Detroit Tigers: Delmon Young and 5 Low Profile, High Impact Players for 2012
After a prophetic start to the 2012 season, the Detroit Tigers have to be pleased with where they are at a week into the Grapefruit League's winter season.
Expectations are high and the Tigers thus far have given manager Jim Leyland little to complain about.
In fact, they might be exceeding well beyond where Leyland thought they might be at after only a few weeks in the sun.
Regardless, there is no such thing as a Grapefruit League championship, but players are living up to the hype placed on an organization that became instant favorites to go all the way in 2012 the day Prince Fielder signed a long-term contract.
The Tigers have a handful of players that will be difference makers in 2012, some more than others, but all will have an impact.
Some players will be role players because they have a job to do on game day to help the Tigers win ball games.
Those are the players we'll be looking at.
Here's a look at five high impact, low profile players that will help Detroit go the distance this season.
Bleacher Report Featured Columnist J. Cook is a member of B/R's 2012 MLB Spring Training Coverage Team and contributes to B/R's MLB content and Detroit Tigers page.
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In 2011, Joaquin Benoit came to Detroit via free agency after a strong 2010 season with the Tampa Bay Rays.
At the time, the move garnered plenty of media attention, with the Tigers scooping up one of the hottest setup men on the market.
A little over a year later, Benoit has slipped quietly back into the ancillary role of second-tier stardom.
Don't get me wrong, that doesn't make him any less important or any less effective, it just seems to be a role that suits him more. He is as good as anyone in the American League in that role, and would be a closer on most squads across MLB.
Setup men in general, even the very best, don't get the attention that closers get, nor often the paycheck, either.
However, Benoit's outstanding 2010 earned him a hefty raise and the Tigers will shell out $5.5 million per season for his services through 2013.
His 1.34 ERA with 11 walks and 75 strikeouts were amongst the league's best in 2010 and the Tigers took advantage of an offseason opportunity to make him Jose Valverde's counterpart at the back end of the pen.
Benoit also surrendered only nine runs the entire 2010 season.
The Tigers found the guy they were looking for to ensure those late-inning safeguards all good teams have in their makeup. Detroit is no different and will expect Benoit to build on a good, but not great, 2011.
His 20 runs given up in 2011 were twice as many as the previous season and, at times, he struggled to locate his pitches.
Not to worry as 2012 should see Benoit in great form and ready to be the impact pitcher the Tigers brought him on board to be.
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The Tigers have long talked of what Santiago's role is with the organization.
He isn't an every day player, but more than capable of being a versatile utility infielder.
Santiago seems amiable to the organization's stance and more than willing to take advantage of opportunities when called upon.
2012 should be no different for Santiago.
He plays a key role in the Tigers roster makeup and is vital to their ability to appropriately rest starters while not skipping a beat out on the field. Santiago has been solid and dependable for Detroit in six seasons as a utility infielder and has even had his fair share of highlights to boot.
Santiago has averaged 100-plus games per season since 2009, more than a typical utility infielder, showing his value to the Tigers day in and day out.
His career .978 fielding percentage isn't terrible for a player that could go days without seeing a live ground ball or trying to turn a 6-4-3 double play.
Santiago's .260-plus batting average over the same stretch is also serviceable and he is an effective bunter for Leyland when called upon to sacrifice a runner over. That's his role with the team and purpose in a Detroit uniform—to do the little things when called upon.
Santiago does the little things very well.
Sometimes, he even exceeds expectations like he did at the end of 2011, watching his playing time significantly increase throughout the season's back end stretch and well into the playoffs.
He hit .375 with nine hits while playing in all six games of the 2011 ALCS against the Texas Rangers.
Clearly, Santiago can answer the bell when his number is called, making him invaluable to the Tigers' success for 2012.
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Alex Avila is poised to make a move from this list of low-profile players should he repeat the season he had in 2011.
The baseball world loves phenoms and spreads the limelight to their performances, but rarely do they give the spotlight to more traditional players like Avila.
All of that could change with an All-Star 2012 season.
Avila, who still isn't in the discussions of baseball's best backstops, started last year's Summer Classic for the American League and turned in the best season of his young career.
He is a impact player for Detroit and his .295 average last year, coupled with 56 extra-base hits, made him a difference maker down the stretch for the Tigers.
Detroit made one of their most savvy baseball moves in the offseason, bringing back veteran catcher, and former Tiger, Gerald Laird.
Avila's worst stretch of the season came at the most inopportune time—baseball's playoff stretch run. Avila was fatigued and pushed his body beyond its physical means.
Catching 133 games will do that to even the greatest athlete. But, it's not on Avila's shoulders.
The organization's failure to prep or sign a backup left the lion's share of catching duties to Avila, despite his obvious decline after a sensational regular season.
With Laird back in the picture, Avila can get a rest from time to time—a luxury he was not afforded in 2011.
Avila is a student of the game and possesses solid mechanics as both a hitter and catcher. The rewards of more rest will be two-fold—a sharper plate presence late in the season and a well-rested body come playoff time.
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Last year's experiment by Detroit—moving Phil Coke from the bullpen to a baptism by fire in the the starting rotation—failed miserably.
Unfortunately, Coke's season was nearly a wash as a result as well.
After a strong 2010 season, his first with the Tigers after being traded in a multi-player deal with New York, that also included Curtis Granderson and Austin Jackson, Detroit felt Coke's southpaw arm could provide more by toeing the rubber in inning one.
They could not have been more wrong.
Coke struggled mightily as a starter last year and, by mid-season, was shipped back to the bullpen: A place where, in 2010, he performed with the consistency of a machine, letting up only two home runs in over 64 innings of work as a middle reliever.
He also posted a respectable 3.76 ERA—not an easy task for a pitcher who, more often than not, comes in to face the opposition's best hitters.
His effectiveness in 2010 is proof that he has the skills, but only when coming out of the pen.
One thing that is a certainty with Coke is he's a competitor—you get the best that he has to offer every time he takes the mound.
The Tigers will need Coke's veteran presence in a bullpen lacking experience and southpaw relievers—two positives for the Tigers and their young pitchers.
2012 should provide an opportunity for Coke to find his comfort zone and consistency in the bullpen once again.
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Delmon Young still hasn't reached the high expectations placed on his shoulders.
The Tampa Bay Rays' first pick of the 2003 amateur draft, Young never developed into the player the Rays hoped for.
During the 2008 offseason, the Rays gave up on Young, trading him to Minnesota.
He fared no better in the Twins' estimation and Detroit scooped Young up last season before the trade deadline to shore up a team stricken by the injury bug as well as fatigue.
Young answered with the best 40-game stretch of his career, hitting .274 with 32 RBI and 14 extra base hits. He also gave Detroit the offensive shot in the arm needed after the loss of Brennan Boesch to a thumb injury.
Against the New York Yankees in the ALDS, Young smashed 3 home runs and hit .316 for the series. He added two more home runs in the ALCS against Texas.
Eight hits and six playoff RBIs later, Young looked to be exactly what the Tigers needed. In a contract year, Young did exactly what he needed to do.
Time is running short on opportunities to latch on to one team for good, but it seems Young has found a home with the Tigers.
2012 promises to afford Young every chance to show the baseball world what he's capable of and he'll be in a perfect position to do so.
Young can drive the ball hard and should have chances to use Comerica's spacious outfield to his offensive advantage during a full season. Young's efforts will leave the Tigers with a either an easy choice if he doesn't perform well or a much more difficult one if he produces like last season.
In this case, I think they'd rather have the tough call to make.