The win-loss results of battles in spring training are virtually irrelevant. What is important in preseason baseball are the competitions between personnel for positions, the battles within the battles if you will.
As Opening Day draws near, the Tigers will have a number of major decisions to make when it comes to compiling the 25-man lineup, most notably the center field job and No. 5 spot in the rotation. Aside from those, filling out the bench spots will be important as well.
There are four players in camp that are currently helping their own cause, players that Tigers fans should be monitoring for the rest of the month.
Youngster JaCoby Jones appears to be the leader in the clubhouse for the starting center field position come Opening Day.
Coming into camp, it was believed that it was a three-horse race for the vacancy in center field, between Jones, Tyler Collins and newest Tiger Mikie Mahtook. Not only has Jones appeared to take the lead, he may have a good stranglehold on it.
Defensively, Jones has played in 11 games (six starts), all in center field. So far, he’s unblemished in his 15 chances. He’s certainly on the right track to make the 25-man roster come Opening Day.
The other position battle of importance for the Tigers this spring is the back end of the rotation. We know it will be led by veterans Justin Verlander and Jordan Zimmermann, and youngsters Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris. It appears for now that fellow youngster Matt Boyd has the inside track over some highly-paid struggling veterans.
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It’s not even the fact that Boyd has been outstanding, it’s more so that both Pelfrey and Sanchez have been borderline treasonous.
What makes this particular battle more fascinating are the contracts of the players involved. Mike Pelfrey is tabbed to make $8M this season, while Anibal Sanchez is making a whopping $16M in 2017. Boyd, if you’re wondering, is not even in the arbitration stage of his career yet.
The Tigers front office may be financially-obligated to keep Pelfrey and/or Sanchez come Opening Day. But the numbers don’t lie, both of them have been extremely inept. Should this trend continue, they may have to come to grips with the facts and cut ties with one or both of them.
Slick-fielding Dixon Machado is an intriguing case given his standing with the organization. Machado is one of four players in camp that are “out of options” for the 2017 season (Collins, Steven Moya and Anthony Gose being the others).
Being out of options means should any of them be optioned to the minors during the season, they would have to clear waivers before being sent down, meaning any team could have a crack at essentially prying them away from the Tigers. But Machado is playing to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Machado has played in 20 spring games for the Tigers, logging 37 ABs and is tied for the team lead in hits this preseason (12). He’s managed to drive in five runs as well. The strikeout rate (24.3 percent) is a bit high but lower than some of the everyday regulars on the team.
The bat is going to be huge for Dixon. His prowess for fielding is well-documented. And the Tigers have been hoping that some added versatility in his defense, coupled with improved production at the dish, would improve his case with the club. So far, he’s played in 22 games at every infield position sans first base (12 at shortstop). He’s only committed two miscues in 51 tries.
We can almost expect the Tigers to bring Andrew Romine north as he plays all over the field (and having a good spring for himself). But should there be added room, Machado could be the second/third infield option if need be.
Here is a very under-the-radar name that should definitely not go unnoticed. Alex Presley is back with the Tigers on a minor league deal this spring, but he has his eyes set on making the big league roster.
Presley has played in 15 games this spring, and while he has not logged as many opportunities (only 15 AB), he’s making the most of them. The 31-year-old veteran outfielder is hitting .400 in camp with a couple extra-base hits and runs batted in.
Presley is another player capable of playing all three outfield positions with relative comfort and ease. He’s played 136 major league games in the outfield (63 starts), playing at least 26 games at each position. This spring, he’s played all three outfield positions in all 15 games he’s appeared in; nine coming in right field. He’s converted cleanly on all 13 of his putout chances.
So why is this a big deal? Remember how we mentioned that Collins is in a peculiar spot? Well if both he and Presley continue to play the way they have been, the latter may be taking the former’s spot on the 25-man. Both have established themselves as reserve utility outfielders with barely a season’s worth of games played in their career. And both hit left-handed, so there’s that.
Don’t be entirely surprised if the Tigers opt for Presley over Collins. And it could mean the end of his tenure in Detroit for the latter, should he have to go through the waiver wire.