2013 Detroit Tigers Team Preview
The Tigers made it to the World Series for the second time in seven years, but they once again came up short, getting swept by the Giants. Backed by a strong rotation and big boppers in the middle of their lineup, Detroit will be one of the favorites to take home the AL pennant again this season.
Signed outfielder Torii Hunter
The 37-year-old was the Tigers' big offeseason acquisition this year. He's coming off a .313/.365/.445 season with the Angels. While Hunter will have difficulty matching last year's production, he'll be in a good position to succeed while hitting second ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Signed catcher Brayan Pena
Pena was signed this past offseason to spell Alex Avila's behind the plate. Avila has already vowed to catch 140 games in 2013, so Pena's workload may be light. The 31-year-old backstop hit .236/.262/.321 in 212 at-bats with the Royals last season.
Re-signed starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez
Sanchez split the 2012 campaign between the Marlins and Tigers after a midseason trade sent him to Motown. While he took a step back from his breakout 2011 season, Sanchez managed to fall in line close to his career averages, finishing 9-13 with 3.86 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. His strikeout rate dropped from 9.3 K/9 to 7.7 K/9 - a number which is a more fitting result given his career strikeout rate of 7.6 K/9. Despite the drop in strikeouts, Sanchez showed some improvements on the mound, including a career-best walk rate of 2.2 BB/9. His fastball and slider were not as effective as in previous seasons, but Sanchez was able to mix in his changeup more successfully than in years past to keep hitters off balance. After signing a five-year, $80 million deal with Detroit in December, Sanchez will slot in behind Justin Verlander as the Tigers' No. 2 starter in 2013.
Lost Delmon Young, Jose Valerde, Ryan Raburn, Gerald Laird and Daniel Schreleth
The Tigers replaced Young and Laird with Hunter and Pena. Detroit opted not to pursue re-signing Valverde after he had a melt down in the playoffs and lost his closing gig to Phil Coke. Raburn was released after hitting an abysmal .171/.226/.254 in 205 at-bats last season. Meanwhile, Schlereth was non-tendered after missing most of the 2012 season with a shoulder injury.
Lineup (vs. RH/LH)
With the arrival of Hunter and return of Victor Martinez, who missed all of 2012 with a knee injury, Detroit has put together a formidable top half of the lineup. Barring injury, Detroit's 1-5 hitters should be cemented in. The bottom half of the order could see various arrangements in pecking order, but the names will remain the same for the most part. The only question mark is which player will platoon with Andy Dirks against left-handed pitchers. If Detroit doesn't go with a young option (Garcia, Nick Castellanos) or bring in outside help, we could see a rare platoon that consists of two left-handed hitters.
The first four spots in the rotation are sewn up. Verlander is the unquestioned ace and fantasy superstar of the group. Scherzer led all of the majors in strikeouts last season and hopes to join Verlander as an elite option this year. Meanwhile Fister and Sanchez are both coming off solid campaigns and will hold value in most formats. The only question mark is the fifth spot, which Porcello and Smyly will fight over during spring training. Porcello has been tabbed the early frontrunner by Detroit's brass, but there's also a good chance he gets traded before Opening Night.
Closer: Bruce Rondon
Rondon is the latest Tigers' prospect to be dubbed the team's closer of the future. The difference with Rondon is that future could be now. The 22-year-old righty is coming off a dominant season in the minors, posting a 1.53 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 66 strikeouts in 53 innings spread across High-A, Double-A and Triple-A. He worked as a closer in all three of his stops, picking up 29 saves in 52 appearances. His stuff screams closer at the major league level, too, as Rondon sports a heavy fastball that can reach triple digits and a solid breaking ball. The main obstacle for Rondon is the occasional bout of wildness -- he has a 5.1 BB/9 throughout his minor league career. The Tigers' brass have already stated that Rondon will be in the mix to close in 2013, and he just might be the favorite if the team passes on bringing in a proven veteran for the gig.
Key Bullpen Members: Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque, Brayan Villarreal
Assuming Rondon is named closer, Benoit will once again be the Tigers' primary setup man, with Dotel, Coke and Alburquerque working high-leverage situations.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
Who closes out games in Detroit?
