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Handicapping the Detroit Tigers center field postion

It has been well versed the chasm left in the dark reaches of center field for the Detroit Tigers. Since they decided to trade away Cameron Maybin, everyone and their brother has tried to figure out who will be the man running down fly balls up the chute for the Tigers this season.

With a few Spring Training games under their belts, here is our shot at trying to predict who we think will end up manning center field for the Tigers.

Tyler Collins (35 %)

MLB: Chicago White Sox at Detroit Tigers
Aug 31, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers Tyler Collins (18) hits a sacrifice fly to score center fielder JaCoby Jones (not pictured) to win the game in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Detroit won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It has seemed from the moment the Tigers stayed quiet in the offseason, as far as center fielders go, the job up the middle was going to be Tyle Collins to lose. His career has consisted as simply a replacement player and he grades out at a -0.3 WAR, which is a replacement level player. However, to be fair, he has only seen 352 at-bats in his 3-year career.

Yet with Anthony Gose’s tribulations over the last year, Collins has seemed to emerge as the club’s premiere option for center field. Maybe given a full season (Collins has never played in more than 60 MLB games in one season), he may perform. Only time will tell.

Mikie Mahtook (25 %)

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers
Feb 24, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Mikie Mahtook (15) signs autographs before during a spring training baseball game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers acquired Mikie Mahtook in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. Mahtook played in 41 games for the Rays in 2015, hitting .295 with 9 home runs in 105 at-bats. However, in 2016 he hit just .195 in 65 games and 196 plate appearances. So which Mahtook did the Tigers end up with? That question cannot be answered yet.

Here’s what I think works in Mahtook’s favor, his quick burst on the scene in 2015 was more productive than any of the other possibilities on this depth chart, except for Alex Presley’s 2011, where he hit .298. I firmly believe that he will be the platoon option for Collins come opening day, possibly overtaking Collins should he struggle with the bat. All of this, of course, is assuming the 2015 Mahtook shows up and not the 2016 one.

Alex Presley (15%)

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros at Detroit Tigers
Feb 25, 2017; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers Alex Presley (14) rounds third base as he heads home on an inside the park home run for a fielding error by Houston Astros right fielder Ramon Laureano in the seventh inning of a baseball game during spring training at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Presley is the wild card of this entire bunch. By far the most experienced, he is a career .253 hitter from the left-hand side. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Presley has only played in one full Major League Season (2012) where he hit a mere .237 in 346 at-bats.

He’s a wild card for two factors: his experience and his Spring Training. His experience is a nice piece to add to our ballclub. Mentoring and showing the younger guys how to persevere. But along with that, his numbers so far in Spring Training should turn some heads. In five Spring Training games this year, Presley is hitting .500 with an inside-the-park home run and two RBIs. Now, take that for what it’s worth, but if he starts to figure out the offense, his defense is pretty solid. In 526 chances in the outfield, Presley has committed six errors–that’s a .989 field percentage. Again,  these are reasons why I see him as a wild card for the job, and why he could keep someone like Jacoby Jones in the Triple-A for a good part of the season.

Anthony Gose (15%)

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Detroit Tigers
Apr 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers center fielder Anthony Gose (12) against the Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. The Indians won 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Gose ties Alex Presley for wild card status, which is why they both come in with the same percentage of getting the job. Gose has seen time in center field for the Tigers in the past, but the much-maligned 26-year-old has received as many demotions in the last year as he’s had Major League Home Runs.

There’s no doubt Gose has a lot to prove in order to make the roster out of spring. His bat is a bit of a hang-up, he’s a career .240 hitter; but, he’s the only one on the depth chart with a WAR that even resembles a starter (2 WAR being the standard for starters), he’s currently at 1.9 WAR. Gose may be our best option in center field, but his problems last year will be something he must overcome. It seems like he’s doing all he can to prove the management wrong this spring:

JaCoby Jones (10%)

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 is one of the best prospects in the Tigers organization, top 9 according to MLB.com. He was acquired by the Tigers in 2015 for Joakim Soria and jumped to the top of that list. After spending most of the year in AAA last season, he was called up and played in 13 games with 28 at-bats. However, according to fangraphs.com, his strikeout rate while up with the team was 42.9%.

Jones is still only 24-years-old, and could probably use one more season in the minors to work on his plate discipline (he swung at 44.6% of balls out of the strike zone), which will set him up to be a long-time Major Leaguer. This Spring, Jones has done pretty well with the bat, hitting .444 in nine at-bats. So maybe he figured some things out over the winter, however, I think he still starts the year in AAA.

What do you say, Nation, did we get it right?

 

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AJ Reilly
AJ Reilly
A.J. is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid storyteller. His debut novel, The Askren Boys, won the Literary Classics Gold Medal and Seal of Approval in November of 2018. When not writing, he is spending time with his wife Jessica, son Jack, daughter Nora, and new arrival Teddy. A.J. lives in Metro Detroit.

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