Evaluating each Detroit Tigers player as team aims for winning record, playoffs in 2022

Detroit Free Press

Here’s an assessment of how each Detroit Tigers player performed in 2021 — with grades ranging from “Building block” (a key player in the future) to “Keeping seat warm” (somebody holding down a spot until a replacement takes it) to “Time to move on” (a player whose role is diminishing) — along with a look at what’s next for each player:


LHP Tyler Alexander

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 41 games (15 starts), 106⅓ innings, 3.81 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, 28 walks, 87 strikeouts, 1.0 WAR (Fangraphs).

The buzz: Alexander opened the year as a reliever but thrived as a starter — 3.38 ERA in his 15 starts — when the Tigers needed him most. Alexander’s versatility makes him a fit in many roles next season.

LHP Matthew Boyd

Status: Time to move on.

2021 stats: 15 G (15 GS), 78⅔ IP, 3.89 ERA, 1.271 WHIP, 23 BB, 67 SO, 1.4 WAR.

The buzz: Boyd should require a $7-8 million commitment for 2022. (He made $6.5 million in 2021.) Which would be fine, but he won’t pitch early on because of flexor tendon surgery, and his timetable for a return is unclear. Should the Tigers give him a contract? Maybe the money could be used elsewhere.

RHP Drew Carlton

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 4 G, 3⅔ IP, 4.91 ERA, 2.727 WHIP, 4 BB, 1 SO, minus-0.1 WAR.

The buzz: Carlton didn’t look comfortable after he debuted Sept. 4, but it’s too soon to close the door on his future. He doesn’t throw hard but was a strike-thrower in the minors, helping him to a 2.03 ERA after the Tigers drafted him in the 32nd round in 2017 out of Florida State. He should be in Triple-A Toledo next year.

RHP Jose Cisnero

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 67 G, 61⅔ IP, 3.65 ERA, 1.330 WHIP, 31 BB, 62 SO, 4 SV, 0.6 WAR.

The buzz: The 32-year-old proved his durability and an ability to attack both sides of the plate. Despite missing the final three weeks due to a right elbow laceration, he paced the bullpen in appearances. Lock him in for a high-leverage role in 2022.

LHP Miguel Del Pozo

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 5 G, 5⅓ IP, 3.38 ERA, 1.875 WHIP, 2 BB, 4 SO, 0.1 WAR.

The buzz: Del Pozo had his late-season opportunity crushed by a positive COVID-19 test, forcing him to the injured list Sept. 10. The year concluded with him completing a rehab assignment in Triple-A Toledo. Based on his 2.82 ERA for the Mud Hens, the Tigers should consider bringing him back on a minor-league contract.

RHP Jason Foley

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 11 G, 10⅓ IP, 2.61 ERA, 1.258 WHIP, 5 BB, 6 SO, minus-0.1 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers sent a clear message to Foley this season: “Your stuff is good enough,” manager AJ Hinch continuously told him. The hard-throwing right-hander could become one of the team’s most electric bullpen arms, but he still lacks the confidence needed to dominate inside the strike zone, similar to Alex Lange and Kyle Funkhouser before their breakouts. Expect a big ’22 from Foley as he gets comfortable.

RHP Michael Fulmer

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 52 G (4 GS), 69⅔ IP, 2.97 ERA, 1.278 WHIP, 20 BB, 73 SO, 14 SV, 1.6 WAR.

The buzz: The 2021 season was the most important of Fulmer’s five-year career, as he rewrote his future by moving to the bullpen. The 2016 American League Rookie of the Year and 2017 All-Star locked down his role as a high-leverage reliever. The Tigers will let him handle late innings and save situations when Gregory Soto isn’t available.

RHP Kyle Funkhouser

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 57 G (2 GS), 68⅓ IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.405 WHIP, 38 BB, 63 SO, 1 SV, 0.3 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers were tough on Funkhouser in spring training, making him the first player eliminated from Opening Day roster considerations. Hinch told Funkhouser that he had the potential to be great, but he showed up to camp unprepared and out of shape. The right-hander took the criticism personally, returned to the big leagues and became one of the best comeback stories of the year. He will pitch as a high-leverage reliever in 2022.

RHP Bryan Garcia

Status: Time to move on.

2021 stats: 39 G, 39⅓ IP, 7.55 ERA, 1.856 WHIP, 25 BB, 32 SO, 2 SV, -0.9 WAR.

The buzz: Look no further than Garcia for an example of 2020’s unreliability in player assessment. He didn’t come close to repeating last year’s 1.66 ERA in 2021 and should be bullpen depth in Triple-A.

