In this segment of my season preview I will give a brief rundown of the 13-man offense that the Detroit Tigers will roll with out of the gate and what we can expect from each of them.
Part 1 of this series focused on the pitching staff. Click here for more.
Throughout 2012, the Tigers’ offense was a sputtering unit. One series they would respond like a well-oiled machine only to suddenly look like an old truck that was hubcaps deep in the mud the very next day. Ultimately, their final hitting swoon hit at the worst possible time. A 4-game clunker in the World Series ended the season in disappointment.
In ’13 the Tigers will seek offensive continuity and consistent production. Having a steady fixture in the 2-hole and Victor Martinez back in the 5-spot will instantly help matters. So what can we expect from this group?
Austin Jackson, CF – So is he the guy from 2010 and 2012’s brilliant seasons or the wayward version we witnessed in 2011? Bet on the former. Jackson ramped it up in almost every offensive category a season ago and is about to imbed his stamp as one of the game’s great leadoff hitters. So often the Tigers go as AJ goes. Jim Leyland figures to get a lot of mileage out of this 26-year old. (2013 projected stats: .285 avg., 18 homers, 115 runs, 25 steals)
Torii Hunter, RF – Leyland tried all sorts of combinations in this spot of the batting order last year and was met with a stream of failures. Problem solved. He will pencil Hunter in 150 times and love every bit of that stability. Hunter also provides top-shelf defense alongside Jackson and a tremendous presence full of positive energy that has no choice but to rub off on his teammates. Everyone loves Torii and he came to Detroit mainly for one reason: a ring. (2013: .280 avg., 16 homers, 90 runs, 80 RBI’s)
Miguel Cabrera, 3B – Fresh off of his 2nd straight batting title and ending a long Triple Crown drought covering decades of baseball, Cabrera is back and as good as ever. Widely considered to be the best pure hitter in the game, Cabrera will simply put his prowess on repeat as he does each and every year. He will play a more comfortable 3rd base this year as well. A 2nd consecutive MVP award is certainly on the table. (2013: .325 avg., 40 homers, 40 doubles, 110 runs, 120 RBI’s)
Prince Fielder, 1B – Fielder not only didn’t skip a beat in coming over from the National League but he put up one of his best seasons to date. A career-high .313 batting average was backed up by his stellar contact rate. He walked 85 times to just 84 strikeouts. Being the meaty lineup filling between a Cabrera and VMart sandwich might be the most luxurious spot in all of the big leagues. (2013: .305 avg., 34 homers, 35 doubles, 95 runs, 125 RBI’s)
Victor Martinez, DH – Martinez could see a few starts at catcher during interleague play and the occasional 1st base assignment but will by and large be the everyday designated hitter. Ideally, he can pick things back up offensively after a full year out of action. He is no stranger to missing games but the Tigers really need him to stay upright this year as no other player fits into the 5th spot of the order as well as he does. (2013: .305 avg., 15 homers, 35 doubles, 80 runs, 95 RBI’s)
Andy Dirks, LF – Dirks will get the majority of the starts in left field but will give way to Matt Tuiasosopo against some lefties. All Dirks has done since joining the Tigers is produce at a high level offensively while playing solid defense. There is no reason to expect anything less this time around. He is quite simply the kind of player you can win games with. (2013: .285 avg., 12 homers, 10 steals, 55 RBI’s)
Jhonny Peralta , SS – All offseason long the talk was about upgrading at the shortstop position. Yet here Jhonny remains. He has trimmed down and will be looking to show improved lateral range at short while returning his bat to its form of 2011 after a very rough 2012 campaign. If he can get his average back up to his career norm of .260 with his usual power numbers and reliable defense then it should be good enough for this team. (2013: .265 avg., 17 homers, 70 RBI’s)
Alex Avila, C – Perhaps no player is in need of a rebound season more than this guy. After a great 2011 with the lumber he was battered, slow, and unproductive at the plate in ’12. He remains the future of the Tigers’ catching position but needs to back it up with a return to form at the dish. Defensively he is passable. His knack for getting nicked up is something he’d be wise to put in the rearview mirror. (2013: .265 avg., 15 homers, 65 RBI’s)
Omar Infante, 2B – Gone are guys from recent years such as Ryan Raburn, Brandon Inge, Will Rhymes, Scott Sizemore, and other failed projects. The gig is Infante’s now and the Tigers need nothing more than consistency out of him. His defense wasn’t very good upon arrival in Detroit last year and he will need to be stronger in that department as the only athletic piece in an otherwise dinosaur-like infield. (2013: .280 avg., 12 homers, 15 steals, 55 RBI’s)
Brayan Pena, C – Pena will be the backup to Avila but the Tigers hope he won’t have to log as many at-bats as 2012’s reserve Gerald Laird did. That will be up to Avila though. Pena is a 31-year old, switch-hitting, career backup at the catching position. Detroit doesn’t need much offensively out of him, only that he calls a good game when he’s behind the plate. (2013: .250 avg., 4 homers)
Don Kelly, OF/IF – Kelly will play the corners in the outfield and the infield as necessary. Credit Leyland’s boy for turning a very unlikely roster spot into a near no-brainer with a strong spring training performance. As of this writing, in just 46 at-bats, he has churned out 4 doubles, a triple, and 4 homers. Why is this important? Because in 2012 he managed just 4 extra-base hits in 113 at-bats. Kelly showed decent pop off the bench to go along with his defensive versatility prior to last season. It appears he is back in action. (2013: .255 avg., 6 homers)
Matt Tuiasosopo, OF/IF – Much like Kelly, Tui can fill in at both the corner infield and outfield spots. He will most often play in left field against left-handed pitching on days when Dirks gets a rest. Tui was the biggest long shot to make the roster of anyone who landed on the 25-man unit. Hitting .302 with 6 doubles and 4 homers this spring was enough to make the Tigers think he can be the right-handed hitting thump off the bench that this team was so sorely missing a season ago. He will look to fill the Marcus Thames role of a few years ago. (2013: .240 avg., 8 homers)
Ramon Santiago, IF – Santiago won the final roster spot over Danny Worth, not because he’s more deserving, but because the Tigers signed him to a 2-year deal prior to last season and couldn’t trade him this spring. Detroit may continue to try to move Santiago especially if he has a strong start to the season, something he didn’t have last year. If Ramon stays he’ll need to be reliable defensively and pick up the offensive slack he left hanging in 2012. (2013: .255 avg., 3 homers)
Again, for Part 1 of this series focusing on the pitching, click here.
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