Last week, it was reported that Victor Martinez may do a little catching for the Detroit Tigers in 2014. Martinez made only three starts behind the plate in 2013 and caught a total of just 22 innings. Fans were understandably concerned about Martinez donning the catching gear, as he missed the entire 2012 season with a knee injury, but his body appeared to hold up during the limited time he spent behind the dish last season.
It should be noted that Alex Avila is still slated to be the Tigers’ starting catcher in 2014, and the Tigers are also expected to carry another backstop in Bryan Holaday. Holaday should be a stellar defender, but he will most likely be bringing a less-than-potent bat to the party.
In the event that Martinez could actually manage to make one or two starts behind the plate per week without getting injured, it would be absolutely terrific, as it would open up numerous possibilities for the Tigers. But there is still a big question as to just how often Martinez will be able to catch in 2014. Even in 2011, during Martinez’s first year with the Tigers, he only caught 26 games.
One of the biggest reasons why manager Brad Ausmus wants Martinez to be ready to catch is simply because of interleague play, as the Tigers are going to lose the designated hitter when playing in National League parks. Therefore, in order to get both Martinez and Miguel Cabrera into the lineup, either Martinez will have to catch or Cabrera will have to play third base and let Martinez play first.
However, if Martinez was to catch in non-interleague games, it would give the Tigers a chance to use the DH spot to get Cabrera or Torii Hunter off of their feet for a day. It could also give the Tigers a chance to cram yet another bat, such as Jordan Lennerton, into the lineup.
Lennerton, who is turning 28 years old today, is a career minor leaguer who has recently been compiling some very impressive stats. However, the left-handed Lennerton can only play first base and DH. He has never even logged a single inning in the outfield during the six seasons he has spent in the minor leagues.
If Martinez was able to catch on occasion, and/or Cabrera could play third semi-regularly, it would give Ausmus a window to give Lennerton at-bats. Obviously, the issue of how well Avila and Nick Castellanos are performing will factor in as well, because inserting Lennerton into the lineup would most likely have to result in one of them being taken out of it — unless Castellanos makes a return to the outfield.
It may even be worth a chance to give Lennerton an opportunity to take a few balls in the outfield, like the Tigers did with career infielder Jhonny Peralta at the end of last season. Lennerton has the potential to be the same type of power hitting bench player that Marcus Thames was with the Tigers, only left-handed.
All of this being said, Lennerton, of course, still has to make the team. The most probable way for him to do so would be to have strong spring and challenge Don Kelly for the 25th spot on the Tigers’ roster. Kelly did sign a one-year contract worth $1 million this offseason, but he is not guaranteed a spot on the squad.
At any rate, regardless of whether or not Lennerton is part of the Tigers’ plans this coming season, Martinez’s ability to catch combined with the departure of Fielder should make the Tigers exponentially more flexible. The Tigers are going to have several players on their 2014 roster who have the ability to play more than one position, which is always a plus.