RHP Rony Garcia

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 2 G, 3⅔ IP, 2.45 ERA, 0.818 WHIP, 2 BB, 2 SO, minus-0.1 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers selected Garcia in the 2019 Rule 5 draft, but he didn’t get a chance to establish himself in 2021 because of a season-ending left knee injury sustained during warmups in June. The 23-year-old should start 2022 in Triple-A Toledo, though the Tigers need to get him work in the big leagues.

RHP Drew Hutchison

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 9 G (2 GS), 21⅓ IP, 2.11 ERA, 1.453 WHIP, 11 BB, 10 SO, 0.1 WAR.

The buzz: Hutchison arrived from Triple-A Toledo in August and played an important role, helping out as a piggyback reliever when Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal had workload restrictions. The Tigers should reward him with a minor-league deal for 2022.

RHP Joe Jimenez

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 52 G, 45⅓ IP, 5.96 ERA, 1.522 WHIP, 35 BB, 57 SO, minus-0.2 WAR.

The buzz: Jimenez could fit into all three categories: building block, keeping seat warm and time to move on. That’s what makes his situation difficult to assess. The underlying numbers — such as Jimenez’s 3.95 expected ERA — have forced the Tigers to stick with him through his lowest points. At times, the ex-closer looks like he could be a future stud. Other times, he is blind to the strike zone. If he doesn’t succeed early in 2022, it will be time to let him go.

LHP Ian Krol

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 18 G, 18⅔ IP, 4.34 ERA, 1.661 WHIP, 8 BB, 18 SO, 0.1 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers probably didn’t give Krol as many opportunities as he deserved, but he accomplished his goal of returning to the big leagues for the first time since 2018. Although Krol didn’t profile as a back-end reliever, Hinch tried to make him a situational weapon against right-handed hitters. He will be a candidate for a minor-league deal this winter, possibly with the Tigers.

RHP Alex Lange

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 36 G, 35⅔ IP, 4.04 ERA, 1.486 WHIP, 16 BB, 39 SO, 1 SV, 0.1 WAR.

The buzz: After returning from Triple-A in late August, Lange was phenomenal, posting a 1.45 ERA, six walks and 18 strikeouts over 18⅔ innings, along with picking up his first save. He developed his changeup — paired with his upper-90s fastball and tough-to-hit curveball — to keep opponents guessing and cemented himself in the high-leverage plans for 2022.

RHP Matt Manning

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 18 G (18 GS), 85⅓ IP, 5.80 ERA, 1.512 WHIP, 33 BB, 57 SO, 0.9 WAR.

The buzz: The No. 9 overall pick in 2016, Manning quickly learned throwing four-seam fastballs 70% of the time wouldn’t work. Tweaking his arsenal, though it took time, helped him finish strong. He learned a two-seam fastball, implemented a new slider and saw his velocity return to 97 mph in his final outing. He should win a spot in the 2022 Opening Day rotation.

RHP Casey Mize

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 30 G (30 GS), 150⅓ IP, 3.71 ERA, 1.137 WHIP, 41 BB, 118 SO, 1.3 WAR.

The buzz: Mize — the No. 1 overall pick in 2018 — did what he was supposed to do this year: He became the ace of the future. He cleaned up his command troubles, prepared intensely and found out his complete arsenal is capable of dominating any lineup. He grew close to Hinch and pitching coach Chris Fetter, a product of his willingness to learn. As the Tigers look to join the postseason hunt, the expectations are high, and rightfully so, for Mize in 2022.

LHP Tarik Skubal

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 31 G (29 GS), 149⅓ IP, 4.34 ERA, 1.259 WHIP, 47 BB, 164 SO, 0.7 WAR.

The buzz: Skubal’s success comes with a red flag: He allowed 35 home runs, the second most by a rookie all-time. Of those, 22 were off fastballs. This offseason, the left-hander needs to develop his changeup and refine his fastball command. He made plenty of positive developments, though, such as learning more about himself, how to put hitters away with two strikes and the importance of pitch selection. Like Mize, he will face heightened expectations in 2022.

LHP Gregory Soto

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 62 G, 63⅔ IP, 3.39 ERA, 1.351 WHIP, 40 BB, 76 SO, 0.5 WAR.

The buzz: Soto put everything together in 2021, beginning with his ability to throw strikes and correct his accuracy during high-leverage moments. The improvement of his slider made the difference, as he fully trusted that pitch, especially important when he struggled to command his fastball. Throwing the slider often helped his fastball get back on track. He made the All-Star Game for the first time and is labeled as the closer entering 2022.

RHP Spencer Turnbull

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 9 G (9 GS), 50 IP, 2.88 ERA, 0.980 WHIP, 12 BB, 44 SO, 1.5 WAR.

The buzz: The most exciting and the most devastating moments of the season featured the 29-year-old starter in his fourth MLB campaign. He threw a no-hitter May 18 against the Mariners in Seattle. Less than three weeks later, Turnbull landed on the injured list with a right forearm strain before having Tommy John surgery in late July; he won’t return until 2023.


