Tigers camp primer: Not many open spots, but plenty of tight battles

Detroit News

Chris McCosky | The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — It’s probably incorrect to call it the first “full-squad” workout.

For sure, manager AJ Hinch will gather pitchers, catchers and position players together Monday for the official start of spring training. But he will be several players, key players, short of a full squad, thanks to the inevitable complications and delays that come with international travel and COVID-19 protocols.

“For a first-year guy here, it’s tough,” Hinch said. “You’d love to get to know the guys and get to work with them. You need that first day. But I wouldn’t say it’s frustrating. It’s the way of the world with work visas — it’s an issue that’s all-inclusive across the league.”

The Tigers went through a full week of pitcher-catcher workouts without starting pitcher Jose Urena, possible late-inning lefty Gregory Soto and recently signed veteran Wily Peralta. The Tigers still haven’t officially announced the signing of free-agent pitcher Julio Teheran, who is also going through the visa and COVID testing process.

Add to that list six position players who will be late to camp including likely starters Nomar Mazara and Jonathan Schoop, plus fourth outfielder Victor Reyes, non-roster invitee Renato Nunez, prospect Isaac Paredes and non-roster first baseman Aderlin Rodriguez.

“You’d love to have them all here, but with a lot of these guys I’m not remotely concerned about them being ready,” Hinch said. “They’re ready to go. I just can’t wait to get the whole camp here.”

Hinch estimates, with the travel issues, then the COVID intact testing and the team physical examinations, it will be five to seven days for those players to trickle into camp. None of them will be available for the first couple of spring training games.

But the show will go on.

Camp overview

You’d think, with a new manager and coaching staff, with a largely revamped roster featuring eight new players and potentially four new starters, there’d be position battles all over the field. Truth is, as Hinch said earlier this week, he could probably set roster today if he had to.

The only true battle is the backup catcher spot where Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner, Eric Haase and Dustin Garneau are vying to support starter Wilson Ramos.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t competition, though. There’s plenty of it. Here’s the skinny:

How the last few roster spots shake out, assuming there are no major injuries or illnesses, will depend largely on whether the club keeps 14 pitchers or 13 pitchers.

There is a good chance the Tigers will use a six-man rotation as a way to elongate the year for pitchers whose workload was greatly reduced by the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. With three off days in the first three weeks, though, that extra starter might not be needed until the end of the month.

But if they chose to carry six starters and eight relievers, then there would be room for 12 position players — meaning a three-man bench plus designated hitter Miguel Cabrera. That configuration would make it extremely difficult for players like Harold Castro, Paredes and Rule-5 draftee Akil Baddoo to make the club.

The other position that will greatly impact how the roster is made is first base. If Nunez can handle the position defensively, he likely will be the regular first baseman. That would allow the Tigers to use Jeimer Candelario at third.

If Nunez cannot defend well enough to hold that position, then less desirable choices will have to be made, starting with moving Candelario back to first.

There are also decisions to be made within the rotation — whether lefties Daniel Norris and Tyler Alexander have more value starting or relieving, whether veterans Teheran and Derek Holland have anything left in the tank.

Here is a position-by-position overview:

Starting pitching (6)

Locks: Matthew Boyd, Spencer Turnbull, Michael Fulmer, Jose Urena.

In the hunt: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Julio Teheran, Daniel Norris, Tyler Alexander.

In the wings: Matt Manning, Andrew Moore, Erasmo Ramirez, Joey Wentz (injured).

Comment: In a perfect world, Fulmer will show this spring that he can provide 100-pitch, five-inning outings every five or six days. Same goes for Urena. If they do that, then Norris and Alexander can reprise their successful bulk-innings work out of the bullpen and the battle for the final two rotation spots would be between Mize, Skubal and Teheran. Hinch has said he wants the best pitchers to come north, regardless of age or experience.

Bullpen (8)

Locks: Buck Farmer, Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez, Bryan Garcia, Jose Cisnero, Norris, Alexander.

In the hunt: Wily Peralta, Holland, Ian Krol, Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows, Alex Lange.

In the wings: Zack Hess, Drew Carlton, Rony Garcia (injured, appendectomy), Franklin Perez, Nolan Blackwood, David McKay, Miguel Del Pozo, Robbie Ross, Jr.

Comment: Peralta will be given a good opportunity to make the club, but the Tigers aren’t likely to purchase too many minor-league contracts in April and potentially lose a batch of 40-man players. If Norris and-or Alexander are needed in the rotation — the guess is the preference would be to keep Norris in the bullpen and push Alexander to the rotation — then the door opens a bit for Holland or Krol to steal a spot. As for the closer spot, Hinch has made it an open competition with Bryan Garcia, Soto, Jimenez and Cisnero the primary combatants.

Catcher (2)

Locks: Wilson Ramos

In the hunt: Jake Rogers, Grayson Greiner, Dustin Garneau, Eric Haase.

In the wings: Dillon Dingler, Brady Policelli, Cooper Johnson.

Comment: If Hinch had his druthers, he’d probably rather keep his eyes on Rogers and let him develop at the big-league level rather than letting him go back to Triple-A for a stretch. But that might be a tougher sell with general manager Al Avila. Bottom line, the Tigers need to find out who and what Rogers is this year – everyday catcher, back-up, or neither. But as camp opens, this competition is a toss-up.

Infield (6)

Locks: Miguel Cabrera (DH/IB), Jonathan Schoop (2B), Willi Castro (SS), Jeimer Candelario (3B), Niko Goodrum (Utility).

In the hunt: Renato Nunez (1B), Harold Castro (Utility), Greg Garcia (Utility), Isaac Paredes (3B/2B).

In the wings: Zack Short (SS), Aderlin Rodriguez (1B), Spencer Torkelson (3B/1B), Kody Clemens (2B).

Comment: The Tigers want Nunez to win the first base spot. They would love to have his power bat in the middle of the lineup. But if he’s a total liability in the field, he won’t make the roster. That would probably mean starting 22-year-old Paredes at third and Candelario at first. Another possibility would be moving Schoop to third and rotating Harold Castro and Goodrum, or possibly Garcia, at second.

Outifield (4)

Locks: Robbie Grossman (left), JaCoby Jones (center), Nomar Mazara (right), Victor Reyes (OF).

In the hunt: Akil Baddoo, Christin Stewart, Daz Cameron, Harold Castro.

In the wings: Derek Hill, Jacob Robson, Danny Woodrow, Riley Greene.

Comment: The Tigers would love to keep Baddoo. They love his athleticism and his potential, but to keep five outfielders, none of whom can play infield, would be huge weight on Hinch. The fifth outfielder would play less than Reyes played in his Rule 5 year. The same applies Stewart.


Twitter: @cmccosky      

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