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2014 Spring Training Preview: Detroit Tigers

2014 Spring Training Preview: Detroit Tigers
By Adam Rickert on January 30, 2014

Biggest Offseason Additions

Ian Kinsler: Kinsler was acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Texas Rangers that kicked off a crazy MLB offseason. While he struggled the past two seasons in Texas, he is a perennial all-star with speed who can use his bat and his legs to improve Detroit's offense.

He can be expected to steal about 15-25 bases, something that the Tigers have not done at all in recent years.

Kinsler will likely be the new leadoff hitter for Detroit and will likely provide more consistent production than Austin Jackson did last year. This move also gives the Tigers more speed at the bottom of the lineup with Jackson likely moving down.

Joe Nathan: Another former Ranger, Nathan looks to be the right man to take over the closer role in Detroit: a role that has caused all sorts of problems in recent years.

The bullpen was a major concern heading into this offseason, and some horrifying memories from this past October (such as David Ortiz's game-tying grand slam) prompted the front office to go out and sign the best closer on the market in Nathan.

Nathan saved 43 games last year in Texas and posted a a 1.39 ERA.

Brad Ausmus: The only managerial experience Ausmus has ever had was as the manager for Team Israel at last year's World Baseball Classic. A lack of experience could be alarming, but Ausmus is set up for success in Motown.

He will likely manage a more National League style of game with an emphasis on base stealing, bunting and hit-and-runs rather than relying on the long ball.

This year's dramatic offseason re-structuring created a team tailored to Ausmus's style, as the Tigers will be much faster and better defensively in 2014 than they were in the past.

 

Biggest Offseason Losses

Joaquin Benoit: While he will be remembered for the changeup that David Ortiz smacked over the right field wall in Game Two of the 2013 American League Championship Series, Benoit was still a very effective closer last season for the Tigers.

While he had a disastrous postseason, keeping Benoit and his 2.01 ERA from 2013 could have been a wise choice for the Tigers in order to leave one of the bright spots of a weak bullpen intact for 2014. However, Detroit decided to go in a different direction and Benoit signed with the San Diego Padres.

Prince Fielder: Fielder was sent to Texas in exchange for Kinsler, much to the delight of many Tiger fans as his production last October did not come close to mirroring the production his salary suggested.

One of the major concerns about losing Fielder is that Miguel Cabrera won the American League MVP award both seasons in which Fielder hit behind him in the lineup. Will less protection behind the most explosive hitter in baseball hurt the Tigers?

Losing Fielder likely will not have much of a negative impact on Detroit. Victor Martinez is more than capable of hitting behind Cabrera and the Tigers can use much of the money from Fielder's salary on other important things. Also, the defense should drastically improve as Cabrera will move back to first base and rookie Nick Castellanos will take over at the hot corner.

Doug Fister: Fister was fourth on the depth chart of arguably the best rotation in baseball last season, but was surprisingly dealt to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and prospect Robbie Ray.

The deal still does not seem like a smart move for the Tigers as Lombardozzi is simply a utility player while Krol is an unproven relief pitcher, but time will tell if GM Dave Dombrowski made a mistake or an incredibly smart move.

The trade, however, will likely hurt the bullpen as well. Drew Smyly, one of the team's top relievers in 2013, will be moving to the rotation to fill Fister's void.

Omar Infante: Infante is one of the most underrated second basemen in the game and was a huge postseason performer for Detroit in 2013. He signed as a free agent with one of Detroit's American League Central Division rivals: the Kansas City Royals.

While Ian Kinsler will be a suitable replacement, the Tigers will still miss Infante's clutch bat; especially when they are playing against him.

Jhonny Peralta: Despite serving a 50-game suspension for taking performance-enhancing drugs, Peralta had a dynamite year for the Tigers in 2013. He hit .303, slugged eleven home runs and drove in 55 runs in his 107 games.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about Peralta's season was how no rust showed when he returned from his suspension and lit it up for the Tigers in the playoffs. He hit .417 in the American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics, including a key three-run homer to keep the Tigers alive in a critical Game Four.

