The path to the major leagues has been a long and tiresome journey for the Detroit Tigers left-handed, Canadian-born prospect Jordan Lennerton. The soon to be 28-year-old first baseman/designated hitter has slowly been clawing his way through the Tigers’ farm system since 2008, and his days of being labeled a prospect are nearing an end. Next month, however, he will finally be given a chance to work out with the big league club in Lakeland, Fla. and possibly even make the team. The opportunity he has been working towards for six years is finally within his grasp.
After a very solid 2013 campaign in Triple-A Toledo, the Tigers decided to add Lennerton to their 40-man roster in November. Lennerton then went on to catch fire in winter ball and hit to the tune of a .340 batting average in 39 games for Leones de Ponce. He also had five home runs, 13 doubles and drove in 21 runs. If Lennerton can carry that momentum into Spring Training, the Tigers are going to be forced to make a difficult decision which could involve Lennerton taking the roster spot of longtime utility man Don Kelly.
The Tigers are currently in a position where switch-hitting Victor Martinez is the only left-handed bat they can depend on heading into the 2014 season. The Tigers are, however, crossing their fingers that Alex Avila and Andy Dirks can bounce back, but that is an issue which remains to be seen.
One would think that the need for another left-handed bat would help Lennerton’s case for making the team — and it does to a certain extent. The problem, however, is Lennerton’s lack of versatility which is an area where Kelly most certainly holds the edge.
If Lennerton could play the outfield, his situation would look significantly better. However, the fact is he has never even logged a single inning in the outfield in the minor leagues. The team could still decide to swap Kelly’s glove for Lennerton’s bat, but they could also decide that pitching and defense is what wins games.
Versatility, or lack thereof, is an issue that has plagued Lennerton since he first became part of the Tigers organization back in 2008. Since Lennerton was drafted, the Tigers have inked three superstar first base/DH types in Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Martinez to multi-year contracts.
Although these transactions made Lennerton’s future with the Tigers seem irrevocably dim, Lennerton always kept his head held high and kept chugging away. His story has the makings of a classic never give up tale.
That said, Lennerton’s future with the organization still remains uncertain even now that Fielder has been traded. Cabrera is moving back home to first base and may never want to leave that position again. Cabrera is signed through 2015, but it appears that the Tigers’ organization is going to do everything in their power to keep Cabrera in a Tigers jersey for life.
Martinez is signed through only next season, but the Tigers may decide that they would like to retain the consummate professional hitter for much longer than that as well.
However, if Lennerton keeps swinging away, he is going to force the Tigers to give him a look and consider him for a bench role. The old cliche if, “if you can hit they will find a spot for you” is as true as ever, and right now the Tigers could use an extra bat.
It goes without saying that if Lennerton can make the team out of Spring Training, manager Brad Ausmus is going to have to get creative to find at-bats for him. He may be forced to move Cabrera to third or put Martinez behind the plate on occasion just to get Lennerton’s bat in the lineup. He may even feel compelled to allow the 6-foot-2, 217-pound lefty plod around one of the corner outfield spots every once in a while.
Even if Lennerton cannot make the team out of Spring Training, there is still a strong possibility he will be called up at some point in 2014 if he keeps hitting and the circumstances dictate. He has shown that he has the desire and the work ethic to continue working hard and forging ahead.