Originally written on The Detroit Sports Site  |  Last updated 2/13/13
Young Drew Smyly is once again trying to win the fifth starter job. (Flickr, hueytaxi) The first signs of spring subtly popped up this week, as Detroit Tigers’ pitchers and catchers began reporting to Lakeland, Florida. Soon, the rest of the team will follow and spring training will finally begin, unlocking the initial baby steps on a season rife with high hardball expectations around the Motor City. In the interest of celebrating the first battery position called to duty, today, we take a closer look at five pitchers to watch this spring. With a rookie closer, yet another battle for the fifth starter position and a free agent months removed from a monster contract cash in joining the rotation for a full year, there’s no lack of important hurlers to monitor. Here’s a top five for this spring. 1. Bruce Rondon. Is there any doubt that Rondon is the most important pitcher to watch this spring? The World Series contending Tigers have placed complete faith in the 22 year old rookie with a live arm, apparently choosing not to sign a veteran closer to supplement him. Rondon can throw 100 mph and already posesses the proper late game mindset to be successful. He’s rough around the edges, though, so it will be important to watch his development in the spring. Hopefully, the Tigers get him plenty of close spring games where he can show his stuff and take the training wheels off. 2. Drew Smyly. The second most important pitching battle of the spring involves Smyly, the left handed hurler who’s excellent postseason has left him in great position to nail down the fifth starter role. Smyly splashed on the scene pitching solidly last year, and during the ALCS against the Yankees, he made more of a name for himself with solid relief work. Will it be Smyly or Rick Porcello who takes over the fifth starter role? The battle will be one of the most thrilling in camp this year, and Smyly’s performance and development might decide if Porcello gets dealt or not. He’s definetly trending upward. 3. Rick Porcello. The second part of the biggest camp roster fight, Porcello enters as the elder statesman in the battle, and perhaps has the inside track to the fifth starter role as a result of his previous time on the club, or, depending on who you talk to, may still be traded by the end of camp. Nevertheless, fans should watch to see if Porcello can improve upon some pretty average numbers from 2012, where he went 10-12 with an ugly 4.59 ERA. Still, he struck out 107, and is working on a slider which he hopes will provide him some advantages. With a good camp, Porcello will either earn a spot in the rotation or perhaps provide Detroit with some additional value on the open market. 4. Octavio Dotel. With Jose Valverde gone to Miami (go ahead and exhale) and no immediate plans for adding a veteran closer to in order to help along Rondon’s adjustment, the Tigers will be counting on Dotel to play a big role in 2013. If Rondon struggles and the Tigers want to keep Phil Coke in his traditional late inning stopper role, Dotel might get the first shot at the closer’s role, being he’s done the job before. Coming down the stretch in 2012 and throughout the playoffs, Dotel was excellent. Can he continue to turn back the hands of time and remain an effective option despite his age? Hopefully, he can get off to a solid start during the spring first, building off of last season’s late momentum. He’ll also need to be in the proper frame of mind to close from the get-go should Rondon struggle. Many might overlook the journeyman reliever, but he’s probably the most vital cog to Detroit’s 2013 bullpen. 5. Anibal Sanchez. Last but certainly not least, the $88 million dollar man. The Tigers are putting plenty of faith in Rondon, but they’re putting nearly as much in Sanchez to be the man he was from September through October by opening up the checkbook. Sparkling regular season performances against the Indians and Royals, and a fantastic playoff game against the Yankees were memorable, but this was also the pitcher who looked just as shaky at times. Sanchez did settle in as the season went on, but might he be feeling more pressure playing with a big contract? It will be important for Sanchez to set the tone immediately when he gets the ball and show there will be no lapses. Pitchers coming off big free agent deals often struggle the subsequent spring and those issues can persist into the season. For the Tigers to do what’s expected of them in 2013, that cannot happen to a new rock in the rotation. In the weeks ahead, we’ll preview some critical position players to watch. For now, though, sit back and revel in the fact that pitchers and catchers are once again tossing around the baseball in warmer weather. Remember these names on the hill when the games actually begin. Lo, the winter isn’t passed yet, but the rain of no Tigers’ baseball news is finally over and gone. Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax  
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Jets' Richardson suspended four games for violating drug policy

Report: Aldridge not impressed with Lakers' branding pitch

Toronto column after trade details Kessel's love of hot dogs

A-Rod, Yankees, union in talks to donate HR bonus to charity

Dez Bryant, Cowboys reportedly on verge of contract extension

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Report: Braxton Miller to reveal 'immediate plans' next week

Kobe responds to Aldridge report with funny meme

One pitch away: Carrasco loses no-hitter in bottom of the 9th

England loses World Cup semifinal to Japan in heartbreaking fashion

Braxton Miller had 'successful' check-up visit

Raptors signing Carroll is shrewdest move of free agency

Bryce Harper snaps another selfie with fans before game

Putting Chris Sale’s strikeout streak in historical perspective

Chargers job listing: Applicants must be open to move to LA

College football's 35 most patriotic helmets

TUF weekly recap by NOS® Energy Drink

Cavs on verge of shattering NBA's luxury tax record

Sizing up baseball's (potential) trade deadline sellers

Emmitt Smith backs out as judge at Miss USA Pageant

Holes-in-one at PGA Tour event means $100 in fans' pockets

A brief history of non-star All-Stars

David West explains why he opted out of Pacers contract

Warriors, Draymond Green agree to 5-year, $85 million deal

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

College football's 35 most patriotic helmets

A brief history of non-star All-Stars

With Love retained, the Cavs can take care of LeBron

Grading the deal: Davis commits to Pelicans

Obama Administration: Change name if Redskins move to D.C.

Deciding what the All-Star Game means

Odell Beckham Jr. offered professional baseball contract

Orioles keep finding a way to win

Lloyd sends USWNT to World Cup final

Selecting the 2015 AL All-Stars

NBA Draft grades: Eastern Conference

Under the radar NBA free agents

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.