Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tigers Spring Training Preview - The Infielders

There are no positional battles in the Tiger infield from second to third this spring (I’ll look at the first basemen in another post). It will be Placido Polanco at second, Carlos Guillen at shortstop and Brandon Inge at third with Omar Infante backing up all three positions. The biggest question in the infield (and perhaps the most important for the team this spring) concerns the health of Guillen.

Guillen injured his right knee late in 2004, underwent off-season surgery and was never totally healthy in 2005. After a near MVP caliber year in 2004, Guillen was in and out of the line-up all year long and wound up playing only 87 games. This, I think, was one of the biggest factors in a somewhat disappointing season for the Tigers last year. I believe a comeback by Guillen (even if he doesn’t hit for quite as much power as he did in 2004) might be the single biggest ingredient if the Tigers are to make substantial improvement this year.

The early news on Guillen is very positive. In Tom Gage’s article in the Detroit News this morning, Guillen claims to be 100%. One could chalk that up to spring training optimism but at no point last year did Guillen ever claim to be 100%. He admitted his knee was a problem all year long and his sporadic play showed it. Hopefully, the news will remain good when he starts playing regularly including games for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic.

Beyond Polanco, Guillen, Inge and Infante, there are a few other players in camp who may be seen in Detroit later in the season if injuries strike. Donald Kelly (.340/.402/.508 for Erie last year before struggling in his first attempt against AAA pitching) has a decent left-handed bat and can play all over the place. Third base is considered his most appropriate position but he has played all four infield positions at various times. We could very well see him as utility man in the not so distant future but he’ll need to cut down on his errors (32 last year).

Shortstop Tony Giarratano may be ready defensively but a brief stint with the Tigers last summer showed that his bat has a ways to go. He’ll likely go back to Erie this year to work on his offensive game. How well he hits will determine whether he is the starting shortstop of the future or a utility infielder.

Other infielders in camp are Ramon Santiago (back from Seattle), Kody Kirkland and Kevin Hooper. Of those three, Kirkland is the most interesting. The scouting reports on Kirkland are all over the place as his performance has not matched his supposed potential but he’s still just 22 and the Tigers are still high on him. He’ll play third base for Erie this year.

But the big story here is Guillen. The health of Guillen’s knee will go a long way in determining how much the team will improve this year. So far, the news is good.


  1. First time I've been to tyour blog, Lee. Looks great! You're doing a good job!

    No mention of Jack Hannahan in your article. Do you think Kirkland is farther along developmentaly than Hannahan?


  2. Thanks Rhino.

    During the winter, I actually thought Hannahan might have an outside shot at making the 25 man roster this year. However, he's not on their 40 man roster and they didn't invite him to spring training so I assume they don't think much of him. In my previews, I'm trying to mention everybody who is either on the the 40 man roster or was invited to spring training.

  3. Hannahan didn't get a spring invite?! Whoa. I wasn't aware of that.

    With the WBC, a host of players will get a chance to make good impressions on the staff, particularly the middle infielders (Polanco, Giarratano, Guillen all gone). I'm not sure who's in the major league camp, but they might wind up having to call guys up from the minor leagues. Don Kelly and Juan Francia seem the most likely to make impressions, as they're versatile utility candidates who could be ready soon.

    Did Raburn get an invite? I sure hope so.

  4. Raburn was also not invited. I think you are right though that the WBC will force them to bring players over from the minor league fields for major league games.

  5. Some time ago, you posted PECOTA's expectations for Dmitri. I think they were conservative. Dmitri's still chunky, but he's not the blobzilla he was last season, and that's the sort of thing that PECOTA doesn't take into account. I think it's reasonable to expect at least a little more out of Dmitri because of that. His stats last year were likely deflated by both extreme fatness and injury due to extreme fatness.

    Of course, this assumes that he doesn't start hitting the Pizza Hut buffet as soon as the season starts. But he's in a contract year and I'd expect he'll keep it under control if he's at all capable.



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