MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
Aug 31, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones (40) hits a double in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Detroit won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As of today, there are two weeks left until Opening Day, that unofficial/official holiday all baseball fans look forward to each spring. And, given that today is the first day of Spring, the season of re-birth, it’s time the center field competition for the Detroit Tigers gets called.

The winner: JaCoby Jones.

With the new season upon us, there is no need to continue to belabor the fact that since trading away Cameron Maybin the Tigers had no idea what they were going to do with the center field position. It seems that they were perfectly willing to give everyone, including the groundskeepers, the opportunity to compete for the job. I’m all for competition, I really am, but at some point, it just gets to be unfair.

Four guys entered this competition: Tyler Collins, Mikie Mahtook, Anthony Gose, and JaCoby Jones; while you could also add to the mix guys like Alex PresleyOmar Infante, and Andrew Romine. Manager Brad Ausmus has held the cards close to his chest, the performance of Jones has stood out this spring above the rest. And, it’s time they call the competition now.

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
Aug 31, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder JaCoby Jones (40) runs the bases against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Jones was acquired by the Tigers in 2015. He spent time in AA last year as well as AAA, before making his debut with the big club on August 30th last season. And though he only hit .214 for the Tigers, he has been trending up since the end of last year. According to BaseballReference, Jones played in the Arizona Fall League and had 142 at-bats, logging a .331 average, he hit 2 home runs, and had 24 RBIs. That success has carried over into Spring Training as well where Jones has hit .310, hit 2 home runs, driven in 2 runs, stolen 2 bases, and scored 6 runs.

Here is a breakdown of the offensive numbers each of the four key competitors have put up this spring:

Player Name AB H AVG XBH HR RBI SB K
Tyler Collins 34 7 .206 2 1 6 0 9
Mikie Mahtook 40 8 .200 2 0 2 2 11
Anthony Gose 34 7 .267 2 0 3 0 12
JaCoby Jones 29 9 .310 3 2 2 2 6

**All stats courtesy of MLB.com

Clearly, Jones is setting himself apart from the rest of the pack. He is the leader or tied for the lead in nearly every offensive category among the group. He’s hitting for average, he’s showing some pop, and he’s showing the ability to strike out less. All of which point to one clear thing: he needs to be our starting center fielder come April 3rd.

However, the decision may not be as black and white–even though it seems that it should be. Both Anthony Gose and Tyler Collins are out of options. This leaves the Tigers in a rather sticky predicament as they will have to either keep both on the roster or risk losing one (or both) to another team, should they not clear waivers. In light of this, the organizations hands may be tied on outright giving the job to Jones right out of the gate. However, I hope this is not the case.

Jones is the youngest player in the competition, is performing better than the rest of the group and in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, what else should matter? In the end the answer to the Tigers center field issue lies in one of their top prospects, JaCoby Jones, and its time they just let him run with it.