Detroit Tigers Newsletter: 10 players who might be key if they win again in near future

Detroit Free Press

If there is one word we in the Freep’s Sports department have read, written, read again, dissected and all-around pondered more than any other in the past four years, it is likely this: “Rebuild.”

We actually thought it would be “Harbaugh,” but, no: Since May 9, 2017, there are 2,515 hits in our archive on “rebuild,” and just 2,230 on “Harbaugh.” (Another disappointing loss for Coach Jim, we know, but at least he didn’t have to go to Ohio for this one.)

And knowing that, we will say this: We’re not going to discuss the effectiveness of the Detroit Tigers’ rebuild right here. (These newsletters have length restrictions, y’know?) And anyway, the Freep’s Carlos Monarrez already chimed in on that this morning. (Spoiler: He’s not a fan.)

Hello, and welcome to the Detroit Tigers Newsletter.

No, we’ll just note that the Tigers’ two most successful rebuilds, culminating in World Series trips in 1984 and 2006, were the result of multiple players peaking at the same time. In 1984, it was a crew of veterans — including Kirk Gibson, Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, Lance Parrish and Dan Petry — who’d risen through the farm system more or less together. In 2006, the triumph was slightly less homegrown: youngsters such as Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya and Curtis Granderson clicked with free-agent vets such as Kenny Rogers, Magglio Ordonez and Pudge Rodriguez, and well, you know the rest.

The point is, there’s no way to look at any one player right now and say, “Ah, yes, SpenRileyCaseDillcer GreeTorkMannMizeSkuDing (of the New Hampshire GreeTorkMizeMannSkuDings, of course) is the key to winning in 2023!”

See you next week!

Oh … we do still have some space here, eh? OK, then, let’s go through 10 Tigers who could be key whenever — is “if-ever” a word? — they start winning again.

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1. Miguel Cabrera

Wait, isn’t he ooollllllldddd? Well, “38 is the new 28,” says your almost-42-year-old newsletter writer, but anyway, Miguel Cabrera is coming off back-to-back two-hit games, including one that moved him past Babe Ruth on the MLB career hits list, notes the Freep’s Evan Petzold here. And as the Freep’s Shawn Windsor wrote over the weekend, Cabrera’s chasing of milestones means chasing his own shadow, too. That’s a handy lesson for the prospects coming up through the system, even if Cabrera has retired by the time they reach the majors. (And yes, he’s under contract through the 2023 season.)

2. Justin Verlander

Wait, he’s not even on the Tigers anymore? Which, yes, but … Justin Verlander’s second no-hitter with the Tigers — thrown 10 years ago, on May 7, 2011 — is a blueprint for how one tremendous performance can ignite a near-decade of dominance, as Our Man Petzold noted here last week. (Oh, and considering J.V.’s Tommy John surgery update on Friday included the phrase, “nowhere close to the finish line,” we’re not completely ruling out a return to Detroit down the road.)

3. Spencer Torkelson

OK, at least he’s a prospect, right? Indeed he is, albeit one still looking to find himself at the plate after a tumultuous 2020, the Freep’s Jeff Seidel noted here. And even as Spencer Torkelson is struggling with High-A West Michigan, he’s showing a mental makeup that bodes well for the future, Our Man Seidel opined here. (Torkelson then went 2-for-3 with a double on Saturday night.)

SEIDEL: Why the fixes for a struggling Spencer Torkelson are all in his head

WINDSOR: How have Tigers become a mess during rebuild? Al Avila bears most of the blame

4. Casey Mize

Hey, how’d “Cinco de Mize-O” on Cinco de Mayo work out? Well, actually, we had a nice hefewei… oh, you meant for Casey Mize. Well, he threw six innings of one-run ball (before the bullpen went all wonky again) and conquered his biggest challenge: “Putting in the effort on the mental side,” as Michael Fulmer noted to Our Man Petzold here.

5. Matt Manning

Where exactly is he, again? Matt Manning, the Tigers’ No. 3 prospect, was the Opening Day starter for Triple-A Toledo on Tuesday and gave up five runs in five innings, Our Man Petzold reports here. (Guess he can cancel this week’s Uber to CoPa.) But Manning should arrive in Detroit sometime this summer; Petzold had the roadmap here.

