Tigers see hope for ’23 in rebounds from key pieces

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers entered 2021 with low expectations, made lower after a miserable first month, then played better the rest of the way for a 77-win season. That raised expectations for ’22, then everything went wrong and they lost 96 games.

This year’s Tigers should be able to find a middle ground. While president of baseball operations Scott Harris correctly cautions that there are no quick fixes coming in his first full season in Detroit, there are reasons to believe these Tigers should be better than last year as they begin a more deliberate path to contention.

No, the Tigers didn’t make noise on the free-agent market. They didn’t even sign a free-agent position player to a Major League contract, instead swinging a couple of trades and some non-guaranteed deals while throwing the bulk of their free-agent budget into starting pitching. Instead, they’re giving some of their young hitters a chance to show what they can do, a strategy that also gives Harris an opportunity to evaluate what his organization has internally and where he’ll need to add in upcoming offseasons.

To that end, the Tigers bulked up their coaching staff with the idea of finding teachers who can make their promising players better. Improvement might be incremental, but it should take place.

What needs to go right?
A lot more than last year. A healthy pitching staff would do wonders, but that’s no certainty for a rotation that doesn’t include a starter who pitched a full season last year. On the other side, Javier Báez and Jonathan Schoop need bounceback years at the plate to lead an offensive revival. Then there’s the bullpen, where Alex Lange and others need to step up and stabilize a group that has lost Gregory Soto, Joe Jimenez, Andrew Chafin and Michael Fulmer since last summer.

Great unknown
Spencer Torkelson debuted last season to lofty expectations, but he never settled in as a Major League hitter, leading some evaluators to question whether he was called up too soon in the wake of Riley Greene’s injury. He looked much more comfortable and confident at the plate this spring, but will that carry over to the regular season? And if it does, is Torkelson still capable of becoming a formidable power hitter and run producer around whom Detroit can build a lineup?

Team MVP will be …
Greene won Tiger of the Year honors as the team’s best player last year despite playing just over half a season, becoming an offensive catalyst in a hurry after his debut. After working this offseason on hitting more line drives and fewer ground balls, he showed signs this spring of building on last year and becoming a potential middle-of-the-order hitter. If so, Greene could be poised for the best all-around season by a Detroit center fielder since Austin Jackson’s rookie campaign in 2010, if not Curtis Granderson’s All-Star year before that.

Team Cy Young will be …
Eduardo Rodriguez was an example of Murphy’s Law for the Tigers last year, stepping away from the team for nearly three months to attend to personal matters. This should be the year he settles in and becomes the reliable starter Detroit thought it was getting from his years with the Red Sox. A chance to cash in on the free-agent market next offseason via an opt-out clause in his contract could well provide some extra motivation.

Bold prediction
Parker Meadows will join his brother Austin in Detroit’s outfield by the end of the season. It could be a tough fit in an outfield that already boasts plenty of left-handed hitters, including Austin. But Parker’s combination of power, speed, athleticism and hitting acumen is too enticing to hold down for a team that’s looking for young offensive talent.

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