Detroit), as the Tigers embark in defense of their 2012 American League title. Another summer of spending — Torii Hunter’s signing and Anibal Sanchez’s re-signing topping the list — have raised the bar yet again in Motown. It’s World Series or bust. But to get there, the Tigers have to answer some pressing questions about their roster. Here are five issues that Jim Leyland must deal with before Opening Day … 1. Who will claim the fifth spot in Detroit’s rotation? The Tigers’ top four starters are set in stone: Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez. One of the biggest lingering roster battles for Detroit will come between Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly for that No. 5 role. There have been rumors of a possible Porcello trade since the Tigers were eliminated from last season’s World Series — a move may still happen this spring or after the start of the season. Until then, the Tigers have an enviable problem. Last season, a couple of injuries left Detroit shorthanded in the rotation, forcing Jim Leyland to call on Casey Crosby, for example. The Tigers do not have much depth at starting pitcher behind their top four, Porcello and Smyly, so hanging on to both guys might be the best course of action. If that’s the path Detroit takes, either Smyly or Porcello would open the year as the team's long reliever. Smyly held that role for much of 2012, but the lefty may have an edge on Porcello for the rotation this time around. 2. Is there another Quintin Berry on the roster? Last spring, Berry's speed and energy earned him a spot in Toledo, allowing him to make the jump to the majors mid-season. The rest is history -- Berry became a key contributor for the Tigers down the stretch and in the playoffs. There may not be a lot of openings on the Tigers' projected 25-man Opening Day roster, but Detroit would love another Berry to come along in 2013. With camp set to open, there do not appear to be a ton of candidates to fill that role. Jeff Kobernus, whom the Tigers picked up in December's Rule 5 draft. Because of that acquisition type, Kobernus must stay on the big-league roster all year or be offered back to Boston, his original club. He brings speed to the table, just as Berry did; Kobernus stole 42 bases in Double-A ball last season. 3. Can Jhonny Peralta hold down the fort at shortstop? If the Tigers do swing a trade involving, say, Porcello, then they might try to gain a shortstop in return. Leyland and the Tigers' brass will continue to discuss their confidence in Peralta in the meantime, even though he struggled at the plate through much of 2012. The silver lining in a disappointing year for Peralta: A sensational playoff run, which included some stellar defense against the Yankees. Should Peralta carry that effort over to 2013, it would make the Tigers even more formidable. 4. Will Bruce Rondon take advantage of his shot at closer? We may not know the answer to this one until a month or two into the season. Rondon, with his 100-mph fastball, ought to get some opportunities to slam the door in the spring, but he has to prove that his control issues are a thing of the past. Also on the Tigers' roster are Octavio Dotel, Joaquin Benoit and Al Alberquerque, three other potential closer options. And Detroit may still seek out another back-end guy, like injured former San Francisco closer Brian Wilson. On Day One of camp, though, the closer job is Rondon's to lose. 5. How healthy is Victor Martinez? The Torii Hunter signing was a major move for the Tigers, both on the field and in the clubhouse. Getting Martinez back, after he tore his ACL in January of 2012, could provide a similar boost. Martinez figures to drop into the lineup at No. 5, behind Prince Fielder, and to be Detroit's designated hitter on as many days as he's capable. Martinez stirred the Tigers' offensive drink in 2011, hitting .330 with 103 RBI, while protecting Miguel Cabrera. By all accounts, Martinez is back to his old self with spring training arriving -- at least, at the plate; the Tigers are not expecting Martinez to do any catching this year, hence the signing of Brayan Pena. A 100-percent Martinez would give the Tigers one of baseball's best top-5 in the order: Austin Jackson, Hunter, Cabrera, Fielder and Martinez, with Peralta, Andy Dirks, Alex Avila and Omar Infante filling out the card on most days. Martinez doesn't need to belt 20 homers or hit .320, but if he is his usual old self at the plate, everyone around him will benefit.
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