6 Can't Miss Detroit Tigers Breakout Candidates
After a breakout 2011 campaign, the Detroit Tigers were not content enough to sit idle this off season. Though Victor Martinez was lost to a freak shuffling accident, the Tigers are a better ball club right now than they were when the season ended.
But it will take more than just the addition of Prince Fielder to get the Tigers over the hump. Breakouts from key players will be necessary if they plan on advancing to the World Series.
The emergence of Alex Avila and the return to prominence of Jhonny Peralta made last year's playoff run possible. If they are able to get similar contributions from new players this year, a World Series title would not be out of the question.
6. Ryan Raburn 2B
All of my regular readers will know that I am a Raburn apologist. With that being said, he is going to be the key to the bottom of the order for the Tigers. Slated to bat ninth, Raburn's ability to provide protection for the likes of Peralta and Avila will be crucial.
Raburn is a notorious second half hitter. He normally takes off late in the year as he starts to receive more regular at-bats. Guess what? He's going to be receiving regular at bats from Opening Day this year. A hot start could earn him the everyday job by May.
While his defense is suspect, there is no reason that 25 home runs cannot ease the pain of an error or two.
5. Max Scherzer SP
For a two month stretch early last season, Max Scherzer was one of the best pitchers in the American League. He came up big on several occasions in the playoffs. He has game changing stuff. The problem with Max has always been, to this point, consistency.
If the Tigers are going to win playoff series, Max Scherzer is going to need to pitch to his potential. He has improved in each of the last several years and seemed to mature by leaps and bounds as a pitcher last year. If you carry that over to this year, it's not inconceivable that he could win 18 games.
4. Austin Jackson CF
Last year's regression of Austin Jackson was nothing short of stunning. After putting together a solid rookie season hitting .293 and stealing 27 bags, he only hit .249 last year and struck out 181 times in the regular season and 19 times in 41 at bats in the playoffs.
He is still only 24 and has all the talent in the world, so there is plenty of reasons to believe that he is capable of turning the ship around. According to the Detroit Free Press, Legendary Lloyd McClendon has overhauled the approach and stance of his young outfielder.
If Austin can manifest these changes into getting on base, the Tigers will have the best offense in the game. At his best, he has proven to be a catalyst. I would expect him to steal a few more bags this season as well. If Jackson can hit .280 and steal 30-35 bases, there is a good chance that the Tigers will make a return trip to the ALCS.
3. Delmon Young LF
In the last year that he was completely healthy, 2010, Young hit .298, slugged .493, had 21 home runs, 46 doubles, and 112 RBI's. He did that in the middle of a Twins lineup that was nowhere near as good as this current Tigers order. There is no reason to think that with a full season, he couldn't repeat or even best those numbers.
Young is frequently going to have runners on base when he comes to the plate, forcing pitchers to throw from the stretch and divide their attention. He will be getting pitches to hit behind the Fielder and Cabrera and will have RBI opportunities galore.
Young's ability to provide protection for Prince Fielder could very well be the single biggest factor between a good and a great offense.
2. Rick Porcello SP
It's time for Mr. Porcello. Blessed with a load of ability and the poise of a veteran, its time for him to finally put it all together.
Porcello now has now started 89 games in his career and twice in the postseason. Lack of experience is no longer an excuse.
Porcello, is one pitch away from being a dominant pitcher in the American League. When his sinker is on, it is one of the best in baseball, yet he does not have a pitch to rely on when it is not working. His change up is developing and his curveball has shown flashes. If either of these pitches comes along this season, he will start to deliver on his immense potential.
Another thing to look for out of Porcello this year is more use of the fastball. Obviously being a sinkerballer commits him to using that pitch primarily, but when hitters can't respect that fastball, pitchers struggle. I look for Porcello to let it go a little more this year. If he can sit around 94 with his fastball, it will open up all of his other pitches, including the sinker.
1. Miguel Cabrera 3B
It seems a little ridiculous to say that someone as established and renowned as Miguel Cabrera is in for a breakout, but it really is the truth. We have only seen a shade of what Miggy can do and the whole picture is about to come into view.
With all due respect to Victor Martinez, this is the first time in his career that Cabrera is really being protected in the batting order. While Martinez was a step in the right direction, his lack of power did little to deter pitchers from pitching around Cabrera. Fielder does not lack power. Cabrera will see more pitches to hit this year than any other year of his career.
Moving to third base will be a massive adjustment for the big guy, but he is going to be up for it. He will probably only have to play there part-time this year, giving him time to get re-acclimated to his old stomping ground. Cabrera has a good arm. He has a desire to be great and an unselfish outlook. It may sound crazy, but I think he's going to be alright.
The final area in which Cabrera is going to breakout this year is with his leadership. Losing Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez leaves a major void in veteran leadership in the clubhouse. Cabrera has clearly matured over the last several years. I look to him and Verlander to become to outspoken leaders for this team, a championship level team.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know on Twitter. www.twitter.com/lefthandsmoke23