Saturday, February 18, 2006

Tigers Spring Training Preview - The Bullpen

Last year, the Tigers went into spring training with an intriguing new bullpen as Troy Percival and Kyle Farnsworth were acquired in the off-season to join Ugueth Urbina. A year later, Urbina is in a Venezuelan prison, Farnsworth is a Yankee and Percival spends a lot of time in the doctor’s office. Now, the new man is Todd Jones acquired after Fernando Rodney was unable to secure the closer role at the end of 2005.

Jim Leyland has said that he will bring 7 relief pitchers up north. Jones and Jamie Walker are locks and ,although Leyland wouldn’t say it, Rodney and Chris Spurling are very close to being locks. That leaves three positions open for about a dozen candidates, some with better odds than others. I’ll start with the pitchers which seem to have the best chances and work my way down the list.

When I first drafted this post on paper last night, I had Craig Dingman as a leading candidate to win one of the remaining jobs. That was before I read an article by Crystal Evola of the Oakland Press this morning about an unfortunate health problem which could potentially threaten more than his baseball career. He has a torn artery in his right shoulder, a rare condition which has doctors scrambling to find out what is causing it and how serious it is. I wish him the best of luck.

A healthy Matt Mantei would probably take one of the open spots. The problem is he hasn’t been healthy much lately pitching just 36 innings over the last two years. The former Diamondback and Marlin closer can be dominating when healthy as evidenced by his lifetime K/IP ratio of 396/322. He’s somebody to watch closely this March.

Franklyn German lowered his ERA to 3.66 last year but still struggled with control walking 34 in 59 innings. Another bout of wildness this spring could lead to a trade before the season starts.

Another hard throwing but lower profile right-hander, Mark Woodyard, is a sleeper and has a chance to pitch some important innings for the Tigers this year and in the future. Woodyard is unheralded but the Tigers have always liked him and have sent him to the prestigious Arizona Fall League a couple of times.

Leyland has said that he will take the 12 best pitchers to Detroit even if it means not having a second left-hander to go with Walker. Still, I think Leyland will be looking closely at Bobby Seay, Hector Mercado and Wil Ledezma (discussed in the starting pitcher preview). Seay and Mercado have both pitched well in the minors as relievers the last couple of years and may be ready to succeed in the majors as lefty specialists. Mercado has shown some pretty good stuff in the majors striking out 127 in 125 innings but has also struggled a lot with his control.

Three other pitchers (Roman Colon, Joel Zumaya and Jason Grilli) discussed in the starting pitcher preview might end up in the bullpen as well. I’d be surprised to see Zumaya in the bullpen for the Tigers because I think he’d be better off working as a starter in Toledo but Leyland has mentioned it as a possibility.

Percival is in camp trying to recover from a severe right forearm injury. Surprisingly, he says he has a chance to be ready to pitch by opening day but I have a feeling that’s just his competitive nature. I will be surprised if he pitches this year at all.

One of the most exciting relief arms in Lakeland is 22 year old Eulogio DeLaCruz. The hard throwing right-handed pitcher had 97 strikeouts in 96 innings last year for Lakeland and may have a bright future but he is most likely headed to Erie this year.

The Tigers also have the usual list of journeymen pitchers trying rescue their careers. Chad Durbin, Lee Gardner, Kevin Hodges and Tim Crabtree are all long shots and will probably either get released or be used to fill out the Toledo staff. Crabtree has gotten the most publicity among that group because he is from Jackson Michigan and because he was once a successful reliever for the Blue Jays and Rangers. However, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2001 and don’t think he has any more chance than the others.

My pick for opening day bullpen: Jones, Walker, Rodney, Spurling, Mantei, Colon, German (with Woodyard the next one in if there is a trade or injury).


  1. I think the real question we all have is-- Crystal Evolva? That's a real name??

  2. With a name like Crystal Evola, you've got to be good.

  3. I like Tim Crabtree, because I seem to recall something about bad blood between him and Juan Gonzales. I think maybe Crabtree buzzed him in their first meeting after the trade - something like that. Anyway, if Gonzales doesn't like you you're probably a pretty good guy to have on the team.

  4. ``He's Detroit's problem. He's not ours anymore. He's a great player but I really think he leaves a lot on the table.''

    -- Tim Crabtree, Rangers pitcher, on the Gonzalez trade

    Yes Charles, you've got to pull for a guy like that to make the team.

  5. Losing Dingman means a much increased likelihood of Zumaya making the pen, IMO. And that's a very bad thing (also IMO).

  6. Oh, and I now like Crabtree as well.

    He's a hellified long shot though. Hasn't pitched since 2001? And he wasn't effective for a while before that. And he's now 35. I'll be amazed if he makes it.



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