OF Akil Baddoo

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 124 G, 413 AB, .259 BA, 20 2B, 7 3B, 13 HR, 55 RBIs, 18 SB, 45 BB, 122 SO, 1.9 WAR.

The buzz: A Rule 5 draft pick, Baddoo gave the Tigers’ rebuild some luck. After all, nobody expected the then-22-year-old — who hadn’t played above High-A — to become the leadoff hitter vs. right-handers in his first MLB season. There’s a lot for Baddoo to improve this winter, but he has a clear path to the 2022 Opening Day roster and a bright future.

1B/DH Miguel Cabrera

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 130 G, 472 AB, .256 BA, 16 2B, 15 HR, 75 RBIs, 40 BB, 118 SO, minus-0.7 WAR.

The buzz: After hitting .184 through April and May, Cabrera boosted his production; he hit .286 over his final 93 games, with 11 home runs and 58 RBIs. On Aug. 22, he hit his 500th career home run. Next up: Cabrera is 13 hits away from 3,000. The Tigers will give the 38-year-old every opportunity chase his milestones, considering he is owed $32 million for each of the next two seasons.

OF Daz Cameron

Status: Time to move on.

2021 stats: 35 G, 103 AB, .194 BA, 5 2B, 4 HR, 13 RBIs, 6 SB, 10 BB, 38 SO, minus-0.1 WAR.

The buzz: There’s a lot for Cameron to learn before the Tigers can confidently put him in the plans for the future. Unless something changes in spring training, the 24-year-old is destined for an everyday role in Triple-A Toledo. Cameron needs to improve his day-to-day intensity and consistency at the plate.

3B Jeimer Candelario

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 149 G, 557 AB, .271 BA, 42 2B, 3 3B, 16 HR, 67 RBIs, 65 BB, 135 SO, 3.2 WAR.

The buzz: Candelario tied for the MLB lead with 42 doubles, at the top with Bryce Harper, J.D. Martinez and Whit Merrifield. He was a durable defender and arguably the Tigers’ most consistent hitter. The Tigers will owe him a substantial raise from this year’s $2.85 million in salary arbitration, but they won’t hesitate to make the payment. He has been the Tigers’ best player for two seasons in a row; if he boosts his homers, he could be an All-Star in 2022.

UTIL Harold Castro

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 106 G, 315 AB, .283 BA, 13 2B, 1 3B, 3 HR, 37 RBIs, 1 SB, 14 BB, 72 SO, 0.5 WAR.

The buzz: When the pressure was on, Hittin’ Harold provided superb bat-to-ball skills. Check out his numbers in high-leverage situations: 25-for-70 (.357) with four extra-base hits and 26 RBIs. He doesn’t have the makeup of an everyday player, but credit Hinch for knowing when to use him. What Castro accomplished this season should keep him around for a similar role in 2022.

2B/LF Willi Castro

Status: Time to move on.

2021 stats: 125 G, 413 AB, .220 BA, 15 2B, 6 3B, 9 HR, 38 RBIs, 9 SB, 23 BB, 109 SO, minus-0.4 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers exited 2020 thinking Castro would be the shortstop of the future. He finished fourth in AL Rookie of the Year voting and hit .349. The Tigers quickly learned they were wrong, as Hinch shifted him to second base in late April. Halfway through August, Castro dabbled in the outfield — projecting a utility role in his future. To go with his lackluster defense, the 24-year-old struggled offensively all year.

C Dustin Garneau

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 20 G, 62 AB, .210 BA, 5 2B, 6 HR, 11 RBIs, 3 BB, 18 SO, 0.5 WAR.

The buzz: Garneau is hardly part of the long-term plans, but the Tigers should think about signing him for 2022. He could play an important backup role with his game-planning strengths as a 34-year-old veteran. He platooned with starting catcher Eric Haase, after the Tigers acquired him from the Colorado Rockies in an Aug. 18 trade.

UTIL Niko Goodrum

Status: Time to move on.

2021 stats: 90 G, 290 AB, .214 BA, 11 2B, 2 3B, 9 HR, 33 RBIs, 14 SB, 29 BB, 107 SO, 0 WAR.

The buzz: Goodrum seemingly took a step back defensively once Hinch made him a utility player. He still struck out a ton and, despite a solid finish, looks to be on his way out. The Tigers probably won’t tender him a contract.

C Grayson Greiner

Status: Time to move on.

2021 stats: 31 G, 72 AB, .236 BA, 4 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBIs, 9 BB, 31 SO, 0.2 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers don’t have much depth at catcher, so Greiner could stay with the organization. Still, his long-term potential is doubtful, with a .201 batting average with 42 walks and 153 strikeouts across 137 games in parts of four MLB seasons.

