Will this Tiger make the Opening Day roster?

Detroit Tigers

This story was excerpted from Jason Beck’s Tigers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click hereAnd subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LAKELAND, Fla. — Matthew Boyd was on vacation with his family this offseason, celebrating a reunion with the Tigers. He had something on his mind.

While Boyd was back where he’d spent the bulk of his career, he was weighing whether and when to call Kerry Carpenter about getting his old No. 48 back. Boyd said he didn’t really care about the number all that much, but his family had so much Tigers gear with No. 48 on it — from his seven previous seasons in Detroit — that it was easier to make the call than get a bunch of new stuff with a new number.

As it turns out, it wasn’t that difficult. Carpenter, who wore No. 48 last year after being called up midseason, offered him the number for nothing. No negotiation. No gifts.

“I was like, ‘Dude, you’ve earned that number, man. That’s all you,'” Carpenter said.

It was a generous gesture. But considering Boyd had just signed a one-year, $10 million contract and was getting his number back from someone making the Major League minimum, Boyd wasn’t going to leave it at that.

So when Carpenter reported to Spring Training on Friday, he found a package waiting in his locker. It was from Detroit-based watchmaker Shinola. Boyd not only found a way to show his gratitude, but he kept it local.

It was also a bit of a nod to history. Former Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was known for gifting watches to teammates as a gesture of gratitude.

“I appreciate it a lot,” Carpenter said. “He didn’t need to do that, but I really appreciate it.”

It all worked out fine. While Boyd got his number back, Carpenter will wear No. 30, last worn by Harold Castro. That jersey has significance among Tigers outfielders: Magglio Ordonez wore it for his entire Tigers tenure.

Not a bad tradeoff for a former 19th-round Draft pick who was in the Tigers’ Minor League camp a year ago, fighting for his professional career while trying to make an offseason swing change work.

The contrast wasn’t lost as Carpenter walked in.

“Everything kind of hit me,” he said. “I was walking in a different entrance, walking into a different locker room. Miggy greeted me. It’s pretty surreal.”

After traveling to St. Louis last offseason to work with hitting instructor Richard Schenk, Carpenter asked Schenk to come to Arizona this offseason. They worked together for four days. Then Carpenter worked for a couple of weeks with new Tigers hitting coaches Michael Brdar and Keith Beauregard, who live in Arizona. The two sets of coaches communicated on how best to reach Carpenter and how to get the most out of a young hitter who improved from 15 homers and a .752 OPS at Double-A Erie in 2021 to 36 homers last year between Erie, Triple-A Toledo and Detroit last season.

Instead of fighting to stay in the system like last year, Carpenter is competing for a spot on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster in a cluttered outfield that includes three other left-handed hitters. Riley Greene and Austin Meadows are set. Carpenter and Akil Baddoo could be competing for one spot alongside right-handed hitter Matt Vierling, unless one of them ends up sharing time at designated hitter with Miguel Cabrera.

“We’ll center around his swing, his contact, his zone control,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Obviously he can bring a lot of power to our team. He demonstrated that throughout the Minor Leagues and the big leagues last year. We’ll pay attention to his defense; he’s gotta get on the field and play defense. We’ll use him in left field and right field and see if he’s one of the best guys.”

Carpenter believes he’s ready for it. But he also knows he has to show more consistency than last year, when many of his home runs came in bunches in the Minors and Majors alike.

“I just feel confident,” he said. “I kind of feel like I love the competition. Nothing has ever really been handed to me, so I love having to earn it. I think I should have to earn it.”

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