Detroit is only a few weeks away from starting a defense of the American League Central title. While the team has arguably three of the top 10 players in all of Major League Baseball, there are undoubtedly still a variety of areas in which the Tigers have question marks.
Over the course of spring training, a variety of players have seen their stock rise and plummet. The biggest beneficiaries of this appear to be pitcher Andy Oliver and second baseman/utility player Ryan Raburn.
Pitcher Jacob Turner, on the other hand, has gone from being the consensus No. 5 starter to probably manning the mound in Toledo.
Infielder Brandon Inge has thrown a bit of a wrench into the depth chart, as his attempt to move from third base to second has put him as the No. 2 man on the depth chart for both positions.
With so many roster moves still to be determined with only a few weeks to go, there are five roster positions in particular that the Tigers need to be confident in by the start of the 2012 regular season.
As of right now, lefty Andy Oliver is thought to be the fifth starter going into the regular season. But that may not be the case by April 5.
That being said, it would take quite a drop from Oliver to make that the case. So far in spring training, Oliver is 1-0 with a perfect ERA of 0.00. He has six strikeouts with only three walks in nine innings of work.
His most impressive stat is his WHIP, which is holding steady at an impressive 0.56. At the beginning of spring training, Oliver was considered to be behind Jacob Turner and Drew Smyly in the competition for the fifth spot. Now, he's relatively close to cementing his name into the rotation.
Like Oliver, Drew Smyly is also having a pretty stellar spring training. If not for Oliver's impressive performance, Smyly would probably have the job as the fifth man as a near guarantee.
Now that Turner is reportedly no longer in the competition for the starting job, Smyly has to be considered Oliver's biggest competition for the spot. While their numbers are similar, Oliver has more experience than Smyly, which could prove to be a big determining factor going into the season.
All in all, even if Smyly does not get the job, he will get a few spot starts in 2012. If he can prove himself in that role, Smyly should be a starter in the future.
Adam Wilk is a dark horse candidate for the fifth starter spot, but the likelihood of him actually getting the job isn't very high. It would be more probable to see Wilk come out of the bullpen.
Unlike Smyly, it's hard to see a way for Wilk to fit into the starting rotation at any point in the near future. With Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister in the rotation, not to mention Smyly, Jacob Turner and Oliver in the mix, the chances of seeing Wilk get a consistent spot in the rotation isn't high.
Duane Below and Jacob Turner
Ryan Raburn is tearing it up so far in spring training. Hitting for an outstanding .458 average, Raburn is solidifying his worthiness as a starter in some form in Motown.
Where Raburn lacks is his defense. He won't impress anyone in the infield, although he would probably be a serviceable second baseman from a defensive standpoint.
If his offense stays up to par, though, it would be crazy to think that Raburn shouldn't be a starter at second base going into this season.
Raburn has been one of the best home run hitters in all of baseball so far in spring training, as his five home runs have also pushed his slugging percentage up to 1.250.
While Ramon Santiago has had a pretty impressive spring training—he's hitting at a .333 mark in eight games—it is highly unlikely that Santiago will get the start at this point.
The biggest benefit of starting Santiago would be his ability to hit from both sides of the plate. The Tigers need a switch hitter in the lineup, and Santiago would fill that role nicely.
That being said, Santiago didn't perform well in his previous attempt as a full-time starter, which may make the organization reluctant to give him the opportunity again.
Brandon Inge has been Detroit's sweetheart for quite some time. Fans have loved his blue-collar, never-quit style of playing defense.
Those fans have started to disperse as of late, especially with how poorly Inge hit last year.
When the Tigers signed first baseman Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera made the move to third. This left Inge without a place to start, forcing him to decide whether he'd be a role player or fight to be a starter. He chose the latter.
Based on last season's performance, one could argue that Inge doesn't deserve to start at any position. However, the Tigers are paying him a lot of money, and it seems as though Inge always finds his way back into the starting lineup.
Although I do not believe Inge will be the Opening Day starter at second, I do expect him to get a decent amount of starts at the position.
Danny Worth and Don Kelly
So far, Delmon Young is having an excellent Spring Training. The former Minnesota Twin is hitting .519 with three home runs and 15 RBI.
There's little doubt that Young will be a starter going into Opening Day. Where he starts, though, will be the big question. While he's currently projected to be the starting in left field, Young's defense has to be a huge concern. Out of all of the outfield options, Young's defensive ability is probably the weakest.
That is why putting Young in the DH role would make the most sense. Allowing him to only hit would grant a better defender the opportunity to play left field, bolstering a Tigers' defense that isn't expected to woo anyone in 2012.
I know, Raburn has been on this list already. But I have to put him on it again, because Raburn's future at second is far from a guarantee.
Putting Raburn at DH is a bit of a backup plan. The only scenario in which this would happen involves Inge getting the start at second, as well as Young getting the start in left field.
While the chance of this happening isn't impossible, it's not extremely likely.
Andy Dirks is having himself a nice little Spring Training so far. In 12 games, Dirks is hitting .429 with five RBI and an OBP of .500.
The chances of Dirks landing in the DH role are fairly minimal. But if Raburn gets the start at second, Dirks could be starting at either DH or in left field, depending on where Delmon Young ends up.
As far as utility men go, Don Kelly has to be one of the best in all of baseball. Kelly managed to play every position at some point in 2011, including catcher. Whether or not this should translate into a starting position remains to be seen.
If Kelly does manage to get the starting nod going into the season, it would probably mean that Dirks would be taking the role as a backup.
At the end of the day, it's more likely that Kelly continues his role as a utility player. He is considered a very valuable asset in that way, so it's hard to see the Tigers messing with that.
Earlier, I said that Dirks could play designated hitter this season. The more likely scenario, though, is that Dirks will be playing left field on Opening Day.
While Dirks may not be quite the hitter that Young is, he is a much better defender, something that the Tigers would have to consider to be highly valuable.
Like the battle for designated hitter, the competition in left field is pretty tough between Young and Dirks. However, the way I see it playing out is a start for Young at DH and Dirks at left field.
Young's hitting will probably need to be in the lineup, but his defense would be quite a liability in the outfield.
That being said, it wouldn't be surprising to see Young in left. Whoever plays the position may only be a temporary solution, as the Tigers will probably be pursuing a new option pretty heavily prior to the trade deadline.
Last season, Doug Fister spent a great deal of the second half looking like an ace in the rotation. With an infield that isn't quite as solid this year as it was last year defensively, Fister should still have a solid year as a contact pitcher.
As of right now, Fister is considered to be the No. 2 starter going into the 2012 season. However, Max Scherzer could still get the job, depending on how the last few starts go in spring training.
While Fister is better right now, Max Scherzer is the pitcher with a higher ceiling long term. However, as of right now, Scherzer is the third-best pitcher in the rotation.
In a year, Scherzer will probably be the No. 2 guy. But, as of right now, Fister is going to be the No. 3 starting going into the 2012 season.