Back to the Future: Projecting the Detroit Tigers 2020 roster

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Apr 13, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers pitcher Joe Jimenez pitches in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

If you are a fan of the Detroit Tigers and are anything like I am, you often daydream about what the future holds for the team that wears the ‘Old English D.’

Usually, I like to think about what the team will look like a year from now, sometimes two. But lately, with all of the talk about the Tigers focussed on reducing their payroll in the coming seasons, I’ve started to let my mind wander even further down the road.

So, instead of looking at what the Tigers lineup and starting rotation will look like in 2018 or 2019, let’s take it one step further and dig into what things could look like in 2020. Including who the manager will be!

Let’s start with the position players.

Catcher – James McCann

James McCann really burst onto the scene for the Tigers in 2015 and by the time that season was in the books, he looked to be the catcher of the future in Detroit.

Unfortunately, McCann has struggled to hit consistently since then but has shown he can get it done defensively. At just 27-years-old, you can bet the Tigers will roll with him as long as he continues to show that he can be an asset defensively. Anything in terms of offense will be a bonus, though he should certainly improve in that area.

First Base – Matt Adams

I have to admit, determining who will be playing 1B and 3B for the Tigers in 2020 is something I have spent WAY TOO MUCH time thinking about. Ideally, the team moves Nicholas Castellanos over to first base since he has been a defensive liability at the hot corner, but there is NOBODY in the Tigers farm system who is on track to be an MLB third baseman. In addition, the free agent market for 3B (that the Tigers can afford) is pretty bare over the next couple of years.

Ideally, the team moves Nicholas Castellanos over to first base since he has been a defensive liability at the hot corner, but there is NOBODY in the Tigers farm system who is on track to be an MLB third baseman. In addition, the free agent market for 3B (that the Tigers can afford) is pretty bare over the next couple of years.

As things look at this moment in time, Castellanos will still be the Tigers third baseman in 2020, which means they will need to sign a first baseman. That first baseman, at least according to my thought process, will be Matt Adams, who currently plays for the Atlanta Braves.

Adams, who will be 31-years-old at the start of the 2020 season, had a couple of pretty good seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 (.284 with 17 home runs) and 2014 (.288 with 15 home runs) before struggling in 2015 and 2016.

Second Base – D.J. LeMahieu

Unfortunately for the Tigers and their fans, Ian Kinsler’s days are numbered in the Motor City. In fact, this could be Kinsler’s final season in Detroit as the Tigers have a $10 million club option on him for the 2018 season that they may or may not exercise. Even if Kinsler is on the team for one more season, he will become a free agent prior to the 2019 season.

Though Kinsler will be missed (he’s my Tiger), the next fan favorite will be his replacement.

I predict the Tigers will go out and sign 2B D.J. LeMahieu, who is scheduled to hit free agency following the 2018 season. LeMahieu, who will be 31 in 2020, played his prep ball at Brother Rice High School in Michigan before being drafted by the Tigers in the 41st round of the 2007 MLB Draft. Rather than signing, LeMahieu decided to attend LSU to play college baseball.

LeMahieu led the league with a .348 batting average in 2016 and the Tigers will have to pony up some cash to acquire his services.

Third Base – Nicholas Castellanos

As stated earlier, it would be ideal for the Tigers to move Castellanos over to 1B to mask his defensive abilities, but that likely will not be an option.

Sure, Castellanos has seemed to regress defensively, but at only 25 years of age, he still has some time to improve. If Nicholas can improve at the hot corner, it would be huge for Tigers because it will give them more options moving forward.

Shortstop – Dixon Machado

With Jose Iglesias set to hit free agency following the 2018 season, the Tigers will have a big decision to make. Do they want to pay up for the flashy shortstop or look elsewhere to save some cash?

In my opinion, the Tigers will let Iglesias hit free agency and will allow Dixon Machado to take over. Machado, who will be 28 in 2020, probably will never be much of a hitter, but he is a solid defender who could make the transition from Iglesias easier for the Tigers to handle.

Left Field – Justin Upton

This is an interesting one. Justin Upton’s contract allows him the freedom to opt out after each season from now until he hits free agency again following the 2021 season.

During that time, Upton will make $22.125 million per year, which makes me believe he will hang around for a while unless he just absolutely explodes offensively and thinks he can get more on the open market.

My thought is that he will be a Tiger through the 2021 season.

Center Field – Mikie Mahtook

At this moment in time, it looks like Mikie Mahtook could be the Tigers CF of the future, especially if he can start to hit a bit.

Mahtook will still be only 30-years-old in 2020, which means he will be in his prime. I believe the Tigers will be pleased with that he becomes over the next few seasons as he patrols the giant outfield at Comerica Park.

Right Field – Christian Stewart/Michael Gerber

It really chaps my behind to write this but I think that J.D. Martinez’s days as a Tiger are running out.

There is no question about it that Martinez is one of the best power hitters in the game, but my sense is that Al Avila does not want to pay him the money he could get from another team in free agency.

