Detroit Tigers’ 2022 Opening Day roster prediction 3.0: Down to final cuts in spring training

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — Opening Day is eight days away.

The Detroit Tigers have 39 players remaining in major-league camp to fill the team’s Opening Day roster, which will have 28 spots, two more than normal to compensate for reduced workloads mandated by a condensed spring training.

Those 39 players include three injured players (starter Spencer Turnbull, catcher Jake Rogers and reliever Kyle Funkhouser), one player delayed by work visa issues (starter Michael Pineda) and three position players who are already slotted for the minor-league roster (Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kreidler and Jack Lopez).

That leaves 32 players, with the Tigers needing to make four cuts before April 8 against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.

HOW WE GOT HERE:

PREDICTION 1.0: Big name could fill shortstop void

PREDICTION 2.0: Key needs filled, one hole remains

The Tigers acquired Barnhart (from the Cincinnati Reds) on the first day of the offseason in November. So far, Barnhart has lived up to the hype — and his $7.5 million club option.

The two-time Gold Glove winner has been praised for his game-calling and camaraderie with pitchers. Because of the condensed camp schedule, Barnhart hasn’t had much time to learn his new pitching staff, so there could be some hiccups early in the regular season.

Barnhart, an eight-year MLB veteran, hit .247 with seven home runs, 48 RBIs, 29 walks and 100 strikeouts in 116 games last season. The 31-year-old is a natural left-handed hitter but resumed switch-hitting in spring training (he gave it up after an injury in 2019) and plans to hit from both sides throughout 2022.

SHAWN WINDSOR: Barnhart may be the Tigers’ most important offseason addition

Any concerns about Torkelson’s readiness have been squashed in spring training. The 22-year-old is hitting .261 (6-for-23) with four doubles, three RBIs, one walk and four strikeouts in 10 games, much better than last spring’s showing (1-for-27 with four walks and 16 strikeouts in 19 games).

The former No. 1 overall pick has punched doubles to left and right field, along with hitting to the outfield gaps. While he hasn’t homered in camp yet, he crushed 30 homers in the minor leagues last season.

Torkelson climbed from High-A West Michigan (31 games) to Double-A Erie (50 games) to Triple-A Toledo (40 games). He hit .312 with five homers for the Whitecaps, .263 with 14 homers for the SeaWolves and .238 with 11 homers for the Mud Hens. He combined for 77 walks and 114 strikeouts.

Torkelson should be arranging to ship his 2020 Mercedes-Benz AMG G63 to Detroit — not Toledo — for the upcoming season. His MLB debut is coming soon.

HOT WHEELS: Spencer Torkelson, Riley Greene arrive to spring training in style

Schoop provides stability at second as an average defender with above-average arm strength, which should help the Tigers boost their up-the-middle defense and double-play efficiency.

The 30-year-old, a nine-year MLB veteran, played 114 of his 156 games last season at first base, but that’s not his natural position. Now that Torkelson has first base locked down, Schoop can return to where he fits best.

Schoop hit .278 with 22 home runs, 84 RBIs, 37 walks and 113 strikeouts in 2021, and the Tigers expect more of the same from him in 2022, though he might hit fifth or sixth in the batting order.

Two-time All-Star. 2020 Gold Glove winner. 2018 National League MVP runner-up. 2016 World Series champion. Full of energy. Big-time power. Defensive wizard at arguably baseball’s most important position. Strikeout machine.

That’s Baez.

The Tigers signed him to a six-year, $140 million contract in the offseason. The 29-year-old is tasked with leading the franchise back to the postseason for the first time since 2014. Even veteran players, such as Miguel Cabrera, are looking to Baez for on-field leadership.

Baez hit .265 across 138 games in 2021 for the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, adding 31 home runs, 87 RBIs, 28 walks and 184 strikeouts.

Another mainstay in the infield is Candelario, the back-to-back Tiger of the Year award winner. He hit .271 with an MLB-leading 42 doubles, 16 home runs, 67 RBIs, 65 walks and 135 strikeouts in 149 games last season.

The Tigers need more of the same from Candelario. Expect him to remain in the top half of the batting order, likely hitting No. 3, one spot ahead of Baez.

