Detroit Tigers: Jim Leyland Hints 4 or 5 Players Seeking 25th Roster Position

J Cook@JCookBRCorrespondent IMarch 26, 2012

Detroit Tigers: Jim Leyland Hints 4 or 5 Players Seeking 25th Roster Position

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    Before the Detroit Tigers' 1-1 tie against the New York Yankees on Sunday, Detroit manager Jim Leyland made it clear that the battle for his squad's 25th roster position still isn't a choice between just two players—Andy Dirks and Clete Thomas. 

    "There's definitely more than two guys, I can promise you this," Leyland stated.

    So it seems clear that the Tigers still have some work to do to firm up their final roster.

    It isn't to say that 24 spots are already set, either. There is still the unmet commitment to a No. 5 starter in the rotation. 

    The 25th spot, however, that Leyland is referring to is a position player, not a pitcher. Whether it is an infielder or an outfielder doesn't seem as clear. He has several options in both places. 

    "I could take four or five 25th players right now," Leyland said. "I could go with any of them and be comfortable. I know I can go a lot of different ways with my 25th player and be very comfortable.That's not something that's really going to eat at me."

    Here's a peek at five players that are still in the hunt for Detroit's final Opening Day roster spot. 

Clete Thomas

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    Clete Thomas has never played more than 23 games in a season at the MLB level for the Tigers and has been fighting for an opportunity to earn a permanent spot on the roster since 2006. 

    He does, however, carry a .296 lifetime batting average with the Tigers in 90 total at bats, mostly the result of a stellar 14-game performance in 2010 that resulted in a .389 batting average. 

    He also had a strong 2011 season, hitting .286 in 42 at bats. In 2008 he hit .296 gathering eight hits in 19 games including six RBI. 

    This spring he has collected 10 hits with four of them extra-base knocks. He also has seven RBI and six runs. His average in Lakeland could be better, pacing himself at a .233 average and no better .239 OBP.

    Thomas may have had a tipped scale early this spring because of previous MLB success but his lack of consistent offensive threat this spring may leave him out in the cold again.

    It is more likely that Thomas will be looking for an opportunity to fill an outfield position from Triple-A Toledo should one of the Tigers' more likely options get the call for the final spot and fail to fill the role in Detroit. 

Andy Dirks

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    Andy Dirks may be the most unfortunate odd man out of this whole scenario. It seems more likely that the Tigers will keep a utility infielder in the wake of the Miguel Cabrera injury even though Cabrera is likely to be ready to go on Opening Day. 

    Dirks' numbers this spring include 13 hits with a .371 clip at the plate and .452 OBP. That coupled with an outstanding winter season in the Dominican Republic where he played hero with the game-winning hit in the National Championship Series. 

    He's also earned six walks and knocked in six runs this spring in 35 at bats. Dirks has collected 16 total bases and has scored nine runs. 

    In 22 games with the Tigers last season, Dirks gathered 19 hits and hit a very respectable .333 for the season in 57 at bats. 

    Dirks is likely to be No. 26, the last and most difficult cut for Leyland to make. He is also most likely to be the first player called up from Toledo. Right now it's a numbers game and a matter of where Leyland feels he's most likely to need the help early this season. 

    At this point, Leyland knows that Dirks is major-league ready and could fill the role as an everyday player if given the chance to show he can get it done over a 162-game major league season. 

Quintin Berry

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    Quintin Berry was a non-roster invitee for the Tigers this spring and in 17 games has been very good and at times downright outstanding. Berry has made two circus-like catches this spring that have scouts turning heads and Leyland keeping close watch as well. 

    Berry has knocked nine hits and boasts a .333 average and .400 OBP. this spring in 27 at bats. He's also swiped two bases for a team that is in desperate need of speed. Three extra base hits have contributed to the 15 total bases he's gathered this spring. 

    Berry was working his way up through the Philadelphia Phillies organization over five seasons previous to his 2010 trade to the San Diego Padres and then to the Cincinnati Reds, his last stop before being invited to earn a spot on the Tigers roster this spring. 

    If Leyland chooses to carry an extra outfielder to start the season, Berry has proven his worth to get that nod. It seems that an infielder is more likely to make the final stable of players on the 25-man roster and Berry will most likely be offered a minor-league contract in the organization.

