The overall goal for spring training varies from player to player, team to team. For the more established players, it is mostly about staying healthy. For others, it could be the continued development in an effort to help prove their standing within the organization, fighting for highly-coveted roster spots.
For Detroit Tigers center fielder Cameron Maybin, he falls under the first category and, albeit unfortunate because it was out of his control, has failed that test.
On Wednesday, it was announced that Maybin would miss roughly four to six weeks with a wrist fracture after being hit by a pitch in a Tuesday game against the Yankees. Maybin was acquired in an offseason trade with Atlanta with the mindset of being the team’s starting center fielder or at the worst share a platoon role with incumbent Anthony Gose.
Prior to the acquisition of Maybin and signing of Justin Upton, it appeared Gose would assume everyday duties in center field and left field could be a platoon of perhaps Tyler Collins and Steven Moya. Since then, it has created a logjam of outfielders, essentially stashing both Collins and Moya down in Triple-A to start the season.
Now with the news of Maybin being on the shelf for multiple weeks, Gose would be the Opening Day center fielder for the Tigers. But if the team feels Gose cannot handle the everyday playing duties and a platoon system is necessary, who might join Gose in the vast Comerica center field?
One player in the Tigers’ system this opens the door for is minor leaguer Wynton Bernard.
Once upon a time, the San Diego product was an up and coming outfielder after being drafted by his hometown Padres in the 35th round of the 2012 MLB Draft out of Niagra University. He played in 23 games for their Rookie League team for the ’12 season and appeared in just 51 games at four different levels in the Padres system in 2013 before being cut in January of 2014.
Bernard, 25, has spent the last two seasons in the farm system for Detroit, with Class-A West Michigan in 2014 and Double-A Erie last year. With the Whitecaps, he hit .323/.394/.442 leading the entire Midwest League (A) in hits with 164, a Whitecaps single-season record, stealing 45 bases and earned Midwest League MVP honors. He followed up that season with a .301/.352/.408 slash line, 161 hits and 43 swipes.
Bernard is one of seven primary outfielders on the Tigers 40-man roster and is one of many outfielders down in Lakeland. Based on the other outfielders in play for a potential spot to make the Opening Day roster, he might have an advantage over everyone else. Let’s look at the other possible replacements that could share a platoon role with Anthony Gose in center field:
- Collins and Moya are primarily corner outfielders, so that doesn’t help their case to begin with. If anything, one of the two could make the 25-man roster as the team’s fifth outfielder.
- Andrew Romine and Mike Aviles are the team’s two utility players. Here’s the situation with these two – the Tigers could carry one as the utility infielder and emergency outfielder and part ways with the other, leaving a spot open for someone like Bernard, Collins, Moya, etc. Should they carry both on the big league roster, it would mean any younger, less-experienced outfielder would start off in Triple-A.
- Nate Schierholtz and John Mayberry Jr., both 32 years of age, were signed to minor-league pacts with invite to spring camp to fight for a roster spot. Mayberry had a solid chance of at least securing a platoon spot in left field for the Tigers before the signing of Upton, given his ability to play the corner outfield spots and hit from the right side. Schierholtz meanwhile is an even bigger long shot than Mayberry, because he hits left-handed, which three players ahead of him on the food chain (Gose, Collins, Moya) already do.
Given all those circumstances, Bernard is almost the default backup option for the vacant center field position. Again, this is all assuming the Tigers feel Gose needs a partner to share the playing duties.
One has to sit back and really admire the impressive back-to-back seasons Wynton has put together after being given a second chance by a major league club. The only real knock on Bernard’s case is that he has never played above the Double-A level in the minors. Other than that, he could very well fit the bill for what the Tigers need in a short time while Maybin is sidelined. He hits right-handed and has proven (at lower levels) he can get on base and wreak havoc with his speed.
Bernard was also one of many Tigers that participated in winter league baseball this offseason, playing in the Venezuela. In 20 games for his team, he hit .288/.337/.400, going 23×80 with 7 stolen bases and 5 runs driven in.
If anything, it would be beneficial for Bernard to get that month-long audition in the big leagues to get his feet week before sending him back down to the minors. He’s earned an opportunity based on his results the last two seasons and is likely slated to start the 2016 season in center field for the Mud Hens.
But for now, he’s given a golden opportunity to make his case to break camp with the big league club, as he falls under the aforementioned category of “continued development in an effort to help prove their standing within the organization, fighting for highly-coveted roster spots.”