The Tigers had a quiet offseason in Scott Harris’ first winter as president of baseball operations. The new front office head seems content to take a season to evaluate the organization before reevaluating where to invest to return to playoff competitiveness in 2024 and beyond.
Throughout the lineup, the club has players trying to carve out long-term roles. MLBTR looked through various outfield possibilities a couple months ago. The infield might be a little more settled, with the likes of Spencer Torkelson, Jonathan Schoop and Javier Báez seemingly in position for regular playing time. There’s a fair bit of uncertainty about how manager A.J. Hinch will divide reps behind the dish, as Detroit allowed last year’s primary backstop Tucker Barnhart to depart in free agency after a down season.
Turning to the players who remain in Detroit:
Jake Rogers, 27, one minor league option remaining
Rogers’ defense has caught the attention of evaluators for years. Prospect writers credited the Tulane product as a plus or better defender, praising his athleticism, receiving, arm strength and acumen for handling a pitching staff. Those strong defensive reviews have been paired with longstanding questions about how much he’ll contribute at the plate. That has manifested at the MLB level, as the righty-swinging Rogers has only a .182/.264/.378 line with ten home runs but a massive 38% strikeout rate in 73 big league games.
Those were split between 2019-21, as Rogers lost all of last year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He’s healthy again now and has gotten into 11 Spring Training contests. He hasn’t yet topped more than 40 big league games in any season but his defensive reputation could earn him an extended look at some point.
Eric Haase, 30, zero options remaining
Haase was arguably Detroit’s best offensive player last year, at least on a rate basis. Among Tigers’ hitters with 200+ plate appearances, he was the only one who produced at an above-average level by measure of wRC+. Haase hit .254/.306/.443 through 351 trips to the dish. His strikeout and walk numbers weren’t great but he connected on 14 home runs. That came on the heels of a 22-homer showing over just 98 contests the prior year.
The former Cleveland draftee clearly brings above-average right-handed power upside. Even with fairly modest on-base numbers, he’s a strong offensive catcher. Haase has never really established himself on the other side of the ball though. Statcast has graded him as a well below-average pitch framer and placed him near the bottom of the league with regards to keeping balls in front of him. He’s shown solid arm strength but not particularly polished receiving.
Haase is athletic enough to take some time in left field. He’s logged 216 2/3 innings there over the past two seasons and could continue to factor into the outfield. He’s out of options and brings some much-needed power to the Detroit lineup, so he’ll be on the roster, though it doesn’t necessarily have to come at catcher given his defensive question marks.
Donny Sands, 26, two options remaining
Sands, a Yankee draftee, has been in the professional ranks for over seven years. An eighth-round pick out of high school in 2015, he’s very slowly climbed the minor league ladder. Sands didn’t advance past the low minors until 2021. A solid showing between the top two minor league levels that year caught the attention of the Phillies, who acquired him that offseason. The right-handed hitter spent almost all of last season with Philadelphia’s Triple-A affiliate, raking at a .308/.413/.428 clip with a massive 15.7% walk rate and solid 18.2% strikeout percentage over 242 plate appearances.
The Phils didn’t have an opportunity for Sands at the MLB level. J.T. Realmuto is entrenched as the starter, while Garrett Stubbs and Rafael Marchán make for quality depth options. Sands only appeared in three big league contests — his first MLB action — as a September call-up. This winter, the Phils packaged him with Nick Maton and Matt Vierling in the Gregory Soto deal.
Sands hasn’t gotten a look at big league pitching. He’s 26 and has never been a high-profile prospect. Still, there’s nothing left for him to prove against minor league arms. The Tigers can keep him in the minors through 2024 but they might be best served seeing what they have sooner than later. Detroit has a pair of interesting catching prospects — Dillon Dingler and Josh Crouch — who have reached Double-A and could play their way onto the MLB radar by ’24. It’d behoove them to know where Sands fits in that hierarchy before those younger players are in consideration for roster spots.
Andrew Knapp, 31, not on 40-man roster
Knapp signed a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite over the offseason. He’s a known quantity for Harris, who was part of the Giants’ front office when the switch-hitter played for San Francisco last season. Knapp, who had played solely for the Phillies before a nomadic 2022 campaign, was also kept off the field by Realmuto at Citizens Bank Park. He’s never really produced when given intermittent big league opportunities, hitting .209/.310/.313 over 325 games. He’s the most experienced catcher in camp but not presently on the 40-man roster.
Mario Feliciano/Michael Papierski
Feliciano and Papierski each logged brief MLB action in 2022. The former appeared in two games for the Brewers, while the latter got into 39 contests between the Giants and Reds. Detroit snagged both off waivers this offseason but didn’t keep either player on the roster. The Tigers non-tendered Papierski before re-signing him to a minor league deal; Feliciano was run through waivers within two weeks of being claimed. Neither hit especially well in Triple-A last year. They’ll be in the organization as upper level insurance but seem behind the group of Rogers, Haase, Sands and perhaps Knapp on the depth chart.