The lineup that the Detroit Tigers open 2014 with will have a much different look than the one at the end of last season did.
Gone from last season’s team are first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Omar Infante, shortstop Jhonny Peralta, and utility infielder Ramon Santiago. Infante, Peralta and Santiago left via free agency, while Fielder and his contract were shipped to the Texas Rangers in exchange for second baseman Ian Kinsler.
The Tigers’ plan is to open the season with Miguel Cabrera playing Fielder’s old position at first, the newly acquired Kinsler at second, Jose Iglesias, who the Tigers acquired from the Boston Red Sox in the middle of last season, at short, and top prospect Nick Castellanos at third.
First base is a much better fit for Cabrera, as he is only an average defender. He was a liability at third due to a groin injury at the end of last season, but with Fielder at first and Victor Martinez at the designated hitter spot, the Tigers were forced to play him there. Cabrera played the position before the Tigers signed Fielder in 2012, so it is not unfamiliar territory.
Castellanos will replace Cabrera at third and should fit in just fine there. While the Tigers will lose Fielder’s production at the plate and a big bat to hit behind Cabrera in the lineup, Castellanos should be able to offset a lot of that loss. Castellanos is considered as a top offensive prospect and has hit well at every minor league level. He showed some power last season, hitting 18 home runs while also maintaining a .276 batting average.
Defense is not one of Castellanos’s strengths at the moment. He has played third base and outfield in the minors, as the Tigers have looked for a way to get him on the field. As he settles into the third base role, his defense will improve as he gets more reps and becomes more comfortable.
Kinsler will provide a much-needed boost for this Tigers. Last season’s Tigers team struggled in the leadoff role and Kinsler should be the answer to that. He has a career on base percentage of .349, has a strikeout rate of less than 12 percent, and adds some speed on the base path. Last season’s leadoff hitter, Austin Jackson, struggled with strikeouts and that limited his ability to get on base. The whole Tigers team struggled to steal bases and Kinsler could add that dimension at the top of the lineup, having stolen 15 last year in Texas. Kinsler is also a capable defender and there should be no drop off replacing Infante at second.
Shortstop isn’t really changing, as Iglesias was the starter at the end of last season, so Peralta leaving via free agency just cements Iglesias’s place. Peralta was suspended for violating the MLB’s Drug Policy, but played in the postseason following his suspension. Iglesias has a bright future at the position, as he is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game and hit .303 last year.
Santiago has provided a capable infield backup over the years in Detroit, but he is gone now and Lombardozzi has been brought in to replace him. Lombardozzi was acquired from the Washington Nationals, along with left-handed pitcher Ian Krol and minor league pitcher Robbie Ray, for starting pitcher Doug Fister. Lombardozzi is a considerable upgrade over Santiago and will be a perfect fit for the Tigers team. He is younger that Santiago and is a better hitter, having hit .264 in his three years with the Nationals, and could provide a capable bat off the bench for the Tigers. Lombardozzi also gives the Tigers some speed on the base paths,which is something the Tigers desperately needed.
A solid defender in the field, Lombardozzi could see plenty of playing time with Castellanos adjusting the the MLB game at third while also giving Kinsler or Iglesias a rest.
With the offseason changes, the Tigers have revamped their infield and lineup. Last season, the Tigers were a station-to-station team hitting with very little speed and were below average defensively. The Tigers have now have added some new dimensions to their team and look to be a more complete team at the plate and in the field.