Chris McCosky | The Detroit News
Clearwater, Fla. – If you’ve noticed, the lineup AJ Hinch has been rolling out in most of these recent spring games has featured some combination of three switch-hitters at the top of the batting order.
Robbie Grossman, Jeimer Candelario and Willi Castro, not always in that order, have been mainstays in the first three spots, with Miguel Cabrera slotted in the fourth spot.
“We have good guys all across the board, but I want our best guys to get a lot of at-bats,” Hinch said. “I like those three in some order with Miggy fourth. I’ve not committed to it yet, but I like it.”
Hinch is intrigued with the idea of hitting Castro first, potentially reprising something similar to what he had in Houston with George Springer at the top of the order. Hinch got a reminder of that dynamic on Thursday in Dunedin.
Springer led off the game for the Blue Jays against Michael Fulmer, ending an eight-pitch battle with a booming home run.
“Yeah, I’ve seen that before,” Hinch said, wistfully. “It was the first time I’ve seen him in a different uniform and from a different dugout, pretty weird to see that. But I’ve seen that tough at-bat in the first inning with a home run a time or two.”
Grossman, a more patient hitter with a higher walk rate than either Castro or Candelario, may end up in the leadoff spot. Hinch is weighing Grossman’s patience over Castro’s damage potential.
“It factors in where I’m going to hit Miggy, too,” Hinch said. “I do want Willi to be able to utilize his speed more and get him away from Miggy’s at-bats. But (Castro) isn’t a take-first hitter. That brings in the question, do you take the damage at the top of the order with a guy like Willi and let him swing freely, or do you put him in the three-hole and give him opportunities to drive in runs?”
The other component is Castro’s batting splits. Although Castro has a higher batting, on-base and slugging numbers hitting right-handed, most of his home runs have come from the left-side.
“Honestly, I don’t think it matters to him where I hit him,” Hinch said. “He’s going to be the same type of hitter. I’ve been very impressed with his at-bats. He’s hit for power, sprays the ball all over the place. He’s an exciting offensive player.
“I haven’t seen him hit right-handed much yet. But by studying him, I think he’s a different animal. So I may have him at different slots as a left-handed hitter and as a right-handed hitter.”
The Tigers have not faced much left-handed pitching thus far in the Grapefruit League season, which is a problem for the club’s five switch-hitters (Castro, Candelario, Grossman, Victor Reyes and Niko Goodrum).
Lefty Tony Watson was on the Phillies pitching agenda Saturday and Hinch joked he should ask manager Joe Girardi to do him a favor and use him against Castro.
“We do have two lefty batting practice pitchers, so they’re getting a lot of reps that way,” Hinch said. “In the next couple of days we will set up some live BPs on the back fields with some of our (mini-camp) lefties Miguel Del Pozo and Robbie Ross and others.”