Way back during the Winter Meetings, just a couple months into his tenure as Tigers president of baseball operations, Scott Harris laid out his vision for Detroit’s roster.
“One thing we won’t waver on is we’re going to invest in our young players,” Harris said in December. “We are going to earmark at-bats and innings for our young players. One of our most valuable resources in this organization is opportunity at the Major League level.”
Three months later, that philosophy helped shape Detroit’s Opening Day roster. The Tigers stuck with Spencer Torkelson after a difficult rookie season. They opted for Ryan Kreidler over César Hernández as an extra infielder, taking on the challenge of finding at-bats for Kreidler to develop as a hitter. They kept Kerry Carpenter over Akil Baddoo, giving Carpenter an opportunity to follow up on the 36 homers he hit between the Minor Leagues and Detroit last year.
Just five of the Tigers’ 13 position players have spent a full season on a Major League roster: Miguel Cabrera, Javier Báez, Jonathan Schoop, Austin Meadows and Eric Haase. The percentage rises with the pitching staff, but Matt Manning made almost as many starts on Minor League rehab assignments (seven) as he did for Detroit (12) last year.
Seven players will spend Opening Day in the Majors for the first time, something manager A.J. Hinch noted in a team meeting.
“It’s a cool experience, and it needs to be celebrated,” Hinch said on Wednesday. “Then I reminded them that they are 19 years behind Miguel [Cabrera].”
Here’s a position-by-position look at the Tigers’ Opening Day roster:
Catcher (2): Eric Haase, Jake Rogers
This duo was set last weekend. The only question now is how much playing time each player gets. Rogers’ strong Spring Training in his first game action since the summer of 2021 suggests he could take on a larger role than expected, but the Tigers love Haase’s bat and game calling. Haase had some defensive hiccups this spring but has worked hard to improve.
First base (1): Spencer Torkelson
Torkelson averaged 95.2 mph in exit velocity this spring — the highest of any Tigers hitter with at least 30 plate appearances. He hit .268 with three doubles, one homer, six RBIs and 15 strikeouts, but he had six balls hit at 105 mph or harder that went for outs — including his three hardest-hit balls. Spring Training performance doesn’t equate to regular-season results, but his combination of hard contact with good swings off fastballs hint at improvement.
Second base (1): Jonathan Schoop
With Hernández released, Schoop appears set to open at second base. He could still see time at third and first if the Tigers want to play others up the middle. Offensively, his 3-for-3 performance with a home run in the Grapefruit League finale tempered an otherwise difficult spring.
Shortstop (1): Javier Báez
Báez had a better World Baseball Classic (7-for-19, three doubles, one home run, six RBIs) than his Spring Training (6-for-36, two doubles, five RBIs). Various projection models suggest he should be a 3.0 WAR player this season, batting around .250 with 20 or so home runs and 70-75 RBIs.
Third base (2): Nick Maton, Ryan Kreidler
You want at-bats for younger players? You’ve got them here. We’ll see if it’s a strict lefty-righty platoon or a mix based on opposing starter types — perhaps you’ve heard that Maton crushes fastballs — but the 26-year-old Maton and the 25-year-old Kreidler are in line for extensive playing time.
Outfield (4): Kerry Carpenter, Riley Greene, Austin Meadows, Matt Vierling
Carpenter beating out Baddoo for the final outfield spot suggests his role will be more of a platoon partner with Vierling than a bench outfielder. While Baddoo’s speed and baserunning aggressiveness are useful for late-game scenarios, Carpenter’s power and stretch run this spring demanded an opportunity.
Designated hitter (1): Miguel Cabrera
Cabrera will serve as the regular DH as he begins his final season. Hinch put him on a regular schedule of days off down the stretch last year to temper the impact on Cabrera’s knees, but he hasn’t said anything to that effect so far.
Bench (1): Zach McKinstry
The Tigers wanted another left-handed bat with positional versatility on their roster, and they found it when McKinstry — who’s out of Minor League options — didn’t make the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. He can play second, third, short and corner outfield, and he went 7-for-7 in stolen base attempts last year.
Relievers (8): Tyler Alexander, José Cisnero, Mason Englert, Jason Foley, Garrett Hill, Alex Lange, Chasen Shreve, Trey Wingenter
The Tigers wanted multi-inning relievers to allow some caution with the starters. Alexander, Englert and Hill should fill those roles. The back end of the bullpen isn’t as defined. Hinch has no plans to identify a set closer, and while Lange and Cisnero are logical fits, both had issues this spring. Wingenter will pitch in the Majors for the first time since 2019, coming back from Tommy John and back surgeries with a dominant Spring Training.