Detroit Tigers Scouting Report 2009
The Super Bowl is past and on February 2, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so I’m assured of at least ten more weeks of hockey.
It’s forty degrees outside my window, the snow is melting (although to either side of my driveway it’s still knee deep), but Detroit Tigers’ pitchers reported to Lakeland, Florida last week, and position players report this week, and so my thoughts turned to baseball.
In Michigan we can expect much snow before the start of the baseball campaign, maybe more arctic temperatures; but they’ll be playing baseball in Florida later this month, and that, my friends, does my heart good.
Tigers fans are still puzzling over last season. With the addition of Miguel Cabrera, many experts picked the Tigers to not only contend for the Central Division, but win the Championship. But the wheels fell off early, with center fielder and sparkplug Curtis Granderson starting the season on the DL with a broken finger.
The bats, including the aforementioned Cabrera, didn’t warm up until May; yet no one in the Central was in command, and by the All Star break they were still close enough to make a run, despite having lost Jeremy Bonderman for the season with shoulder surgery. But the starting pitching never solidified, the bullpen was inconsistent, and the Tigers finished last in the Central.
Hope springs eternal this time of year, for fans of all clubs everywhere, and it’s no different here in Motown, despite all the questions that hopefully will be answered between now and April Fool’s Day.
The big question for Tigers fans remains pitching. Will Bonderman regain his early career form to become the more dominating pitcher we expected? It’s hard to say how long the blood clot that ended his season early last year was affecting his arm, but something seemed amiss with Bonderman even in 2007, the year after the Tigers appeared in the World Series.
Armando Galarraga was the lone bright spot among the starters last season. Can he continue to baffle opposing hitters this season, or will he suffer the sophomore jinx?
Zack Miner came out of the pen late last year to start a handful of games and did well enough to be given a look at a starting position this year, but his past record as a starter has been one of inconsistency.
Nate Robertson was benched for a time last season for an inability to get hitters out, and frankly, I’m surprised to see him still with the club.
Can Freddy Dolsi and Dontrelle Willis rebound from their injuries of a year ago? And will Justin Verlander finally grow up and become coachable?
The Tigers’ top prospect, Rick Porcello, turned 20 last year and the door is ajar as to whether he comes north with the big club for the home opener, or be relegated to pitching in Double-A. This kid led the Florida State League with a 2.66 ERA last year, and president and general manager Dave Dombrowski has promised that Porcello will take the mound every five days in spring training, indicating a place in the starting rotation might be his to win.
The bullpen needs to stay healthy. Last year, for the second straight season, Zumaya and Rodney seemed injury prone. Detroit acquired Brandon Lyon during the off season to fill the role of closer after Todd Jones’ injury and subsequent retirement, a role for which Rodney never seemed to have the stomach. He seemed as likely to pick up the win as choke in pressure situations.
The Tigers landed a new pitching coach, Rick Knapp, out of Minnesota’s minor league system, and it will be interesting to see what he can do with this staff. I’m excited to see him in a Tigers uniform. The Twins have had success for years on the strength of pitching, a mean feat considering they play in the Metrodome on artificial turf, a hitter’s paradise.
Defensively, the Tigers are without Pudge Rodriquez, whom they dealt to the Yankees before the trade deadline last year. Gerald Laird, acquired from Texas, was the guy on Dombrowski’s wish list to replace Pudge.
Brandon Inge will be the everyday third baseman. He’s a human highlight reel with a gold glove in his future. Still he needs to bump up his batting average fifty points.
Edgar Renteria is gone, leaving the shortstop position to Ramon Santiago. Placido Polanco will stay at second and Cabrera at first, leaving Carlos Guillen to play left field, with Granderson anchoring center and Magglio Ordonez in right.
This team was an offensive force last year, and this year should be no different. It remains to be seen, however, whether the pitching can improve to the point where this team won’t have to play from behind so often, as they did a year ago.
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