The Tigers chose to go with the speedy defensive-minded Jose Iglesias at shortstop this season, letting Peralta leave for the St. Louis Cardinals. While Peralta's bat could have been used at the third base position, it was wise for Detroit not to give him the $15 million he will be making in St. Louis this season.

Jim Leyland: The man that turned the Tigers into a contender in 2006 announced his retirement at the conclusion of the 2013 season after eight mostly-successful seasons with the team (other than a dreadful 2008). Fans grimaced at some of his decisions, most notably his over-coaching while selecting relief pitchers and consistently starting "AAAA" players like Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn, but he will be missed in the Motor City after four ALCS appearances and two World Series appearances in eight years.

 

Name to Watch in Spring Training: Nick Castellanos

Castellanos has been dubbed the top prospect in the Tigers organization since the team drafted him in 2010, and he will finally see time as an everyday starter in 2014.

He was being groomed as a left fielder once the Tigers had to move Miguel Cabrera to third base due to the Fielder signing in 2012, but the Fielder trade will allow Cabrera to move back to first and therefore allow Castellanos to play his natural position of third base moving forward.

He batted .278 in eighteen playoff appearances for the Tigers near the end of the 2013 season, but will be expected to maintain decent numbers throughout the entire season as the team's starting third baseman.

Will he be able to live up to his potential? Time will tell.

 

Biggest Spring Training Battle: Rajai Davis and Andy Dirks

Most people expected the Tigers to bring in a proven veteran like Carlos Beltran or Shin-Soo Choo to play left field, but they instead went out and inked the lightning-fast Rajai Davis.

While Davis cannot do much with the bat, he brings some much-needed speed to a team that ranked deal last in stolen bases last season. In fact, he stole twenty more bases than the Tigers did as an entire team last year.

Dirks was the team's primary left fielder last season, but he struggled after setting up high expectations in an impressive but injury-shortened 2012 season. In 2012, he hit .322 with eight home runs and 35 RBI in only 88 games, but he only hit .256 with nine home runs and 37 RBI in 131 games in 2013. Those numbers need to return to 2012 levels if he wants to solidify a spot as the team's starting left fielder.

Since Davis has all sorts of trouble hitting against right-handed pitching and Dirks is not so spectacular against lefties, expect manager Brad Ausmus to platoon the two unless one breaks out and plays significantly better than the other.

 

What Went Right in 2013

For the first time in their 113-year history, the Tigers made it to the American League Championship Series for the third consecutive year. Unfortunately, they still were not able to capture the elusive World Series title.

One of the best stories for Detroit in 2013 was the emergence of Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, which solidified an already impressive rotation. Scherzer's dominance made up for ace Justin Verlander's struggles, which subsided in September as Verlander regained his form and became lights-out once again during the pennant race and the postseason.

Miguel Cabrera also won his second consecutive American League MVP award despite battling injury issues for the majority of the second half of the season. After offseason surgery, the most feared hitter in the game will be ready to go in 2014.

 

Biggest Areas of Improvement in 2014

As mentioned before, the Tigers have addressed the speed issue by adding Rajai Davis an Ian Kinsler. They also need to improve the bullpen dramatically if they want to win a World Series. Adding Joe Nathan as a closer and getting Bruce Rondon healthy again is a good start, but is Joba Chamberlain really the answer?

 

Overall Spring Training Preview

Close-but-no-cigar has been the story of the past three baseball seasons in the Motor City. The Tigers will look a little bit different this season than before, but still remain one of the top contenders for the World Series headed into spring training.

Detroit still boasts a tremendous pitching rotation and a good offensive core, but it will be noticeably thinner offensively around its core without hitters like Fielder, Infante and Peralta. Ausmus's style coupled with the way the team was re-structured over the offseason leads us to believe that the team will win games by creating runs in the clutch instead of smashing home runs.

The Tigers will be a much faster and more defensively sound team in 2014, which may be for the better even if the offense is not as explosive as before.

Detroit will be the favorite to win the American League Central and possibly even the American League heading into the 2014 season, but there will be all sorts of competition looking to end their season before October.

Adam Rickert

Adam Rickert

Favorite Quote:
"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take" - Wayne Gretzky
Favorite Athlete:
Nicklas Lidstrom (all time), Shane Doan (current)
Favorite Movie:
Field of Dreams
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