Who makes the cut for Tigers’ 2023 Opening Day roster?

Detroit Tigers

For a team in transition that spent an offseason churning the roster with a new president of baseball operations, the Tigers enter Spring Training with fewer open competitions than one might expect. Part of that comes from players under contract, part from a bevy of young players expected to take steps forward from last year.

Still, as the Tigers head to Spring Training, the open roles they have are wide open, with the potential for three lefty-righty platoons. Here’s an early projection at Detroit’s 26-man Opening Day roster, position by position:

Catcher (2): Eric Haase, Donny Sands
Haase finally gets a chance to be the Tigers’ primary catcher after splitting time the past two seasons. While Jake Rogers would make an ideal defense-first No. 2 catcher to Haase, Rogers hasn’t caught in a game at any level since July 2021 due to Tommy John surgery. He’s expected to be ready for camp but likely needs to get back to game speed, opening an opportunity for another strong backstop in Sands.

First base (1): Spencer Torkelson
Torkelson will get every chance this spring to show he’s ready to emerge as a run-producer in Detroit. A diet of Spring Training fastballs should give him the opportunity to take advantage. There’s little competition at first aside from Jonathan Schoop moving over from second. Miguel Cabrera could also get a game or two here in his final MLB season.

Shortstop (1): Javier Báez
This could be a fascinating year for Báez, who has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season. Would a bounce-back season tempt him to test a free-agent market thin on shortstops?

Third base (2): Nick Maton, Tyler Nevin
This is the one position up for grabs in Detroit’s infield, and with no obvious answers, the one most likely to feature a platoon. Maton figures to play all over the infield, but this is an obvious spot for the left-handed hitter. Andy Ibáñez was the Rangers’ Opening Day third baseman last year after a strong Spring Training, but he’s a non-roster invite. César Hernández is a potential stabilizing force as a 10-year veteran, a switch-hitter and an NL Gold Glove Award-winning infielder, but both sides of his game dropped off last season. Nevin is a former first-round Draft pick with power potential who’s out of Minor League options.

Outfield (4): Akil Baddoo, Riley Greene, Austin Meadows, Matt Vierling
As long as they’re healthy, Greene and Meadows should be set in center and left field, respectively. The question comes in right, where Baddoo, Vierling and Kerry Carpenter could all carve out playing time. Vierling’s arrival from the Phillies in the Gregory Soto trade gives manager A.J. Hinch the option of a lefty-righty platoon.

Designated hitter (2): Kerry Carpenter, Miguel Cabrera
Carpenter was a revelation last season after 30 homers in the Minors and six more for Detroit. With the Tigers needing offense, he deserves a chance to show if he can build off that. With Cabrera entering his 21st and final Major League season, a platoon is arguably the best setup for both.

Starting pitchers (5): Eduardo Rodriguez, Matthew Boyd, Michael Lorenzen, Spencer Turnbull, Matt Manning
None of these guys made 20 starts at the Major League level last season, but all have had some success in the big leagues in recent years, giving Detroit some much-needed stability. Barring injuries, they should be set, with Beau Brieske, Alex Faedo and others waiting as depth.

Relievers (8): Tyler Alexander, José Cisnero, Mason Englert, Jason Foley, Garrett Hill, Alex Lange, Edwin Uceta, Will Vest
Roles will be changing with Soto, Joe Jiménez and Andrew Chafin gone, but most of this group was part of last year’s bullpen behind that trio. Alexander is the only left-hander in this group, but the Tigers open the season against the Rays and Astros, two teams that hit lefties significantly better than righties last year. That could be a difference between carrying an extra righty like Uceta and adding another lefty like non-roster invites Chasen Shreve or Zach Logue, at least for the first week. Much like Detroit’s 40-man roster this offseason, count on this last spot changing a lot as the season goes on.

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