So, with Martinez out of the picture, the Tigers will have to figure out who their RF of the future will be. At the moment, I am torn between Christian Stewart and Michael Gerber, who are both currently with the Tigers AA affiliate, the Erie Seawolves.

Stewart’s power has been outstanding as he has worked his way through the Tigers minor league system. That being said, in terms of defense, Stewart is considered by many to be a liability.

Gerber, on the other hand, is much better defensively in comparison to Stewart, but his bat is not at the same level in terms of power.

If I was forced to make a pick between Steward and Gerber right now, Stewart would be my guy. I just have to see if his outstanding power translates to the next level. If it does, his defensive mistakes will be forgiven.

Designated Hitter – Miguel Cabrera

Victor Martinez’s contract expires following the 2018 season and it is almost a given that they Tigers will move the great Miguel Cabrera to designated hitter.

When 2020 rolls around, Miggy will be 37-years-old and the Tigers will have to do whatever they can to save his legs, as he is under contract through the 2023 season at a minimum.

Now let’s see what the starting rotation and the closer will look like.

Starter 1 – Michael Fulmer

As I look forward into the future of the Detroit Tigers, it is impossible to do so without inserting Michael Fulmer in as the No. 1 starter.

Fulmer, who is only 23-years-old, had an amazing rookie season for the Tigers as he posted a 3.06 ERA with 11 wins. So far in 2017, he has given me every reason to believe he will be a workhorse in Detroit for the next decade.

Starter 2 – Daniel Norris

Daniel Norris is a pitcher who the Tigers are counting on to morph into a top of the rotation guy in the not too distant future.

In 14 appearances in 2016, the 24-year-old posted a 3.38 ERA while recording a tick over a strikeout per inning. Though Norris has struggled with his consistency in 2017, the Tigers still have high hopes that he will develop into a very good MLB pitcher.

Starter 3 – Jordan Zimmermann

Ugh!!!!!

It absolutely kills me to have to type this. Jordan Zimmermann will be on the Detroit Tigers until his contract runs out following the 2020 season. What makes this even harder to swallow is that the Tigers will be paying him $25 million in both 2019 and 2020.

It would be amazing if Zimmermann can turn things around and go back to the pitcher he was with the Washington Nationals but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Starter 4 – Matt Manning

If you follow the Tigers minor league system, you are well aware that Matt Manning is considered by most to be the top prospect in the organization.

Manning, who will be 22-years-old in 2020, was drafted 9th overall by the Tigers in the 2016 MLB Draft. At 6-feet-6, 190 the right-hander is an intimidating force on the mound. His fastball is already outstanding and if he can develop his secondary pitches, he could become a top of the rotation pitcher for years to come.

Starter 5 – Beau Burrows

Burrows is another 1st round draft pick that the Tigers are counting on to do great things in the future. Burrows has a fastball that can hit 95 mph consistently, yet his strikeout rate was way down in 2016. So far this season, his K/9 has gone back up a tick and that is a great sign for the youngster.

By the time the 2020 season rolls around, Burrows will be 23-years-old and the Tigers should have a pretty good idea if he will be able to help out the rotation. I have a feeling he will be ready.

Closer – Joe Jimenez

Ah, now we are to the closing pitcher duties for the Tigers. As you are well aware, for whatever reason, closing games in Detroit is easier said than done, at least for the guys wearing the ‘Old English D.’

There is no question about it that the Tigers are currently grooming the flamethrower Joe Jimenez to be their next closer. Jimenez will be 25-years-old in 2020 and if he has not solidified himself by then, it will probably never happen.

Considering how he has dominated at every level (other than his brief stint with the Tigers early in the 2017 season), it is safe to say that he will become a force at the MLB level sooner than later.

Manager – Omar Vizquel

When the Detroit Tigers hired Brad Ausmus prior to the 2014 season, I was very disappointed. That disappointment had nothing to do with how well Ausmus knew the game, or whether or not he would eventually become a great manager. My disappointment stemmed from the fact that the Tigers decided to hire a first-time manager to lead a team that had World Series potential.

In my opinion, Ausmus has been in over his head ever since his first game in 2014 and his days with the Tigers are limited. (He should have been fired prior to the 2017 season, or sooner)

So, if my main reason for being disappointed in the Ausmus hire was because of experience, then WHY am I predicting the Tigers will eventually hire Omar Vizquel as their manager?

Well, first of all, to be completely honest, I do not expect the Tigers to have a team that is capable of competing for World Series Championships anytime soon. Giving the reigns to a guy like Omar Vizquel would be the perfect move for a team trying to rebuild. He is charismatic and his enthusiasm for the game of baseball will be very refreshing for the players and the fans after dealing with Ausmus.

In addition, it is highly unlikely that a manager with experience such as Ron Gardenhire or Ron Washington will want to come to an organization who clearly is heading into a rebuilding phase.