Friday, March 04, 2011
Outfielders Battling for Roster Spots
Clete Thomas is competing for a roster spot (Photo courtesy of Roger Dewitt/hueytaxi)
There are a lot of outfielders competing for jobs in Lakeland this spring. Seven outfielders on the 40-man roster and non-roster invitee Andy Dirks all have legitimate chances to head north to Detroit at the end of the month. Kurt Mensching discussed the situation earlier. Now, I'll jot down my thoughts.
The first question is whether the starting outfield is really all set. We know that Austin Jackson and Magglio Ordonez are locked into center field and right field. General Manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland have both said that Ryan Raburn will be given a chance to play full-time in left field. He earned the opportunity with strong finishes in 2009 and 2010, but past history tells us his job is never 100% safe. If slugging Brennan Boesch impresses enough this spring, there is a chance he could split left field with Raburn, but I think the job is Raburn's to lose for now.
The next issue is how many back-up outfielders the Tigers will carry. They have four bench spots, one of which will go to middle infielder Ramon Santiago. Another will probably go to jack of all trades Don Kelly. I don't think it's absolutely necessary for Donnie Baseball to be on the roster, but Leyland likes his versatility and he seems to be close to a sure thing. The last two bench spots could go to one infielder and one outfielder or it could be two outfielders. With second and short covered by Santiago and third by Kelly, I believe they will go with two more outfielders.
Nobody has said as much, but Casper Wells would seem to be a heavy favorite to land one of those spots. They need a right-handed hitter to play when Alex Avila sits and Victor Martinez catches versus southpaws and Wells is the only competitor who fits that description. A possible scenario is Ordonez moving to designated hitter and Wells manning right field when he plays.
If everything plays out as I expect, then the last spot would be up for grabs between Boesch, Clete Thomas and Dirks. We saw Boesch's powerful upside in the first half last year, but we also saw his undisciplined downside in the second half. With a heavily right-handed line-up, they could use a left-handed bat off the bench. They also need defense though and he won't help there. He likely needs repetitions, so if they can't find enough at bats for him in Detroit, he'll probably start in Toledo.
After an unfortunate string of injuries, the lefty-swinging Thomas is once again in the outfield picture. If he is 100% healthy, he is an ideal back-up outfielder, who can play all three positions, run and hit a little bit. Think Fred Lewis. He does not have the upside of Boesch, but probably has a higher floor.
Dirks, another left-handed batter, has joined the competition after impressing Leyland early this spring. Dirks does not have one standout skill, but rather does a little bit of everything. He is also the kind of gritty hard-working player that managers love. Leyland already loves Kelly and Thomas though, so I think Dirks is a long shot to make the opening day roster. We may see him later in the year.
So, I think the Tigers will start the season with these six outfielders:
I'll take another look at this in a couple of weeks.