When a team as talented as the Detroit Tigers doesn’t achieve the ultimate goal, some inevitable reshuffling will occur. In the first article in this series, I looked at how GM Dave Dombrowski should go about remodeling his infield for 2014.
And now I will dissect the outfield and how that should shake out next April.
In 2013, the Tigers saw right fielder Torii Hunter come in, defy his advanced age, and put up an All-Star season. Hunter hit .304 with 17 homers, 90 runs, and 84 RBI’s. [Just for fun, look at my preseason prediction for how I thought he’d do, posted here] He was a force offensively, but did not live up to his reputation while wearing the leather. Like it or not, Hunter has regressed defensively into an average MLB outfielder, at best.
Centerfielder Austin Jackson had a strong regular season from an overall perspective but was once again saddled with a disabled list stint and produced inconsistent play throughout the season, much like the Tigers offense as a whole. His defense remains rock solid but the apparent advancements he made in his hitting approach during spring training and the early parts of the season seemed to dissipate as the months crawled along.
And then there was the mess that became left field. Andy Dirks took the job out of camp and fumbled it. Dirks showed a better approach at the plate late in the season but still hit just .256. Matt Tuiasosopo, for a few months, was a dynamic right-handed hitter off the bench. Eventually the shine wore off as his season ending .244 average suggests.
Don Kelly, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, and even Jhonny Peralta spent some time in left throughout the course of the season.
So what should 2014’s outfield look like?
Austin Jackson made $3.5M last year and will get a similar deal in the 2nd year of his arbitration run and will return as the centerfielder. Given a complete lack of other options, Jackson will also almost assuredly be your opening day leadoff hitter yet again. For those tooting the Jose Iglesias horn; he’s not ready. Jackson’s not perfect but he’s currently a better fit than Iglesias. The only other potential roster option for that crucial role is Omar Infante, but the Tigers have to re-up with him before we can talk too much about that.
Hunter will return as the right fielder on the final year of his 2-year deal, which will pay him $14M in ’14. Hunter will turn 39 next July but few do better work in the weight room than this guy. He is still in great shape and should return as a successful #2 hitter in the Tigers’ lineup. He was supposed to bridge the gap for Avisail Garcia but with him now suiting up in ChiTown, the 2015 right fielder becomes much less clear.
As for left field, it is time. Time for what you ask? It’s time to see what Nick Castellanos can do. Andy Dirks will make a fine backup along with Don Kelly, and the two will also give the new manager a few lefties to mix and match in the batting order as needed.
I don’t say it’s Castellanos’ time because his process has taken forever. He’ll turn 22 during spring training. The point is that he has gone through the necessary progression since being drafted in 2010, culminating with a full season of AAA ball in 2013.
Castellanos has advanced quickly through the ranks and some claim him to be the best pure hitter to move through the Tigers’ system in decades. His walk rate is up. His strikeout rate is down. And his power numbers are climbing. For the Mud Hens in 2013 he hit .276 with a .343 on-base% while raking 37 doubles and 18 homers, both career highs. His 54 walks and 100 strikeouts were also personal bests.
Not only has he shown consistent improvement at the plate but he now has a full year of outfield duty under his belt. The converted 3rd baseman needed the time down on the farm for that purpose as much or more than his continued development as a hitter.
Jim Leyland’s Tigers liked to have a variety of bats in the lineup and having a left-handed hitting left fielder was something Leyland enjoyed. Moving beyond that era, it’s time to get the best hitters and most consistent run producers in the lineup. Some may say Castellanos needs another year of seasoning. I say let’s go with a more inexpensive player in left with tremendous upside so that the extra resources can be devoted to the bullpen remodel that is sure to take place.
The 2014 version of the starting outfield should be Castellanos-Jackson-Hunter.
To recap: Tuiasasopo should move on [Update: Friday, 2:42 eastern - Tuiasosopo has been claimed off waivers by the Arizona Diamondbacks, officially ending his time as a Tiger], clearing way for one of the very few prospects the Tigers have coveted so much that they actually won’t trade away – Nick Castellanos.
In part 3 of this series I will break down the roster moves that we might see in the 12-man pitching staff.
For part 1, focusing on the infield, click here.
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