Detroit Tigers’ 2023 Opening Day roster prediction 3.0: Three spots for four players?

Detroit Free Press

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Detroit Tigers begin the regular season in five days.

There are six position players in the mix for three spots on the 26-man roster: outfielders Akil Baddoo, Kerry Carpenter and Jonathan Davis, and infielders César Hernández, Ryan Kreidler and Zack Short. The finalists appear to be Baddoo, Carpenter, Hernandez and Kreidler.

Here’s a look at our third and final version of how the Tigers should fill their Opening Day roster with just two games left in spring training:

Eric Haase, who also plays left field, is practically guaranteed to start behind the plate on Opening Day against Tampa Bay Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan, but even though the 30-year-old appears lined up for the first game, Jake Rogers could catch more games throughout the season.

Rogers, 27, is a better defensive catcher. But he can’t hit like Haase.

Rogers, now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery, has been lauded for his game calling, athleticism fielding bunts, pitch framing to steal strikes and arm strength throwing to the bases. His strong relationships with pitchers, both starters and relievers, are a product of his off-the-field banter and deep understanding of scouting reports.

MORE ON HAASE: How Eric Haase can develop into Tigers’ starting catcher of the future

MORE ON ROGERS: Why Tigers’ Jake Rogers, returning from injury, ‘needs to be in the locker room’

Once upon a time, Spencer Torkelson seemed in jeopardy of becoming the latest No. 1 overall pick to flame out. The 23-year-old, who made several changes behind the scenes, rewrote the narrative in spring training by boosting his contact rate on fastballs and hitting the ball hard.

Torkelson looks more athletic in the batter’s box with polished and confident swing mechanics.

He has a .278 batting average with one home run, two walks and 15 strikeouts across 58 plate appearances in 19 games. If he sticks to his process, he should experience a breakthrough sophomore season in the big leagues.

MORE ON TORK: How Tigers’ Spencer Torkelson adjusted his mindset to find his confidence

The Tigers have two veteran second basemen in camp: 31-year-old Jonathan Schoop and 32-year-old César Hernández. If Schoop’s offense doesn’t improve, the Tigers can easily turn to Hernández and shift Schoop to a utility player at second base, third base and first base.

Hernández, who won a Gold Glove for his defense, looks like the better player because of his ability to control the strike zone, but Schoop offers upside and has the potential for a higher trade value.

Schoop has posted at least a 100 OPS+ in six of 10 MLB seasons, while Hernández has posted at least a 100 OPS+ in three of 10 MLB seasons. But Schoop needs to start hitting to stay in the lineup and keep his playing time.

MORE ON SCHOOP: Tigers’ Jonathan Schoop needs to start hitting (and drawing walks) to keep playing

Let’s get this straight: Javier Báez is frustrating when he chases down-and-away sliders, but he isn’t a bad player. He underperformed last season in his first year with the Tigers, hitting .238 with 17 home runs in 144 games.

In his first 50 games, he hit .189 with three homers and a .520 OPS. In his final 94 games, he hit .264 with 14 homers and a .750 OPS. This spring, Báez played for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.

The 30-year-old was selected to the All-WBC Team for hitting .368 with three doubles, one homer and six RBIs in five games. Hopefully, those results can translate to a bounce-back performance with the Tigers in 2023. He can opt-out of his contract after the season.

MORE ON JAVY: Getting to know Javier Báez, from his Lamborghini to his incredible farm in Puerto Rico

Nick Maton hits fastballs, but what about breaking and offspeed pitches? There are holes in his swing and approach to monitor as he attempts to develop into an established player.

In 2022, the 26-year-old hit .406 against fastballs, .130 against breaking balls and .125 against offspeed pitches with the Philadelphia Phillies. The scouting report reveals his weaknesses, so pitchers probably won’t throw first-pitch fastballs when he steps to the plate.

Against fastballs, Maton generated less contact at the bottom of the strike zone in the majors and minors last season. He registered an 87.6% contact rate against fastballs in the upper-third, a 91% contact rate in the middle-third and a 75.6% contact rate in the bottom-third.

MORE ON MATON: Why Nick Maton — who crushes righties and ‘can hit any fastball’ — fits with Tigers

Riley Greene is locked in as an everyday player for the Tigers, likely in center field. Matt Vierling will play against left-handed pitchers while trying to develop into an everyday player with opportunities against right-handed pitchers.

The biggest question is Austin Meadows. He can help anchor the offense if he returns to his old form. In 2019, he hit .291 with 33 home runs in 138 games for the Tampa Bay Rays. In 2021, he hit .234 with 27 homers in 142 games for the Rays.

Last season, Meadows played just 36 games — without a home run — in his first season with the Tigers because of mental and physical ailments. In spring training, the 27-year-old is hitting .255 with five walks and eight strikeouts across 53 plate appearances in 18 games.

