On to the questions and answers:
Who will challenge the Tigers for the AL Central crown?
The Twins are still in a rebuilding mode and are already out of contention as we sit here in January. Few rosters across baseball are more intriguing to me than the Kansas City Royals. My fear with them is that despite the acquisitions of James Shields, Wade Davis, Ervin Santana, and the retention of Jeremy Guthrie, their pitching will be their undoing once more. They will hit but won’t record enough clean innings for it to parlay into a true pennant contending team.
To me, the Tigers are a clear favorite to win the division, but they were last year too and needed a late surge and corresponding meltdown from the White Sox to clinch. Anything can happen (except the Twins winning!). The Sox will be solid again and are probably the most likely bridesmaid in 2013. They will need some career years out of several players on their roster to push the Tigers to the brink.
The Indians have retooled their roster in a big way with the additions of Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs, Bret Myers, and Trevor Bauer. Even with that, their roster has a lot of holes. Unless new manager Terry Francona can get these guys playing well above their heads, especially the pitching staff, they are destined for a middle of the pack finish in the Central. Clear that October calendar Tigers fans.
Is anything exciting brewing in the minor leagues that might impact the Tigers this year?
Perhaps the biggest indictment of the Dave Dombrowski era has been his inability to steadily draft players that become impact big leaguers. The Tigers have by and large been built via trade and free agency. Dombrowski has hit a few home runs, but where he has largely failed is drafting infield talent. Is Danny Worth really the best middle infielder to make it to the bigs that he has drafted?
The GM’s struggles in this department are exactly why the Jhonny Peralta debate rages on and Omar Infante had to be brought in last season. In less than a year the Tigers have traded away several of their top rated young players: Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, Andy Oliver, and Brian Flynn. And this occurred when they didn’t have much to begin with.
Nick Castellanos is rated as MLB.com’s 6th best outfield prospect and might crack the roster late in the season. As we saw at the end of 2012, Avisail Garcia is all but ready. The problem remains that the Tigers don’t have an obvious opening for them in the regular lineup. Detroit wants full-time at-bats for them so to the minors they will likely go. Bruce Rondon will almost certainly break camp on the 25-man roster so he will no longer be deemed a prospect, but a legit big leaguer.
Some names to remember, but not get too excited about include relievers Melvin Mercedes and Kyle Lobstein, as well as utility man Jeff Kobernus. 2B/SS Hernan Perez got a tiny cup of coffee with the Tigers last year and is probably their best middle infield prospect. Casey Crosby is still battling his control at AAA, and if Rick Porcello ever gets traded, might be first in line to fill in for an injured starter.
How torturous will the Tigers defense be this year?
One simple truth is this: ol’ tippy toes Delmon Young will not play a single inning for the Tigers this year and that alone ramps up the overall team defense. Adding Torii Hunter is going to be huge. He is one of the most talented outfielders in the history of the big leagues. And if you happened to catch him manning Comerica Park’s right field in an Angels uniform last year, you saw that if he’s lost anything, it’s not much. He is a monumental defensive upgrade over Brennan Boesch and his shaky hands and unsure routes. Lining up Andy Dirks in left on a hopefully semi-permanent basis, along with budding star centerfielder Austin Jackson, will give the Tigers an athletic and stout outfield.
Omar Infante represents the only change from last year’s Opening Day infield look and will get every start he can handle at 2nd base. No more Brandon Inge. No more Ryan Raburn. These are good things for the infield. Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Jhonny Peralta might be confused for offensive linemen on occasion, and will never be confused for being fleet of foot or particularly agile. But much like the Jose Valverde argument in part 1 of this series, the Tigers made it all the way to the World Series with this trio last year logging all kinds of innings. They are not impressive, but they are certainly capable of holding down the fort.
Overall, the outfield defense should be very strong and the infield passable.
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