Tuesday, March 06, 2012

A Few Spring Training Questions

The Tigers won again today making them 4-0 for the spring not including their victory over Florida Southern on Friday.  While spring training records are pretty much meaningless, it always feels better when the Tigers are winning.

 I'm mostly just hoping the Tigers get through the spring without any significant injuries, but there are a few questions to be answered.  The biggest question is how easily Miguel Cabrera can adjust to third base.  Few people expect him to be good or even average at the position, but even if he is at the bottom third of the league as a defender, he should be one of the two best third basemen in baseball overall (along with Evan Longoria of the Rays).

Regardless of how productive he is at the plate though, Cabrera will have to be able to handle the hot corner at some acceptable level in order to remain there.  He has played the position before, but he's bigger and less mobile than he once was, so there are no guarantees.  My feeling is that he'll be able to play a passable third base, but will be moved to designated hitter in a good number of games depending on match-ups.  In particular, you might sometimes see Brandon Inge or Don Kely at third when a ground ball pitcher like Rick Porcello on the mound.

Speaking of Inge, there is a position battle brewing at second base.  What was shaping up to be a job share between Ryan Raburn and Ramon Santiago has turned into three-way or four-way (if you include Danny Worth) competition.  Manager Jim Leyland has hinted that he thinks Inge will be able to field the position, but isn't sure whether he'll bounce back offensively.

By bounce back, I'm talking about Inge getting back to where he was in 2009-2010.  That would be a .700+ OPS which is probably better than what Santiago will produce and could make him an adequate starter.  I suspect Inge won't get there though and will have to settle for more of a utility role.  I expect that nobody will really seize the position and that they'll have a revolving door at second again this year.

The other big thing to look for among position players this spring is how the left field/designated hitter situation unfolds.  Delmon Young will be playing mostly every day at one of those spots once the regular season starts.  Some fans have penciled in Andy Dirks as the platoon left fielder, but I think he might not get quite that much playing time, at least not initially.  I believe that Raburn will end up playing more left field than second base leaving less of an opportunity for Dirks.

Will there be a spring surprise this year?  My early pick is Clete Thomas winning the last spot on the roster over Dirks.  Thomas is a better defender than Dirks and they might decide to let Dirks get regular at bats in Toledo if it looks like he won't get them in the majors.  That Thomas is out of options and a favorite of Leyland might also be in his favor.  He's going to have to show a lot this spring in order for it to happen though.

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