Early indications are Rondon will get first look at the closer's job in spring training. He has handled the role well in the minors, and his triple-digit heat is legit. As long as he shows decent control and the mental fortitude to handle the job at the major league level, it's Rondon's job to lose. If Rondon ends up needing more time to develop, the Tigers will likely look in-house with Benoit, Dotel, Coke, Alburquerque and Villarreal all being options. Benoit would get top consideration, but Dotel has experience closing and Coke showed during the 2012 playoffs that he can be effective closing out games.
Who platoons in left field with Andy Dirks?
Despite slashing .322/.370/.487 with eight home runs and 35 RBI in 314 at-bats, Detroit still doesn't view Dirks as an everyday outfielder. His split stats show he wasn't horrible against lefties (.274/.354/.397), but the Tigers would still prefer to have a right-handed hitter be a part of the platoon in left field. The Tigers are hesitant to plug in a young player like Garcia or top prospect Nick Castellanos in a part-time role, leaving the job battle up in the air.
Who wins the final spot in the rotation?
Re-signing Anibal Sanchez created a logjam at the bottom of the Tigers rotation. Assuming a trade isn't made before spring training, Porcello and Smyly will battle for the fifth and final spot. Porcello, a former first-round pick, is just 24 and has shown upside in the past, but his pitch-to-contact ways don't mesh well with Detroit's lackluster defense. Meanwhile, Smyly performed well last season and would give Detroit a much-needed southpaw in their rotation. The Tigers front office continues to say Porcello is the frontrunner, but those comments could just as easily be considered leverage in trade talks. The situation will likely be cleared up by a trade or injury before spring training wraps up.
Star power remains the Tigers biggest strength. Verlander and Cabrera are Hall-of-Fame level talents, with Fielder, Martinez, Hunter, Jackson and Scherzer rounding out one of the better cores in the major leagues.
Like last season, Detroit remains sketchy on defense and the base paths. Hunter will help shore up the outfield defense, but their infield will still allow plenty of ground balls to find holes. Jackson and Infante both have the ability to swipe a bag, but Jim Leyland managed squads are routinely near the bottom of the league in steals. Base-running consultant Jeff Cox was brought in to make improvements on the base paths, so hopefully we see improvements in that area.
Rising: Austin Jackson -- Jackson was the Tiger that made the biggest leap in fantasy value last season. He finished his breakout season with career-highs in batting average (.300), home runs (16), runs (103) and RBI (66). The strikeout prone outfielder also improved his plate discipline significantly thanks in part to an altered stance, which included a reduced leg kick. As a result of his tweaks at the plate, Jackson was able to lower his strikeout percentage (27.1 to 21.7 percent) while also taking more free passes, which led to a career-high .377 OBP. And while his .374 BABIP appears unsustainable, it's actually only a notch above his career mark of .372, so a huge drop in batting average should not necessarily be expected unless Jackson reverts back to his huge strikeout totals from previous seasons. The only disappointment from Jackson in 2012 was a drop in steals from 22 the previous season to 12 last year. He was caught stealing nine times after converting 82 percent of his attempts over his first two seasons, so expect him to bounce back on the basepaths. There might be regression in some areas with Jackson, but at just 26, he's just entering his prime and should be a solid fantasy option for years to come.
Declining: Jhonny Peralta -- After putting together one of the best campaigns of his career in 2011, Peralta took a huge step back last year. The 30-year-old shortstop hit just .239/.305/.384 in 531 at-bats. His contact rate (80 percent) and walk rate (eight percent) hovered right around his career marks, but Peralta didn't have any luck finding holes in the defense as his .276 BABIP was the lowest of his career. Peralta's power also took a significant dip, as he hit just 13 homers after smashing 21 the previous season. The drop in homers can be attributed to Peralta posting a HR/FB ratio under 10 percent (8.3%) for just the second time in the past five seasons. The Tigers have contemplated making moves to improve their infield defense, which could eventually lead to the team bringing in a shortstop with better range. In that scenario, Peralta would likely be traded, but he should end up with a full-time gig as a shortstop or third baseman if moved. While a bounce back to his 2011 form should not be expected, Peralta is still considered to be in his power prime and corrections in his BABIP and HR/FB ratio should make for a better season than he had in 2012.
