2014 MLB PREVIEW: DETROIT TIGERS
February 13, 2014INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
The Tigers won 93 games in 2013 and have very little to show for it. Jim Leland has retired and the front office made some huge changes in the off-season. The fact is, the 2013 Tigers made a lot of mistakes and became a very one-dimensional team. In 2014, Detroit will be much more athletic and more fun to watch.
The transformation began last season when SS Jose Iglesias replaced Jhonny Peralta and then continued this winter when 1B Prince Fielder was sent packing to Texas for 2B Ian Kinsler. Free agent Rajai Davis was signed to added speed and 3B Nick Castellanos will get his chance to play every day.
Brad Ausmus is the new manager and most in MLB consider him to be a very smart man. The former catcher will have some holes to fill but Tigers fans should enjoy watching this new version of baseball in Detroit.
The pitching will be strong as long as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer stay healthy. Scherzer won 21 games in 2013 and is moving into his prime. He is a power pitcher who has gained control of his change-up. As for Verlander, he appeared to be uncomfortable much of the time last season. He had his worst regular season since 2008 (13-12 3.46 ERA). One reason the Tigers played well down the stretch was that Verlander pitched well and had a good post-season. Verlander and Scherzer will be joined by Anibal Sanchez, a hard throwing strikeout out pitcher (10 k’s per game). Sanchez has four pitches that seemed to get better and better as the season went along. Doug Fister was traded to Washington so the Tigers must find a way to replace 14 wins and 200 innings. The nominees are Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly
The bullpen was shaky at times in 2013 so the Tigers went out and got closer Joe Nathan. Nathan is 39 but he has two excellent breaking pitches and has exceptional control. With Nathan as the closer, Detroit will count on Bruce Rondon to be the set-up man. If Rondon can find better control with his four- seam fastball, he could be a dominating force out of the bullpen. Former Yankee Joba Chamberlian will look to revive his career only if he can find some extra velocity on his fastball. Al Alburquerque will be valuable if he can gain more control. Two left-handers who will get a chance to show their value will be Phil Coke and Ian Krol.
The catching duties will belong to Alex Avila, who many consider one of the toughest catchers in baseball. The one thing the Tigers are concerned about it the beating he takes behind the plate. If he stays healthy, Avila’s bat is very valuable (19 HR 87 RBI .895 OPS) and his defense is above average. If Detroit wants Avila long-term, they need to give him time away from catching more often. Back-up Bryan Holaday is more than capable.
The Tigers infield will look much different than what it did in 2013. AL MVP Miguel Cabrera will move to first base permanently now that Fielder is gone. The Tigers aren’t concerned about Cabrera defensively because he is perhaps the best hitter in all of baseball (44 HR 137 RBI .348 BA 1.078 OPS) and that’s what they pay him for. Cabrera will be joined in the Tigers line-up by DH Victor Martinez (.301 14 HR 83 RBI), 2B Ian Kinsler (13 HR 72 RBI with Texas), SS Jose Iglesias (.303 3 HR 29 RBI) and 3B Nick Castellanos. Castellenos will get every chance this spring to win the job at third. Castellenos has a very natural inside-out swing and does a nice job waiting on pitches he can drive.
CF Austin Jackson will no longer hit in the lead-off spot now that Kinsler has joined the Tigers. Jackson struggled against pitchers with good sliders and couldn’t put the ball in play consistently. Jackson also struck out too much for a lead-off hitter. One benefit for Jackson is he is an excellent outfielder. Torii Hunter will return in right field. The older Hunter gets the better he gets. Hunter adjusted his swing and is now a consistent .300 hitter. Speedster Rajai Davis will take over in left field. Davis will be counted on to steal bases (216 SB’s in last five seasons). Andy Dirks is a Gold Glove finalist who may also get time in left field. Both Davis and Dirks struggle in the hitting department.
After last season, the Tigers knew they needed to make a change. It was perhaps time for Jim Leland to retire and get some new blood running the operation. GM Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Illitch aren’t afraid to spend money or make deals if it will make the Tigers a World Series contender. If Detroit starts to fade in 2014, watch Dombrowski pull the trigger on another deal.