Detroit Tigers’ 28-man Opening Day roster: One big question for every player in 2022

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Tigers are ready to start the 2022 season.

The 28-man roster includes five starting pitchers, 10 relievers, three catchers, six infielders and four outfielders. Opening Day is 1:10 p.m. Friday against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park.

The Tigers finished 77-85 last season for third place in the American League Central, but with the improved roster in manager AJ Hinch’s second season, the expectation is to make the playoffs. That means there’s some pressure on these Tigers.

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The roster will look different in May, with left-handed reliever Andrew Chafin, right-handed reliever Kyle Funkhouser, righty starter Michael Pineda and righty reliever Wily Peralta likely joining the big-league club. (The active roster has expanded from 26 to 28 players through May 1 because of the condensed spring training.)

Of those four, Chafin (groin injury), Funkhouser (right shoulder strain) and Pineda (stamina) have MLB contracts. Funkhouser recovered from his injury and Pineda received his work visa, but they aren’t ready to compete in the majors. Peralta, too, is taking extra time to get ready; he signed a minor-league contract and missed most of spring training awaiting his work visa.

Top prospect Riley Greene, a 21-year-old center fielder, is expected to join the Tigers’ roster after the fracture in his right foot fully heals, but that might not happen for six to eight weeks, possibly keeping him out until June. Right-handed reliever Jose Cisnero is on the 60-day injured list with a right shoulder strain.

Check out the entire 28-man Opening Day roster, with thoughts on the biggest question about every player:

Catchers (3)

Tucker Barnhart

Age: 31. MLB debut: 2014.

Vitals: 5 feet 11, 192 pounds.

2021 (with Reds): .247 batting average, 7 home runs, 48 RBIs, 116 games.

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Does Barnhart get a contract extension? The Tigers acquired Barnhart from the Cincinnati Reds in November, picked up his $7.5 million option and immediately considered an extension. There’s nothing brewing yet, but the two-time Gold Glove winner had the Tigers raving about his defense — specifically his pitch framing — in spring training. Hinch also sang his praises. Barnhart is open to discussing an extended stay in Detroit.

Eric Haase

Age: 29. MLB debut: 2018.

Vitals: 5-10, 210.

2021: .231, 22 HR, 61 RBIs, 98 G.

Can Haase live up to the hype? The Westland and Dearborn Divine Child product became somewhat of an everyday player in 2021. He profiles as a backup but should receive plenty of starts at catcher and left field, plus some pinch-hitting ABs, against left-handers.

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Dustin Garneau

Age: 34. MLB debut: 2015.

Vitals: 6-2, 205.

2021: .210, 6 HR, 11 RBIs, 20 G.

Are Garneau’s home runs for real? The Tigers are primarily attracted to Garneau because of his veteran-like interactions with Hinch, pitching coach Chris Fetter and the pitching staff. But they also like his two-for-one deal: Catch a winner and hit a homer. That’s why they gave him a $1.18 million contract for 2022 and decided to carry three catchers.

Infielders (6)

DH/1B Miguel Cabrera

Age: 38. MLB debut: 2003.

Vitals: 6-4, 267.

2021: .256, 15 HR, 75 RBIs, 130 G.

Will Cabrera stay productive? If Cabrera, entering his 20th MLB season, repeats last season’s results at the plate, he’ll have earned the sixth spot in the batting order. The Tigers improved their roster in the offseason, so the former two-time MVP is unlikely to hit higher than that for long. He is 13 hits away from 3,000.

1B Spencer Torkelson

Age: 22. MLB debut: 2022.

Vitals: 6-1, 220.

2021 (in minors): .267, 30 HR, 91 RBIs, 121 G.

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How long until Torkelson adjusts to MLB? At all three levels in the minors last season, Torkelson struggled, then found success. The same could happen after the 2020 No. 1 overall pick makes his MLB debut, though the plate discipline he showed throughout spring training is encouraging. Getting his first home run out of the way early would help his confidence. 

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2B Jonathan Schoop

Age: 30. MLB debut: 2013.

Vitals: 6-1, 247.

2021: .278, 22 HR, 84 RBIs, 156 G.