Sleeper: Bruce Rondon - The Tigers had very little turnover from their 2012 squad, but the one gaping hole they do have to fill is at closer. Most fantasy owners with go with the known entity at closer, which should mean Rondon can be had in the endgame. He has an absolute cannon and could be dominate upon his arrival. There's a chance he isn't named the Opening Day closer or loses the gig early, but given his current ADP of 224, the risk is worth the reward.
Super Sleeper: Avisail Garcia -- While Garcia has always been highly regarded by the Tigers' brass, he did not really make much of a splash in the prospect scene until last season. After hitting .299/.333/.455 with 14 homers and 23 steals in 481 at-bats split between High-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie, Garcia received a surprise promotion at the end of August. He quickly worked his way into the lineup, seeing significant action against left-handed pitchers throughout September and the postseason. The 21-year-old outfielder finished his first cup of coffee in the majors with a slash line of .319/.373/.319 in 47 at-bats. Given the lack of plate discipline (79:451 BB:K) Garcia showcased throughout the minors and his unsustainable BABIP (.405) during his September promotion, struggles with batting average should be expected. That said, Garcia is considered a legitimate five-tool prospect by many scouts and has an alluring mix of power and speed potential. Garcia is expected to be in the mix for a platoon spot in left field to open the 2013 campaign, splitting time with left-handed hitter Andy Dirks if he nabs an Opening Day roster spot.
Nick Castellanos, OF/3B - Castellanos, the Tigers' 2010 sandwich pick rocketed up the prospect rankings last season. He started off the season with High-A Lakeland, where he slashed his way to a .405/.461/.553 line in 215 at-bats before getting bumped up a level. At Double-A Erie, Castellanos saw his line drop to .264/.296/.382 in 322 at-bats. His production in Erie was obviously a step back, but it's still solid production for a 20-year-old seeing his first action in the higher levels of the minor leagues. One big boost in value that came from his promotion was a position change from third base to the outfield. At the hot corner, Castellanos was blocked by Miguel Cabrera for years to come, but a move to the outfield has sped up his clock. Now, Castellanos could factor into the roster mix for the Tigers as soon as this season. With just 17 homers in 1,068 at-bats in the minors, Castellanos has not fully flashed his power stroke yet, but his large frame (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) and extra-base power (32 and 36 doubles the past two seasons) hint at power that will develop down the line. He might not make much of a fantasy impact this season, but Castellanos' potential should have dynasty owners salivating at his potential a few years from now.
Avisail Garcia, OF - (see above)
Bruce Rondon, RP - (see above)
Jake Thompson, SP - The Tigers selected Thompson with the 91st overall selection of the 2012 MLB First-Year Draft. He's a big (6-4, 235) right-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and solid secondary pitches. At 19, he has a lot to prove in the minors over the next couple of seasons, but we could be looking at the heir apparent to previous Tigers pitching prospects Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner.
Austin Schotts, OF - Schotts was selected by the Tigers with the 121st overall pick of the 2012 MLB First-Year Draft. He was an infielder in high school, but Detroit deployed him solely as an outfielder last season. The 19-year-old possesses excellent speed while also being able to hit for high average. He slashed an impressive .310/.360/.452 with 15 extra-base hits and 15 steals in 155 at-bats for Detroit's Rookie League team last year. Already worth monitoring in keeper leagues, Schotts could see his stock his considerably this year when he sees his first full-time shot in the minors.
Casey Crosby, SP - Once a highly-touted arm in the Tigers' farm system, numerous elbow injuries and lackluster results have caused Crosby's stock to fall some in recent years. Crosby spent most of the 2012 campaign in Triple-A Toledo, where he went 7-9 with a 4.01 ERA and 112:65 K:BB ratio in 125.2 innings. He also saw his first cup of coffee in the majors, racking up a 9.49 ERA in three starts for the Tigers. The lanky lefty still sports a mid-90s fastball and a quality breaking ball, but his command continues to be a concern. He gave away fewer free passes than the previous season, but with 4.7 BB/9 and 1.7 K/BB ratios, there is still plenty of improvement to be made. The Tigers' rotation depth will likely keep Crosby from making any long-term stints with the team in 2013, but he will be one of the first options considered if a spot starter is needed.