LF/RF Robbie Grossman

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 156 G, 557 AB, .239 BA, 23 2B, 3 3B, 23 HR, 67 RBIs, 20 SB, 98 BB, 155 SO, 2.7 WAR.

The buzz: Grossman’s career year makes his two-year, $10 million contract signed in January look even better. That means he is guaranteed to return in 2022 as the Tigers hope to contend for an AL wild-card berth. To get there, the Tigers need more of Grossman’s power, plate discipline and leadership. He became the seventh player in franchise history with 20 homers and 20 steals, and he finished fourth in MLB with 98 walks.

C/LF Eric Haase

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 98 G, 351 AB, .231 BA, 12 2B, 1 3B, 22 HR, 61 RBIs, 2 SB, 26 BB, 119 SO, 1.0 WAR.

The buzz: A 28-year-old rookie, Haase finished his fourth MLB season — but the first with substantial playing time — in a slump. He slugged after his May callup, winning AL Player of the Month in July with nine home runs and 29 RBIs in 23 games. But Haase hit .208 with four home runs in his final 40 games. He should make the Opening Day roster, but the Tigers will keep a close eye on him.

CF Derek Hill

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 49 G, 139 AB, .259 BA, 3 2B, 3 3B, 3 HR, 14 RBIs, 6 SB, 10 BB, 42 SO, 0.3 WAR.

The buzz: Hill suffered in-game injuries and landed on the IL three times this season: June 10 with a right shoulder sprain, Aug. 11 with a left ribcage contusion and Sept. 19 with a left knee sprain. The 25-year-old has the makings of a fourth outfielder thanks to his elite defense. Before any of that can happen, Hill needs to stay healthy.

INF Isaac Paredes

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 23 G, 72 AB, .208 BA, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 RBIs, 10 BB, 11 SO, minus-0.3 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers were encouraged when the righty started pulling the balltoward the end of the season, but the 22-year-old didn’t get many opportunities. He was sidelined with a right hip strain not long after the Tigers called him up in July. A lot has to happen before Paredes establishes himself, but he will be in the competition for a utility role on next year’s roster.

OF Victor Reyes

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 76 G, 209 AB, .258 BA, 10 2B, 4 3B, 5 HR, 22 RBIs, 5 SB, 8 BB, 55 SO, 0.3 WAR.

The buzz: Reyes picked up the pace over his final 28 games, hitting .357 with eight extra-base hits and 10 RBIs. The improvement from his slow start in April put him in a favorable spot with the coaching staff, as the Tigers prepare for an intense outfield competition in spring training. At the very least, Reyes should bounce between Toledo and Detroit next season.

OF Jacob Robson

Status: Time to move on.

2021 stats: 4 G, 7 AB, .000 BA, 4 SO, minus-0.2 WAR.

The buzz: Robson made his MLB debut in August to help the Tigers through outfield injuries, but he was sent back to Toledo just six days later. He isn’t in the long-term plans and fits better in Toledo, where he provides organizational depth.

C Jake Rogers

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 38 G, 113 AB, .239 BA, 5 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB, 11 BB, 46 SO, 1.0 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers had finally developed Rogers into an everyday catcher — both offensively and defensively — when his season ended prematurely. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September. The organization hopes to get him back late in 2022, but it’s too soon for a guaranteed timetable.

1B/2B Jonathan Schoop

Status: Building block.

2021 stats: 156 G, 623 AB, .278 BA, 30 2B, 1 3B, 22 HR, 84 RBIs, 2 SB, 37 BB, 133 SO, 1.5 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers rewarded Schoop’s success over the past two seasons with a contract extension in August. The deal should keep him in Detroit through 2023, though he has an opt-out after the 2022 season. He played out of position for 114 games as a first baseman but will return to second once top prospect Spencer Torkelson arrives. Above all else, Schoop helped grow Hinch’s winning culture with his leadership.

INF Zack Short

Status: Keeping seat warm.

2021 stats: 61 G, 156 AB, .141 BA, 4 2B, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 2 SB, 22 BB, 59 SO, minus-0.7 WAR.

The buzz: The Tigers need a shortstop, right? Short fills the void from a defensive perspective. He looked comfortable in the infield and made a handful of highlight-reel plays. The problem is his swing, which produces an insane launch angle. Every so often, he runs into a homer, but he typically pops out in foul territory or strikes out. If Short can sort out his offensive woes, he will find a utility role — and maybe more — in the big leagues.

Impending free agents and players no longer with the Tigers were omitted from the list: Beau Burrows, Derek Holland, Daniel Norris, Erasmo Ramirez, Julio Teheran, Jose Urena, JaCoby Jones, Nomar Mazara, Renato Nunez and Wilson Ramos.

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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