5 Questions The Detroit Tigers Must Answer During Spring Training
5 Questions That Must Be Answered During Spring Training
Spring is here. Sort of.
It may not look like spring at Comerica Park, but when the Detroit Tigers report for Spring Training during the next few weeks, it sure will feel like it.
For the first time since 2006, the Tigers will begin Spring Training with a new face as manager of the club. Brad Ausmus begins his first season as manager with a loaded roster that stacks up as one of the most talented in all of baseball.
With three straight American League Central Division titles and three consecutive ALCS appearances, Ausmus has some big shoes to fill as he enters his first Spring Training.
Since 2006, Jim Leyland had been the skipper of the Tigers. Leyland brought a struggling and almost comical franchise back to being one of the premier teams in the league. One of the things that Leyland didn't get enough credit for was his ability to manage a group of superstars and keep the clubhouse in order.
Despite a new and fairly young manager filling out the lineup card these days, the clubhouse should continue to stay well-behaved as the Tigers are determined to bring home their first World Series championship since 1984.
Where was Ausmus in 1984? He was a freshman in high school.
Now as the 30th anniversary of that '84 championship team approaches, the 2014 version of the Tigers look to continue their recent string of success.
It all starts in Spring Training, and here are five questions that every Tigers fan should want answered this spring.
5. Who's In Left?
Left field has been a revolving door for the Tigers the past few seasons. After last season ended, it seemed to be a battle between top prospect Nick Castellanos and Andy Dirks. But after the trade of Prince Fielder, Castellanos slides back to his original position of third base, which left Dirks as the lone ranger. That is, until Rajai Davis was signed.
Davis brings something to the table that Tigers fans haven't seen in years -- speed. Davis swiped 45 bases last season. Compare that to the 35 stolen bases the Tigers had as a team combined, and you get a tough decision come Opening Day for Brad Ausmus.
Prediction: Platoon between Davis and Dirks.
4. Who Will Start Opening Day?
Last year, this wasn't even a debate. Then the unthinkable happened -- Max Scherzer was a better pitcher than Justin Verlander in 2013.
We all knew that Scherzer had the tools to become a dominant pitcher, just not that dominant. He finished his magical 2013 campaign 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA, a league-leading 0.970 WHIP and the Cy Young award. On the other hand, Verlander had his worst season since 2008. A 13-12 record with a 3.46 ERA seems respectable, but if you compare those numbers to Verlander's 2011 and 2012 seasons, the difference is remarkable. Verlander did bounce back in the postseason, but will that and a strong spring be enough to warrant an Opening Day start?
3. Who Will Hit Leadoff?
The Tigers just can't seem to find a real leadoff hitter, can they?
From 2006-09, the Tigers slotted Curtis Granderson on top of the lineup. From 2010-13, it was Austin Jackson. Neither are prototypical leadoff hitters, as both are more suited as middle of the order bats. So, what will Brad Ausmus do?
Well, he has two options. He can continue to write Jackson's name at the top, or he can utilize the nifty power and speed combo that newly acquired Ian Kinsler possesses. Kinsler joins the Tigers via the Prince Fielder trade and instantly becomes the top candidate for the leadoff spot as he held that position in Texas the past few seasons. Will Ausmus go that route or stick to the Leyland way?
2. Is Miguel Cabrera Healthy?
This question can also pertain to Justin Verlander, as he went through offseason surgery as well, but no player is more important to the Tigers' success than Miguel Cabrera.
The two-time MVP was well on his way to a second consecutive Triple Crown last season until injuries derailed his final two months. Despite playing with numerous injuries, Cabrera still put up hefty numbers. Granted, his production slowed down considerably, but Cabrera continued to strike fear into opposing pitchers down the stretch and in the postseason. He underwent successful "core muscle repair surgery" on Oct. 29 and said he was "good to go" in a recent interview on Jan. 24, but is his body ready for a 162-game season, or will we see Cabrera struggle to get through 2014?
Prediction: Cabrera is 100 percent healthy and will play in at least 155 games.
1. Is Nick Castellanos Ready?
No player is more important to the Tigers' success than Miguel Cabrera, but Nick Castellanos may be the player that gets them over the hump.
A top-rated prospect in a lowly-rated farm system, Castellanos made his Major League debut last September and went 5-for-18 in his brief stint up in the majors. He'll get much more than a brief stint in 2014, as Castellanos is expected to be the starting third baseman.
The 21 year old was named MVP of the 2012 Futures All-Star Game and put up solid numbers in the minor leagues, but can he sustain that success as an everyday third baseman in the majors?
Prediction: Castellanos will struggle early, but the Tigers will give him every chance to find his footing. He is still a few years away from stardom.
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