    Berry could start as high as Triple-A Toledo as a result of his spring efforts, he's logged nearly 100 games at that level already. Austin Jackson will have a shadow in the form of Berry chasing him if he can't produce at the get-go for Detroit. 

    Berry should have a chance to play in Detroit at some point this season, but still sits behind the more likely of first options Andy Dirks for an outfield reserve position. Berry and Dirks may wind up teammates in Toledo which should create great competitiveness for the first call up.  

Audy Ciriaco

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    Audy Ciriaco, who's in his fifth spring with the Tigers, is making noise and drawing attention as a possible candidate for the trip to Detroit should Leyland decide to include an additional reserve infielder. 

    Ciriaco, a shortstop by trade, has played in 13 games this spring. His stat line has been the best of his career opportunities in Lakeland including six hits and six runs with four RBI. A chance to play in the bigs could result in a shift to second base.  

    Ciriaco has carried a .333 BA and .400 OBP with two walks against only one strikeout in 18 at bats.

    Ciriaco's current downfall is he has only played 42 total MLB games while carrying a .254 lifetime batting average in 59 at bats.

    With only one spot left, it isn't likely that Ciriaco will get the nod but he has definitely given notice that he is readying himself for the opportunity to transfer from his minor-league landing to Detroit should the need arise.

    Ciriaco needs to push to stay in the hunt by playing at this best in the Tigers farm system. Doing so will leave him nipping at the heels of Ryan Raburn and likely candidate Danny Worth from Triple-A Toledo, with a short trip to Detroit if both falter.

Danny Worth

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    The 26-year-old Danny Worth seems on the verge of being the most likely candidate to earn Leyland's call for the final spot on the Opening Day roster. 

    Worth has proved his worth this spring and his eight hits, four doubles, four RBI and .296 batting average have buoyed his argument for a roster nod. 

    He also seems stronger and more explosive at the plate than in previous seasons. Worth has played 58 games for the Tigers and carries a .289 lifetime average in 83 at bats. The ball is jumping off his bat and camera flashes are catching glimpses of what scouts have long said Worth was capable of producing.

    One would think that Leyland is leaning toward holding onto an additional infielder as it could be more likely the help needed early in the season will come calling from the dirt, not the grass. Here is where Worth's value provides the greatest gains.

    He is a versatile utility option in the infield, having the ability to play second, third and shortstop with equal ability in all spots. This offers Leyland a plethora of infield defensive substitution options and added versatility with his lineup as well.  

    Worth has proved a better backup to Raburn whose outstanding spring has locked his starting spot at second base. Brandon Inge could also platoon at first and could ultimately backup Alex Avila in an emergency situation. However, he is hitting a paltry .171 in Lakeland and has had plenty of chances to earn his own way onto the roster over his 15 games this spring.  

    Worth should get the now-coveted No. 25 spot and a ticket to Motown to boot. 

Brandon Inge

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    Here's the wild card—Brandon Inge. Is he on the roster for Game No. 1? Is he in Toledo? Or, is he watching a different game altogether?

    How could an evaluation of the final spot not be complete without looking at why Brandon Inge just shouldn't get more than two or three more games to get it right. So far his .171 average and seven total hits in 41 at bats, including seven strikeouts, hasn't bolstered his chances of continuing on with the team to Detroit.

    At some point the Tigers will have to make a choice on Inge and it doesn't seem it would be healthy for the mix to drag it out another 10 days. Leyland will be wanting to put together the final look of his team and let those players gather sync as they approach the start of the regular season. 

    Inge hasn't even managed to earn his way on base, holding a .209 OBP and walking only twice this spring. He's also struck out seven times. 

    Leyland did, however, offer some comments to the contrary that he won't be headed home with the Tigers as he has the past 11 seasons. When talking about his options with the final spot and speculating that he won't need a catcher because he already has four, Leyland stated, "I've got four catchers—two emergency, and two catchers. The two emergency catchers, Leyland said, are Don Kelly and Inge.

    So, does this mean that Inge already has a spot on the roster? Or was it a veiled comment that he'd be available as a backup, even if he wasn't with the team in Detroit? It shouldn't take 10 games to find out, with any luck it will be sooner rather than later. 

    Of course, Inge could always bow out gracefully himself if he sees that it is time to go, but maybe it isn't?

    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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