In 2022, the Tigers have asked Candelario to improve his infield defense, especially his pre-pitch positioning and quickness when turning double plays. He was worth minus-3 defensive runs saved last year, according to Fangraphs.

Like Torkelson, the 21-year-old Greene appears well on his way to making the Opening Day roster. He is hitting .412 (7-for-17) with two doubles, one triple, two home runs, four RBIs, three walks and five strikeouts across nine games this spring.

Torkelson and Greene are the Nos. 4 and 5 prospects in baseball, respectively, according to MLB Pipeline.

The Tigers continue to employ Greene in center field in these exhibitions, so he should be there for the regular-season opener.

The spring success is a continuation of what Greene, the No. 5 overall pick in 2019 out of high school, showed in the minor leagues last season. He hit .301 with 24 homers, 84 RBIs, 63 walks and 153 strikeouts in 124 games for Erie (84 games) and Toledo (40 games). For the Mud Hens, Greene hit .308 with eight homers.

Grossman, who had a 20-homer, 20-steal season, and Baddoo, who is still just 23, are tabbed as the starting corner outfielders.

SHAWN WINDSOR: What does Tigers’ Akil Baddoo do for encore? Go from surprise to everyday success

Entering his 20th MLB season, Cabrera is 13 hits away from 3,000. Once he accomplishes that milestone, he will become the seventh player to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits.

Cabrera, under contract for $32 million in each of the next two seasons, hit .256 with 15 homers, 75 RBIs, 40 walks and 118 strikeouts in 2021. He is expected to bat fifth (or sixth) in the Tigers’ batting order, something he hasn’t done since 2008.

He turns 39 in April.

ON THE MOVE: Cabrera ‘all in’ on plan to move him down Tigers batting order

Assuming Torkelson and Greene make the Opening Day roster, and knowing Haase will as well, there are six players competing for what could be three bench roles: Reyes, Garneau, Harold Castro, utility player Willi Castro, outfielder Derek Hill and infielder Isaac Paredes.

Harold Castro seems likely to break camp with the Tigers, and manager AJ Hinch likes the idea of carrying Garneau as a true backup catcher because of Haase’s defensive versatility and power against left-handed pitchers. It’s unlikely Paredes makes the roster, and Willi Castro could be on the outside looking in unless the Tigers elect to operate with a five-man bench.

Needing a fourth outfielder, the Tigers’ most noteworthy competition features Reyes and Hill.

Reyes is hitting .278 (5-for-18) with one double, one home run, four RBIs, two walks and three strikeouts in nine games this spring. Hill, meanwhile, is hitting .250 (5-for-20) with one double, two homers, three RBIs, two walks and five strikeouts in eight games.

The Tigers have their top four set in Rodriguez, Mize, Skubal and Manning. Rodriguez signed a five-year, $77 million contract in November and has been named the Opening Day starter.

On March 18, the Tigers inked Pineda to a one-year, $5.5 million contract. He recently had his work visa approved and will make his first spring training appearance Saturday after Rodriguez starts. Although Pineda is coming out of the bullpen in camp, the Tigers plan to build his stamina toward starting. He is scheduled to pitch two innings Saturday, then will pitch three innings in his next outing.

Pineda is likely to start at least two games with Triple-A Toledo before joining the Tigers’ rotation in the majors. In the meantime, Alexander is the No. 5 starter. He will start April 12 against the Boston Red Sox but eventually return to his swingman role out of the bullpen.

At some point soon, Pineda will take Alexander’s spot.

Now that rosters for April have been expanded from 26 players, the Tigers can choose whether to use those spots in the bullpen or split them between the bench and bullpen.

For now, the Tigers seem likely to add two arms to the bullpen.

These six are locked in: Chafin, Cisnero, Fulmer, Lange, Jimenez and Soto. Foley and Garcia appear to be frontrunners for the next two openings, giving the Tigers eight core relievers. If the Tigers decide to take 10 with them to Detroit, the final two spots will come down to Vest, Hutchison and right-hander Chase Anderson.

Funkhouser, a key member of Hinch’s bullpen last season, will miss the start of the season with a latissimus dorsi strain. Peralta, who isn’t on the 40-man roster, is waiting for his work visa before he can report; when he does, he’ll start working toward a spot in Toledo. Once the team evaluates his readiness and the season starts, he could contribute out of the bullpen.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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