Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Tiger Spring Training Preview - The Outfielders

All winter long, Tiger fans have been debating about a supposed battle for center field between Curtis Granderson and Nook Logan. At the end of last season, it seemed that Granderson had won the regular job after a good stretch drive (.272/.314/.494 in 47 games). Meanwhile, Logan (.258/.305/.335) appeared lost at the plate most of the season after a strong April. All was quiet until Leyland stated that he was intrigued by Logan’s potential and refused to concede that Granderson had the job or even the inside track to the job.

Logan’s supporters rave about his great speed and ability to cover ground in Comerica Park and the statistics back it up. He was first in baseball in Average Range Rank among qualifying center fielders. He displayed his base running skill by finishing second in baseball at taking the extra base on hits. However, Granderson also has above average speed and range. In fact, his range statistics (in limited innings) were actually better than Logan’s statistics. I think that’s probably a fluke based on a small sample size but I don’t believe he’s as far behind Logan defensively as some fans say.

Offensively, Granderson is miles ahead of Logan. In 1,595 minor league at bats, Curtis has batted .300/.383/.495 while Nook has hit .261/.319/.338 in 1,969 at bats. This is a huge difference, much more than enough to make up for any fielding deficit. I believe that Leyland already plans to start Granderson in center field on a regular basis and is just not conceding a job to a virtual rookie. This became more evidently recently when Leyland stated that he wanted a full time regular rather than have two players share the center field position. Prior to that, there was a lot of talk of a possible platoon.

The other starters will be Craig Monroe in left field and Magglio Ordonez in right field. We should, however, keep an eye on Ordonez to see if he is healthier and more mobile than he was last year. Hopefully, his knee and hernia problems are behind him but Leyland has already indicated that he will DH some. The backup outfielders will probably be Logan and Dmitri Young (discussed in the first base preview).

There are four more outfielders in camp who might see Detroit at some time this season. Marcus Thames is coming off two outstanding minor league seasons (1100+ OPS both years!) and also showed good power for the Tigers in 2004 (slugged .509 in 165 at bats) but it’s going to be hard for him to get regular at bats for this team. He has an outside shot at coming north with the team if there is an injury or they decide to send Logan to Toledo to work on his offensive game. The 29 year old Thames is out of options though and might be better off moving to a different organization.

Alexis Gomez is a 26 year old outfielder who was a top prospect for the Royals before his star faded for a couple of years. He rebounded somewhat last year at Toledo (.307/.348/.450) and may give Logan a run for the backup job at some point. He can play all three outfield positions.

The other two outfielders are Ryan Ludwick and Reggie Taylor. Ludwick was once a top power hitting prospect for the Rangers and Indians but his career has been derailed by injuries. He will try to revive his career at Toledo at the age of 27. Taylor is a 29 year old journeyman who has appeared in 260 games with the Phillies, Reds and Devil Rays without much success. He was a great tools prospect with a good power/speed combination at one point but never developed as expected. Ludwick and Taylor will likely join Gomez in the Toledo outfield this season.

As for the Tigers, I could be wrong but I think the biggest question may already have been answered. I think Leyland is just not ready to tell us that Granderson is the starting center fielder.

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