He has been making smart swing decisions, but with a 47.5% ground-ball rate (entering Friday) and zero homers, he isn’t elevating the ball. As a left-handed hitter, it will be interesting to see how often he plays against left-handed pitchers.

MORE ON MEADOWS: Tigers’ Austin Meadows describes ‘anxiety monster’ last year, his ‘huge step forward’

Miguel Cabrera, a two-time American League MVP, hit .254 with five home runs, 28 walks and 101 strikeouts in 112 games last season. He performs better against left-handed pitchers and should start a majority of games when the Tigers face lefties in his final season.

In 2022, the 39-year-old hit .308 with a .718 OPS in his first 70 games and .160 with a .455 OPS in his final 42 games. After a solid start, he struggled because of chronic pain in his right knee and a left biceps strain that landed him on the injured list. When healthy, he can still hit for average.

MORE ON MIGGY: Venezuelans grew up watching Miguel Cabrera. They want to say thanks to country’s GOAT

Four players for three spots: Baddoo, Carpenter, Hernández and Kreidler. (Short and Davis are technically still in the mix, too.) The Tigers eliminated Andy Ibañez from the group Friday when they reassigned him to minor-league camp.

Hernández should be a lock because he has a track record in the big leagues and is the only switch-hitter in camp. If that’s the case, three players are competing for two spots: Baddoo, Carpenter and Kreidler.

Carpenter and Baddoo are left-handed hitting outfielders with different player profiles. It’s a battle of power and speed. Rostering five true outfielders (and four left-handed hitting true outfielders) doesn’t make sense from a flexibility standpoint, especially with Cabrera serving as a part-time designated hitter.

MORE ON THAT BATTLE: Roster decision looms for Tigers: Kerry Carpenter’s power or Akil Baddoo’s speed?

Carrying five outfielders also doesn’t make sense when considering Kreidler, a right-handed hitter, has played the outfield in spring training. The 25-year-old has received 56 innings at shortstop, 28 innings at second base, 14 innings in center field, 10 innings at third base and one inning in left field.

Last season, Kreidler hit .178 in 26 games for the Tigers and struggled against breaking balls from right-handed pitchers. This spring, he is hitting .271 with one home run, four walks and nine strikeouts across 52 plate appearances in 19 games. Keep in mind Kreidler’s close relationship with Torkelson and Greene.

MORE ON KREIDLER: Tigers’ Ryan Kreidler energized by ‘fresh start’ with roster spot up for grabs

The Tigers ran into their first significant injury March 19 when right-hander Michael Lorenzen reported groin tightness before his next-to-last start in spring training. The 31-year-old, diagnosed with a mild left groin strain, won’t be healthy enough to break camp with the big-league club.

In Lorenzen’s absence, left-hander Joey Wentz enters the starting rotation and looks to build on an impressive finish to the 2022 season. He logged a 1.73 ERA with 11 walks and 22 strikeouts across 26 innings in five starts in September after returning from a shoulder injury.

The 25-year-old is known for his cutter. The pitch sits around 85-87 mph, up from an 83.4 mph average last season. Depending on the location, the cutter can produce whiffs outside of the strike zone and weak contact inside the zone. His fastball averages 94 mph, and the consistency of his curveball has improved.

In spring training, Wentz recorded a 7.98 ERA with six walks and 19 strikeouts across 14⅔ innings in five games. The effectiveness of his pitches was better than his overall results.

MORE ON E-ROD: Tigers’ Eduardo Rodriguez to start 2023 Opening Day against Tampa Bay Rays

The bullpen is easier to figure out.

The Tigers signed Chasen Shreve and Trey Wingenter to minor-league contracts in the offseason. Both relievers have dominated in spring training and should earn spots on the Opening Day roster.

Shreve, 32, features a nasty splitter and average command of his 91 mph fastball. He posted a 2.25 ERA with three walks and 10 strikeouts over eight innings in eight appearances. Wingenter, 28, features a 96 mph fastball with an elite swing-and-miss slider, but his command can be inconsistent. He fired seven scoreless innings with one walk and 11 strikeouts in seven appearances.

Mason Englert, a 23-year-old Rule 5 draft pick, has been the most impressive reliever in spring training: 2.25 ERA with two walks and 14 strikeouts in 12 innings. The Tigers asked him to throw strikes at the beginning of camp, and he answered the call with an unbelievable 71.3% strike rate in six outings.

MORE ON ENGLERT: How Tigers’ Mason Englert climbed out of depression from deaths, panic attacks

Alex Lange, by the way, has a miserable 49.1% strike rate. That’s not good enough if he wants to be the closer. In the meantime, Wingenter looks like a solid candidate to pitch in the ninth inning.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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