Will Schoop opt out of his contract? The Tigers signed Schoop to a two-year, $15 million extension last August, with a proviso: He can opt out after 2022. The on-field production will likely determine what Schoop — a Scott Boras client — decides, but the Tigers would be wise to hold onto infield prospect Ryan Kreidler just in case.

SS Javier Baez

Age: 29. MLB debut: 2014.

Vitals: 6-0, 190.

2021 (with Cubs and Mets): .265, 31 HR, 87 RBIs, 138 G.

Can Baez cut his strikeouts? The Tigers signed Baez to a six-year, $140 million contract in December, with an opt-out after 2023. He had a 33.6% strikeout rate last season, but he went from 36.3% to 28.5% rate following July’s trade from the Chicago Cubs to the New York Mets. Now that Baez is with the Tigers, the eight-year MLB veteran is leaning on tips from Cabrera for further adjustments.

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3B Jeimer Candelario

Age: 28. MLB debut: 2016.

Vitals: 6-1, 216.

2021: .271, 16 HR, 67 RBIs, 149 G.

Does Candelario get an extension? Not only did he tie for the MLB lead with 42 doubles last year, the switch-hitter has been the Tigers’ most consistent hitter over the past two seasons, posting a .356 on-base percentage, 123 wRC+ and 4.8 WAR in 201 games. The Tigers could trade him, citing below-average defense, but his bat — highlighted by gap-to-gap doubles power — seems too valuable to ship away. Candelario’s combined WAR in 2020-21 ranks No. 7 among third baseman.

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UTIL Harold Castro

Age: 28. MLB debut: 2018.

Vitals: 5-10, 195.

2021: .283, 3 HR, 37 RBIs, 106 G.

Will this Castro stay clutch? If there’s a clutch gene, Hittin’ Harold has it. Over his four-year MLB career, Castro hits .233 in low-leverage situations, .368 in medium-leverage and .301 in high-leverage. In 2021, he hit .182, .381 and .357 in those three situations. He can play every position, is the emergency catcher and owns a career 0.00 ERA in three pitching appearances.

Outfielders (4)

RF Robbie Grossman

Age: 32. MLB debut: 2013.

Vitals: 6-0, 209.

2021: .239, 23 HR, 67 RBIs, 156 G.

Is Grossman’s 20-20 repeatable? The switch-hitter hit 23 homers and swiped 20 bases in 2021, becoming the first Tigers player since Curtis Granderson in 2009 with a 20-20 season. The nine-year vet is entering the final year of his contract, and the Tigers need him to be just as productive in Year 2. If Grossman excels early, don’t rule out a short-term contract extension for the clubhouse leader. He is one of the Tigers’ best players, Hinch said.

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CF Akil Baddoo

Age: 23. MLB debut: 2021.

Vitals: 6-1, 214.

2021: .259, 13 HR, 55 RBIs, 124 G.

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Can Baddoo hit lefties? Entering his second MLB season, Baddoo is no longer fighting for a job. He’s a starter against right-handed pitchers. If he wants to be an everyday player, though, he needs to improve against lefties. Last season, he hit .214 with zero home runs in 108 plate appearances; in this year’s spring training, two of his four homers were off lefties. His defense must improve, too. Greene gets the starting job in center when he returns from his injury.

LF Austin Meadows

Age: 26. MLB debut: 2018.

Vitals: 6-3, 225.

2021 (with Rays): .234, 27 HR, 106 RBIs, 142 G.

How does Meadows shake up the OF mix? Greene’s debut will give the Tigers three lefty outfielders in Greene, Meadows and Baddoo, with Grossman as a switch-hitter effective from both sides. Greene can hit lefties, but Meadows and Baddoo are below average against them. For lefties Hinch doesn’t want Meadows and Baddoo facing, Haase, who crushes them, could start.

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OF Victor Reyes

Age: 27. MLB debut: 2018.

Vitals: 6-5, 194.

2021: .258, 5 HR, 22 RBIs, 76 G.

Is Reyes more than a Quad-A outfielder? Reyes hit .325 with four home runs in his final 49 games last season, and he has average power. For now, it seems unlikely he will be a starter in the Tigers’ future. When Greene arrives, Reyes could be headed back to Triple-A. He can play all three outfield positions.

