While the Tigers pitching staff is still very much up in the air, the rest of the team is pretty much set. Barring injuries, the opening day line-up is all but engraved in stone. Jim Leyland confirmed last week that it will likely go like this:
Three bench spots are also sewn up:
That leaves just one spot up for grabs:
They need a back-up center fielder as well as a left-handed bat. Clete Thomas would be the ideal candidate but he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will not be ready for the beginning of the season. So, they'll probably have to settle for center field or left-handed but not both.
The most likely center field backups are Brent Clevlen and Ryan Raburn. Clevlen has no more options remaining so they risk losing him if he doesn't make the 25 man roster. That could play in his favor but I think that will be less of a factor than some people believe. A lackluster winter ball season probably didn't help his cause. what will help him is that he is more capable of playing center field for an extended period than Raburn would be.
Raburn's attributes are his versatility and superior hitting ability. He has played all three outfield positions plus second base and third base, although he is only barely adequate as an infielder. His true hitting talent probably falls somewhere between the .304/.340/.507 line of 2007 and last year's .236/.298/.368 line.
Other possible back-ups include Alexis Gomez and Casper Wells. Gomez is a Leyland favorite and was one of the 2006 heroes but has not played in the majors since then. He is left-handed but can only play center-field on occasion. Wells showed some impressive power last year but they probably prefer that he get more seasoning at Toledo.
Another possible left-handed bat is first basemen/hopefully third baseman/possible corner outfielder Jeff Larish. At 26 years old, he doesn't have a lot left to prove in the minors but they won't have room for him if they decide a backup center fielder is a necessity. Timo Perez is also a possibility as a left-handed hitting corner outfielder.
The only other player I could see winning the final spot is Mike Hessman who is neither left-handed nor a center fielder. Hessman has good power and is a good defensive third baseman but has never gotten much of an opportunity. He'll likely be sent Toledo again and get called up when injuries hit.