6. Jake Rogers

Oh, no, not that guy again? Yes, Jake Rogers — one of three prospects who came from Houston in exchange for Verlander in 2017 — is back with the Tigers, called up after Wilson Ramos was placed on the 10-day IL with a back injury. The 26-year-old catcher says he’s “going to run with it” after a disappointing 2019, reports Our Man Petzold here. And sure enough, after three inning-ending at-bats Saturday, Rogers came through with a two-run single as part of the Tigers’ five-run seventh inning vs. the Twins. He might not be the next Parrish, but Rogers could learn a lot during this stint in the majors.

7. Dillon Dingler

Is HE the next Parrish? Well, the 2020 second-round draft pick’s five hits — including a triple and two homers — in High-A are a good sign. The better sign, Our Man Seidel reports here, is the confidence Dillon Dingler is already producing in ex-Tiger Brayan Pena, Dingler’s manager with West Michigan.

8. Franklin Perez

He’s hurt AGAIN, isn’t he? Well… yeah. Franklin Perez, once the centerpiece of the JV trade as a hard-throwing 19-year-old and now a question mark at 23, will be missing some time with a “right shoulder capsule defect,” according to the Freep’s Dana Gauruder. We’ll let Tigers manager AJ Hinch explain what that means: “He’s out and not to expect him back for a decent amount of time.”

9. Riley Greene

Please, don’t let him be hurt, too? Nope, Riley Greene is tearing it up with Double-A Erie, with a triple, a homer, four walks and seven strikeouts in 26 plate appearances for the SeaWolves so far. Greene is still only 20, and, as Our Man Petzold put it here, “on the fast track to the majors.” Greene’s biggest task, Petzold says, will be getting used to playing all three outfield positions, with an eye toward a corner spot in 2023 (or before).

10. Happy birthday, skip!

And then, of course, there’s the manager tasked with bringing the rebuild all together someday, AJ Hinch, who turns 47 on Saturday. It has been a rough start to his second stint with the Tigers: Their 10-24 record this year brings his career record wearing the Old English “D” to 21-40 — he went 11-16 as a player in 2003. Shoot, he can’t even win with the replay reviews. After going 91-for-197 on reversals over five seasons with the Astros — a 46.2% success rate — he’s 0-for-3 this season.

Other Tigers birthdays this week: JaCoby Jones (29 on Monday), Charlie Gehringer (would have been 118 on Monday; died in 1993), Lou Whitaker (64 on Wednesday), John Smoltz (54 on Saturday), Jack Morris (66 on Sunday), Billy Martin (would have been 93 on Sunday; died in 1989).

How Billy Martin made the Tigers, and their management, roar 50 years ago ]

Forget 2023, what about 2021?

Well, after going 2-16 with 37 runs scored from April 15-May 4, the Tigers have gone 2-2 in their past four games while scoring 25 runs combined. It’s the little things, y’know, and that’s exactly what the Tigers did right (mostly) in Saturday’s win over the Twins. Our Man Petzold broke down here why that’s a good thing — and why it means the Tigers won’t have many easy wins this season.

3 to watch this week

It’s not all likely future Hall of Famers and MLB Pipeline top prospects this season; here are three players to watch in the big leagues and below:

NOMAR MAZARA: Extra-base hits are one thing, but a triple in his return from the IL?

MICHAEL FULMER: The ‘closet adrenaline junkie’ is adapting to bullpen life

RENATO NUNEZ: Still in Triple-A, he’s anxious to help the Tigers

Mark your calendar

It’s another six-game week for the Tigers — all at Comerica Park — with the AL Central-leading-no-more Royals in town from Tuesday-Thursday and the Chicago Cubs visiting for interleague play from Friday-Sunday. And thanks to Sunday’s rain, veteran lefty Matthew Boyd — and his shiny 2.27 ERA over 35⅔ innings — will open the series against the Royals, making his first appearance since leaving his April 29 start with tendinitis in his left knee.

TL;DR

We fibbed a bit in the intro — there’s one word that came up even more than either “rebuild” or “Harbaugh” in the archives: “Stafford,” with 2,575 hits. Guess we don’t have to worry about that one for a couple days, at least.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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