Starting pitchers (5)

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

Age: 29. MLB debut: 2015.

Vitals: 6-2, 231.

2021 (with Red Sox): 13-8 record, 4.74 ERA, 157⅔ innings.

Is Rodriguez good, or is he great? Last season, Rodriguez had a career-best 3.32 FIP, which means he was a good pitcher with poor defense behind him. But the back of his baseball card: 4.74 ERA. The 2018 World Series champion has all the tools to contend for an AL Cy Young — he was sixth in voting in 2019 — which is why the Tigers signed him to a five-year, $77 million contract, with an opt-out after the 2023 season.

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RHP Casey Mize

Age: 24. MLB debut: 2020.

Vitals: 6-3, 212.

2021: 7-9, 3.71 ERA, 150⅓ IP.

Is Mize an ace? The 2018 No. 1 overall pick led the Tigers in starts (30) and innings pitched (150⅓) last season, and the Tigers believe he set the foundation for becoming an ace. Mize has flashed a devastating splitter, mid-90s fastball and unshakeable command. When he has all three working, he is unquestionably elite and can earn strikeouts at a high rate. But he rarely used his splitter and had an underwhelming 19.3% strikeout rate in 2021.

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LHP Tarik Skubal

Age: 25. MLB debut: 2020.

Vitals: 6-3, 240.

2021: 8-12, 4.34 ERA, 149⅓ IP.

Can Skubal limit his home runs? Last season, Skubal relied heavily on his fastball, fell behind in counts and wasn’t consistent with his secondary pitches. As a result, he finished with 35 homers allowed — second-most in the AL and one shy of the MLB rookie record. Of those homers, 22 came on fastballs. Spring training stats can be misleading, but Skubal posted a 1.32 ERA with three walks and 21 strikeouts in 13⅔ innings. He didn’t allow any homers, thanks to his breaking ball and off-speed improvements.

RHP Matt Manning

Age: 24. MLB debut: 2021.

Vitals: 6-6, 195.

2021: 4-7, 5.80 ERA, 85⅓ IP.

Can the Tigers count on Manning in October? Mize and Skubal appear developed, but Manning remains a work in progress. He had a 8.07 ERA in seven Triple-A starts last season, and wasn’t entirely better in 18 starts for the Tigers, though he was solid down the stretch and borderline dominant in his final start against the White Sox. His fastball is his best pitch, although he relied on it too much last year. If he finds consistency with his curveball, slider and changeup, he should reach his full potential.

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LHP Tyler Alexander

Age: 27; MLB debut: 2019.

Vitals: 6-2, 203.

2021: 2-4, 3.81 ERA, 106⅓ IP.

Is Alexander a starter or reliever? For the first two trips through the rotation, Alexander will start. Then, Michael Pineda — who signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract — is expected to push Alexander back to his swingman role. In three spring training starts, Alexander registered a 1.04 ERA with three walks and eight strikeouts in 8⅔ innings. The Tigers view him as a multi-inning reliever, but if there’s an injury, he will be a top candidate to rejoin the rotation.

Bullpen (10)

LHP Gregory Soto

Age: 27. MLB debut: 2019.

Vitals: 6-1, 234.

2021: 6-3, 3.39 ERA, 63⅔ IP.

Has Soto finished developing? Soto was an All-Star in 2021, representing the Tigers at Coors Field in Denver. He served as the de facto closer throughout the year, earning 18 saves in 19 chances, before Hinch made his title official. He seems determined to build on his success. Now that Soto is on the map, the Tigers will learn if he has reached his peak, or if there’s an even higher level. He added a changeup to his arsenal in the offseason.

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RHP Michael Fulmer

Age: 29. MLB debut: 2016.

Vitals: 6-3, 224.

2021: 5-6, 2.97 ERA, 69⅔ IP.

Does Fulmer get traded at the deadline? There were some red flags around Fulmer’s performance in spring training, but any concerns will go away if his low-90s velocity returns to the mid-90s of a year ago. If he gets his velo back, he could be a trade candidate to watch when the Aug. 2 deadline comes around. Fulmer becomes a free agent after this season.

