If you’re a Detroit sports fan, now isn’t the greatest time to be one. It’s freezing cold, The Lions got smacked in their Wild Card game, the Pistons and Red Wings have been struggling, and there’s no Tigers baseball. What’s a fan to do? The only answer is patiently wait for Spring Training to roll around come the middle of February. There’s nothing better than being able to turn on your TV and watch Miguel Cabrera‘s first at bat of the year in Lakeland, Florida.
While Spring Training statistics don’t necessarily reflect how well a player or team will do during the regular season, it still hints at who’s feeling hot to start the baseball season for the new year. Just because a player finishes with a .350 batting average, doesn’t mean he’ll be hitting that well in the first month of the season. Some players on the Tigers will be starting off 2017 right where they left off in 2016 when they were hot, while others have their spots to prove. I know you’re tired of waiting to hear who needs to be hot this spring, so let’s take a look.
Edward Mujica, RHP
Man, this guy has been all over the place, but he could be a real diamond in the rough for Detroit. At only 32 years old, he holds a career ERA of 3.85 in 494 games, not to mention 423 strikeouts to go along with that. He’s going to be battling for a spot in the bullpen, but if he has a solid spring, he could make the team because of his veteran status. In 2013, Mujica had arguably his best season with the St. Louis Cardinals in which he posted a 2.78 ERA in 65 games with an opponents’ batting average of .245.
He normally uses his two-seam fastball that can reach 90-93, and splitter which touches 87-89. Ausmus could rotate between Mujica and Alex Wilson in the middle relief/seventh-inning spot. If Mujica has a solid spring, then Detroit could explore a potential Justin Wilson trade in exchange for some of that youth that Tigers GM Al Avila had been preaching months ago. While he’s bounced around the league many times, he’s not guaranteed to have an “All-Star” type of season, but he could be another player added to the oh so very long long list of veteran Tigers.
Justin Upton, Left field
There didn’t seem to be a hotter hitter in the month of September than J-Up. Not only was he hot, but he was clutch. He hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning against the Royals and Detroit won the game, a go-ahead three-run shot in the eleventh inning to beat the Chicago White Sox, and three homers in a series against the Cleveland Indians. It’s practically a night and day comparison when you look at his numbers before and after the All-Star break.
If the Tigers are looking to make one last run at a postseason appearance, and they keep the team the as it is today, then Upton really needs to do his part early on in the season. I’m not asking for much, but something better than his first two months in a Tigers uniform. Maybe cut down on strikeouts? Steal some bases? Whatever it takes to get Upton going, and put the Tigers in a good spot all season long. Detroit lost the central by eight games, and it’s time to be a little more competitive this time around. The White Sox have been rebuilding for the future, and the Indians just got a little bit better by signing Edwin Encarnacion, so Detroit is going to have to play great baseball all season long,
and Upton could be the guy to ignite that flame.
James McCann, Catcher
It seems like the last time the Tigers had a great catcher was Ivan Rodriguez. Granted James McCann has a cannon for an arm and is extremely dependable when it comes to his defense, he needs to find a way to improve his offensive game. In only 105 games, McCann had a .221 batting average back in 2016. While he’s only 26 years old, McCann will be starting his third year in the majors come April. He’s got some time to improve, but if Detroit wants to contend, everybody has to do their part, and it’s time James McCann chips in.
He had only four errors behind the plate last season, and caught 27 guys stealing. James is a pretty built dude at 6’2 and 210 pounds, and I think he’s got a few more homers in him. He only had 12 homers last season, but I think he could hit around 20 homers, especially when missing 57 games. The Tigers don’t have great backup in Alex Avila, so if McCann continues his pattern of hitting below .270, the Tigers won’t be getting much production out of the catcher’s spot. Hopefully he can get a little life in his bat this season and help prove that the Tigers may still be one of the most underrated teams in the game.
If you would like an e-mail notification each time a new Detroit Tigers article is published, please fill out our e-mail notification form.