When the 2011 World Series chase ended for the Detroit Tigers, nearly every analyst had the same offseason shopping list for the Tigers. They needed bullpen depth, a fifth starter and a bat for either second or third. No one thought the Tigers would be in the market for a Prince Fielder-caliber player, but after an ACL tear to Victor Martinez, the Tigers suddenly had a huge hole in their lineup.
Because of the Fielder signing, Detroit got a old/new third baseman in slugger Miguel Cabrera. Second will be handled by a contingent of Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn, Danny Worth and Brandon Inge. To handle the 'pen, they traded Ryan Perry for Colin Balester and signed Octavio Dotel. The only position left is the elusive fifth stater.
The Tigers said from the beginning they didn't feel they absolutely had to add a fifth starter in free agency, saying they would prefer to have a veteran in case the young guns needed a little more fine-tuning. With an open spot up for grabs and Manager Jim Leyland unwilling to name a favorite, it seems appropriate to take a closer look at the candidates and what they bring.
Turner is highly regarded around baseball circles and is considered the Tigers' best prospect. MLB.com has him ranked as the 15th-best prospect in baseball and the seventh-best right-hander. Turner owns three solid pitches and said he's working on adding a slider this spring. Command will be the key for Turner, and he's shown (in the minors) the ability to command and mix his pitches well.
The Tigers current rotation is void of a left handed pitcher. Smyly came from seemingly nowhere to post superb numbers last year. Overall he posted an 11-6 record with a 2.07 ERA. He commands all of his pitches well (36 walks) and has shown the ability to miss bats, 130 strike outs in 126.0 innings. He is ranked as the Tigers third best prospect and 82nd best prospect in baseball by MLB.com. Smyly will probably start the year off at AA and move to AAA by mid-season, with spot starts in Detroit likely if the need arises.
Who should be the fifth starter?
Another left-hander who pitched in 14 games (two starts) for the Tigers in 2011. The Michigan native posted an 0-2 record with a 4.34 ERA for the Tigers. Below has an excellent chance to make the Tigers' 25-man roster in 2012, but the question will be whether he makes the team as a reliever or starter. For the Tigers, he was more effective coming out of the 'pen, and that may be his role going forward.
If this were last year, Oliver would be the first name on this list, but he took a step back last year. Over the last two years, Oliver has posted an 0-5 record with an ERA of 7.11 in seven starts. Just by looking at the numbers, you can see the quality of the pitches Oliver possesses. (In 147 innings in the minors, he struck out 143.)
His problem was control. He can't locate his pitches well enough and the result was 80 walks and a WHIP of 1.56. If he can master his control, he has the potential to be a No. 2-caliber starter.
Wilk is a classic control lefty. He is able to spot all of his pitches for strikes and gets by with guile rather than a blazing fastball. Wilk came out of the bullpen for the Tigers in 2011, and that experience should help him this year in camp. His future may be with another club, or as a long relief option for the Tigers.
Crosby came to the Tigers in the fifth round of the 2007 draft. Injuries have slowed his progress, but in 2011 he made it though a full season for the first time since 2009. Crosby has a lot of work to go on improving his control and refining his breaking pitches, and his future might be in the bullpen rather than as a starter. The safe bet is Crosby will return to AA Erie with a good chance to move up to AAA, or will be traded when needs become more apparent.