Detroit Tigers: Who plays left field in 2021 at Comerica Park?

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With the demotion of Christin Stewart earlier in the week, the Detroit Tigers outfield situation in left field for the rest of 2020 is filled with stop gag measures. What about beyond this season?

The Detroit Tigers sent struggling left fielder Christin Stewart down to Toledo earlier in the week. With that, the Tigers called up Daz Cameron to replace Stewart. While the outfield situation seems on the surface, filled with several choices, there is plenty to consider long term for Detroit with a few weeks left in the regular season.

Jorge Bonifacio, Victor Reyes, Travis Demeritte, and Daz Cameron look to be the regular outfielders with Derek Hill coming in for defensive purposes the rest of the way. As the Tigers chase the final AL wild card, outside of Reyes, who has been the most consistent player, you are relying on a fourth outfielder and two rookies to help you get in the playoffs. That does not exactly bode confidence.  The Tigers passed on Yasiel Puig and judging by a good portion of the fans on social media, they do not want his services either.

So, with all this in mind, let’s look at the rest of the outfield situation with a look at the depth chart per FanGraphs with a focus on players who are close to arriving in Detroit and the current 40-man roster.  Let’s see if a left-fielder exists on the current roster of Detroit Tigers players.

40-man roster:

  • Troy Stokes Jr (IL)
  • JaCoby Jones (IL)
  • Harold Castro (IL)
  • Christin Stewart
  • Daz Cameron
  • Derek Hill
  • Victor Reyes
  • Derek Hill
  • Jorge Bonifacio
  • Travis Demeritte

On the current roster, Harold Castro has seen time in the outfield but he a utility player, not a full-time outfielder. Christin Stewart is a first-round pick and he will get another opportunity to play in 2021. To what extent, is anyone’s guess but he has to work on his swing. He has looked overmatched at times by a fastball in the zone. He has shown glimpses defensively but his numbers (.171/ .233 /.317), can’t justify a full-time position at this point.

Derek Hill, JaCoby Jones, and Daz Cameron are all listed as centerfielders. Cameron started in right field yesterday, which could be his spot in 2021. To me, Bonifacio and Stokes Jr are not long term solutions in the outfield and someone in the minors could take those two spots up on the 40-man by the end of the season.  If Detroit decides to make a trade in the off-season, it could be for one of the extra outfielders they have. Demeritte could play either corner position and currently is fighting to stay in the Tigers’ future roster plans.

Toledo/Erie Roster

  • Jacob Robson
  • Danny Woodrow
  • Jose Azocar
  • Chad Sedio
  • Cam Gibson
  • Brock Deatherage
  • Luke Burch

Detroit has been drafting heavy infielders and outfielders the past three drafts and picks like Parker Meadows, Bryant Packard, Kingston Liniak, and Daniel Cabrera losing a year of development time, this makes the roster decisions at Erie and Lakeland interesting.

Meadows was invited to 60-man camp in Toledo last week and to Tigers fans, that was a sign of progress. But Meadows has not played above Low-A West Michigan so time in Lakeland and Erie will be necessary.

Bryant Packard has a ton of prospect love for his ability at the plate. Chris and I saw him at West Michigan and had a chance to talk to him as well. I hate keeping using the word “but” like Meadows, you have to see how he adjusts at the high levels.

That leaves the names that are sitting in Toledo and Erie. All are at that age they are not considered prospects anymore. Defensively, Jose Azocar is solid but with an ISO of .113 and a walk rate of 3.8%, that isn’t going to cut it. Deatherage hasn’t played at Erie yet but it appears he was slated to start the season there. Low walk rates and low power also put him in a situation wherein 2021, he has to really stand out to be considered for Detroit’s 40-man roster.

This crop of outfielders listed above is sitting in a strange limbo that Detroit has to really evaluate during the off-season but I don’t believe they will be starting in left field in 2021.

The foregone conclusion he will start in right field soon pending seasoning in the minors

  • Riley Greene

No minor league season robbed Tigers fans the chance to see Riley Greene play and the guarded nature of what is going on in Toledo in camp also, deprives fans of Greene highlights at Fifth-Third Field.

How close is he to the majors? Well, not sure, to be honest, but next year if he starts in Lakeland and tears up the Florida State League (or whichever minor league stop he goes to) he will be in Detroit in no time. If summer camp is any indication, could earn a spot in spring training. He is one of the most advanced outfield prospects for his age Detroit has seen in quite some time.

Free agents to fill the spot

  • Yoenis Cespedes 
  • Marcell Ozuna
  • Michael Brantley
  • Matt Joyce

Let’s cross off former Tigers for a minute Cespedes off the list. Some fans would consider him but his numbers are down, the entire situation with the Mets was strange and his farm history, err, injury history would not bode well for Detroit.

Two names to consider for long term deals are Michael Brantley and Marcell Ozuna. However, I pause because the Tigers under owner Chris Ilitch have not signed anyone to more than a one-year deal yet. But with these two players, they should consider changing that position. While Brantley is getting older, he’s a career .297 hitter, a career OPS+ of 117,  walks at a 7.9% clip and he only strikes out at 10.8%. Defensively, he won’t embarrass you and provides a good gap before any of the prospects in the system are ready.

Ozuna is having a monster season with Atlanta, batting .304 with 13 home runs and has a wRC+ of 158 and his career walk rate is 10.9%. While this signing may be more of a pipe dream than reality because of what he will command in the open market, having Ozuna in left field would an excellent upgrade.

If Detroit continues their trend of one-year deals, then former Tiger Matt Joyce could be a good to go choice. While his power numbers may be down, he still walks, (14.1%) and his wRC+ is 121 with the Marlins.

Chose your path

Just like those “Choose your adventure” books from the ’80s, here are three ways Detroit could go about their outfield for the start of 2021.

Free Agent Route:

LF: Brantley/Joyce

CF: Jones

RF: Reyes

Bench: Demeritte, Cameron, or Hill.

Possible Internal Route 1:

LF: Willi Castro (he has been taking reps)

CF: Jones

RF: Reyes

Bench: Cameron, Hill or Demeritte

Possible Internal Route 2: 

LF: Reyes

CF: Cameron

RF: Demeritte

Bench: Hill, Stewart.  (Jones being moved in the off-season)

I present these three routes as possibilities. I would like Detroit to go and get a free agent this off-season. They really need an upgrade to be competitive in 2021. This should be the time for the Tigers to get a player like Ozuna. Will they? Highly unlikely but there are some alternatives that could be placeholders. For now, if you are thinking internally, Victor Reyes would be a good choice. He has 37 appearances in right field but he has played left and center more.

Regardless, Detroit has to make some big decisions to clear up the crowded outfield in their system.

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