Predicting the Detroit Tigers’ 2014 Opening Day Lineup
Predicting the Detroit Tigers' 2014 Opening Day Lineup
The 2014 Opening Day lineup will look very different for the Detroit Tigers.
After losing in the ALCS last season, the Tigers parted ways with some of the key pieces of their lineup from last season, with the most notable being Prince Fielder. For the past two seasons, Fielder hit behind Miguel Cabrera, providing the slugger with protection in the lineup. With his departure, there is now a huge hole to fill in the cleanup spot. Both middle infielders, Jhonny Peralta and Omar Infante, are also gone, leaving some more holes in the back half of the lineup.
Detroit has players that are clearly the heir to each of those positions and will be in the lineup on Opening Day, but where they will find themselves in the lineup is the real question.
Ian Kinsler was acquired from the Texas Rangers in exchange for Fielder, and will replace Infante at second base. He is also a candidate to be the leadoff man in the lineup, as Austin Jackson struggled in the role last season.
Jose Iglesias will take over at short after being acquired at the trade deadline. He played the spot while Peralta was suspended for PED usage and will keep the spot this season.
Fielder's old position at first will be taken by Cabrera, who shifts over from third to make room for prospect Nick Castellanos. The latter has developed into the Tigers' top prospect and will shift back to his natural position at third after playing in the outfield for the past few seasons.
Rajai Davis also joined the team and he will form a platoon with Andy Dirks in left field. Davis provides a new look for the Tigers with his speed on the base path. It will be interesting to see how new manager Brad Ausmus divvies up the playing time between the two players.
Ausmus has given some indications as to what his lineup will look like, but nothing is certain. The Tigers did play an exhibition against Florida Southern that gives some indication as to what the lineup might look like, but nothing is set in stone and a lot can happen over the course of Spring Training.
Here's a look at what the Tigers lineup should look like on Opening Day.
1. Ian Kinsler, Second Base
Ian Kinsler looks set to be the leadoff man this season. Kinsler provides a better option than Austin Jackson at the top of the lineup, as he strikes out less, walks more and provides a better base-stealing threat. Kinsler has also posted a better on base percentage than Jackson in three of the four seasons that Jackson has been in the majors.
2. Torii Hunter, Right Field
Torii Hunter should return to his spot in the two hole in the lineup this season. Hunter hit .304 with 17 home runs and 84 RBIs in the spot last season, earning an All-Star bid and a Silver Slugger award. He only drew 26 walks last season, though, and if he can improve on that number, he could have an even better year this season.
3. Miguel Cabrera, First Base
Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball right now and he will continue to hit in his normal three hole. Cabrera has won the last two AL MVP Awards and won a Triple Crown in 2012. Fully healthy this year, expect Cabrera to hit another 40-plus home runs and 130-plus RBIs.
4. Victor Martinez, Designated Hitter
Victor Martinez is the logical candidate to fill Prince Fielder's spot as the cleanup hitter. He returned from a knee injury last season and hit .301 with 14 home runs and 83 RBIs. With a full offseason of preparation at full strength behind him this season, Martinez should improve on those numbers and provide protection for Cabrera. He should see a lot of at-bats, as teams could look to intentionally walk Cabrera to face him.
5. Austin Jackson, Center Field
Austin Jackson should shift from the leadoff spot down to the fifth spot in the lineup. Jackson had high strikeout totals for a leadoff batter and should fit better in the five hole. Jackson was moved out of the leadoff spot in last year's postseason and responded very well when placed further down. He also has hit double-digit home runs in each of the last three seasons, and those numbers could improve as he shifts to a spot with less pressure to get on base.
6. Andy Dirks, Left Field
In the sixth spot, Andy Dirks is my pick for Opening Day. As the incumbent left fielder, I think Ausmus will go with him over Rajai Davis to open the season. It is still to be seen how the at-bats are divvied up between the two players, but Dirks should have the edge since he has been with the team the longest.
7. Alex Avila, Catcher
Alex Avila is looking for a bounce back year in 2014 and should find himself in the seventh spot. He was an All-Star in 2011, hitting .295 with 19 home runs and 82 RBIs, but saw those averages drop to stat lines of .243/9/48 in 2012 and .227/11/47 in 2013. Avila has the potential to hit in a higher spot in the lineup, but the seventh spot should be where Avila sees most of his at-bats until he improves those numbers.
8. Nick Castellanos, Third Base
Nick Castellanos is regarded as the Tigers' top prospect because of his bat, but the Tigers should hit him low in the order as he adjusts to the majors. He hit .278 in 18 at-bats last September and .276 in Triple-A last year. Those numbers are promising, but the Tigers would be wise to take it slow with Castellanos and let him adjust.
9. Jose Iglesias, Shortstop
Jose Iglesias is a MLB shortstop because of his phenomenal play in the field, not his hitting, and should be the No. 9 batter. With that being said, Iglesias did post some good numbers at the plate last year, hitting .303 and posting an on base percentage of .349. If Iglesias can reproduce those numbers, it would be an added bonus for the Tigers, but barring a total collapse at the plate, Iglesias will be the everyday shortstop.
Pitcher: Justin Verlander
Max Scherzer did win the AL CY Young last year, but Opening Day is Justin Verlander's start if he's healthy. Verlander had abdominal surgery this offseason, but should be ready to go Opening Day. Verlander had a down year last season, going 13-12 with a 3.76 ERA, but the 2011 AL MVP should rebound in 2014. Scherzer is a candidate to start the Opening Day game after going 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA last season, but Verlander has a better overall track record. If I was the Tigers, I would start Verlander because of that track record, as a whole career weighs more in this decision than one year does.