RHP Alex Lange

Age: 26. MLB debut: 2021.

Vitals: 6-3, 202.

2021: 1-3, 4.04 ERA, 35⅔ IP.

Can Lange build on last year’s second half? As a rookie, Lange had a 1.37 ERA with seven walks and 19 strikeouts in his final 19⅔ innings (19 games) of the season. He looked like one of the most ready relievers, along with Soto, so the Tigers will learn on Lange early in the season. With the increased opportunities, Lange’s repertoire gives him a chance to shine.

RHP Joe Jimenez

Age: 27. MLB debut: 2017.

Vitals: 6-3, 277.

2021: 6-1, 5.96 ERA, 45⅓ IP.

What can Joe Jimenez be? He got cut in last year’s spring training and went to Triple-A Toledo, an initial shock for the former All-Star, then he was roughed up in his first MLB opportunity. Upon returning for the second time, it was like a new Jimenez. He pitched better in the second half of the season, and the underlying numbers suggest he could be a dominant reliever if he throws strikes. The Tigers expect him to rise this season.

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RHP Jason Foley

Age: 26. MLB debut: 2021.

Vitals: 6-4, 215.

2021: 0-0, 2.61 ERA, 10⅓ IP.

Is Foley a breakout candidate? If it weren’t for Lange, Foley would be the talk of the Tigers’ young relievers. His experience last season, albeit in only 11 appearances, should have him comfortable for 2022. When Foley is comfortable, he can dominate. Last season, Hinch often reminded him: “Your stuff is good enough.” He has a sinker and slider but also enjoys his upper-90s four-seam fastball.

RHP Rony Garcia

Age: 24. MLB debut: 2020.

Vitals: 6-3, 200.

2021: 0-0, 2.45 ERA, 3⅔ IP.

What is Garcia’s MLB potential? The Tigers picked Garcia in the 2019 Rule 5 draft from the New York Yankees. He had an 8.14 ERA in 21 innings during the shortened 2020 season and made two appearances in 2021 before sustaining a season-ending torn meniscus in June. Garcia throws a fastball, slider and changeup. He delivered a 3.20 ERA with 10 walks and 24 strikeouts in four games for Toledo.

RHP Elvin Rodriguez

Age: 24. MLB debut: 2020.

Vitals: 6-3, 160.

2021 (in minors): 4-6, 5.68 ERA, 77⅔ innings.

Can he handle the jump from Double-A? Rodriguez spent most of 2021 in Double-A, with a 5.83 ERA, 29 walks and 80 strikeouts over 73⅔ innings. He threw two scoreless innings in one relief appearance for Toledo, picking up three strikeouts. Acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the 2017 Justin Upton trade, the Tigers added him to the 40-man roster in November to keep him from becoming a minor-league free agent.

RHP Drew Hutchison

Age: 31. MLB debut: 2012.

Vitals: 6-3, 215.

2021: 3-1, 2.11 ERA, 21⅓ IP.

Why did he make the team? Back in 2015, Hutchison became the youngest Opening Day starter in Toronto Blue Jays history. He pitched for the Tigers last season and returned on a minor-league contract to provide quality depth, but he is now on the 40-man roster.

RHP Will Vest

Age: 26. MLB debut: 2021.

Vitals: 6-0, 180.

2021: 1-0, 6.17 ERA, 35 IP.

Why did he make the team? The Tigers lost Vest to the Seattle Mariners in the 2020 Rule 5 draft, after the Tigers swiped Baddoo from the Minnesota Twins. Vest pitched in the bigs with the M’s, but Seattle eventually returned him to Detroit, which allowed his demotion to Triple-A Toledo.

RHP Jacob Barnes

Age: 31. MLB debut: 2016.

Vitals: 6-2, 231.

2021: 1-2, 6.28 ERA, 28⅔ IP.

Why did he make the team? The Tigers like Barnes’ arsenal, but they’re also impressed with the way he carries himself. He acts like a big leaguer because he’s been in the majors for six seasons. His career 9.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio makes the 31-year-old an interesting project.

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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