The Tigers upgraded their outfield defense and offense by signing Torii Hunter this offseason. However, they now have a glut of outfielders on their roster. The Tigers have to decide if they want to carry one or two extra outfielders.
This decision will shape the roster over the weeks leading up to spring training. It's a safe bet that at least one if not two of last year's outfielders will not be with the big-league team when they break spring training.
I want to take a preliminary look at what we can expect from the Tigers outfield in 2013 and where the battles will take place.
Last offseason Austin Jackson retooled his swing, and the big question going into spring training was whether he'd be able to stick with his new swing and cut down on his strikeouts.
2011: .249 BA, .317 OBP, 22 doubles, 11 triples, 10 HR, .690 OPS, 181 strikeouts
2012: .300 BA, .377 OBP, 29 doubles, 10 triples, 16 HR, .856 OPS, 134 strikeouts
While is batting average may come down a little bit, it's very encouraging to see Jackson's power numbers going up while his strikeout numbers go down. He still needs to improve his baserunning and learn how to steal more bases, but overall he projects to be a very good bat in Jim Leyland's lineup.
In addition to very good offense, Jackson plays great defense. He is one of the top center fielder defenders in the game, and there is no reason to think that will change.
2013 Projection: .285 BA, .370 OBP, 30 doubles, 10 triples, 20 HR, .865 OPS, 145 strikeouts and 20 steals.
The Tigers wanted Torii Hunter, and Hunter wanted to play for the Tigers. Hunter will man right field for the Tigers and bat second. Hunter had a career year last year hitting behind phenom Mike Trout and in front of Albert Puljos.
2011: .262 BA, .336 OBP, 24 doubles, 23 HR, 82 RBI, .765 OPS
2012: .313 BA, .365 OBP, 24 doubles, 16 HR, 92 RBI, .817 OPS
I think it's highly unlikely Hunter will hit .313 again, as he hit nearly .390 on balls in play, but a solid .286/.354/.440 triple slash line with 15 home runs and above-average defense would be better than what the Tigers got out of right field in 2012.
2013 Projection: .285 BA, .345 OBP, 25 doubles, 15 HR, 85 RBI, .800 OPS.
Andy Dirks was a pleasant surprise last year. I think most fans and the Tigers brass thought Dirks was a fourth outfielder at best who'd hit about .260 and play OK defense. Dirks doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well, but he's a ballplayer, the type of blue-collar grinder every team needs.
Unless something crazy happens, Dirks will be the starter in left field for the Tigers next year. The Tigers have said they want a right-handed outfielder to platoon with Dirks, but it's probable Dirks would get all but about 40 games in left for the Tigers.
The element in Dirks' game which hasn't really shown up in the majors is his base-stealing ability. Twice in the minors Dirks stole over 20 bases. The ability to steal bases will be important, and hopefully we'll see him be more aggressive on the basepaths with him batting lower in the order.
2011: .251 BA, .296 OBP, 13 doubles, 7 HR, 5 SB, .705 OPS
2012: .322 BA, .370 OBP, 18 doubles, 8 HR, 1 SB, .857 OPS
I expect Dirks' batting average to come down a little bit, but hopefully his steals will come up as will his power. He has hit as many as 15 home runs in the minors, and that sounds like a reasonable power output for him.
2013 Projection: .300 BA, .360 OBP, 25 doubles, 12 HR, 10 SB, .850 OPS
This will be one of the most interesting position battles of spring training. The Tigers really want a right-handed outfielder to platoon with Dirks. They also need to determine how many outfielders they want to carry. This past season the Tigers carried five outfielders.
Berry brings one element the Tigers have sorely lacked: speed. As pitchers figured out Berry, his batting average plummeted. However, he can be very useful as a late innings pinch runner as he was towards the end of last year.
Another player I expect to give Berry a run for his roster spot is rookie Avisail Garcia. Garcia played right field down the stretch and in the postseason and is a legitimate five-tool player. He could both platoon with Dirks and provide a solid pinch runner off the bench.
2012: .258 BA, .330 OBP, 10 doubles, 6 triples, 21 steals, .684 OPS
If he wants to stick with the Tigers, Berry is going to have to find a way to get more base hits. He is not a power guy and needs to improve his glove work and his bunting. If he does that he will find himself a part of the big-league team.
2013: .250 BA, .335 OBP, 10 doubles, 5 triples, 25 steals, .670 OPS.
Brennan Boesch will be the player currently on the active roster who is most likely to not be there once spring training is over. Boesch struggled through most of 2012. The Tigers expected him to hit close to .280 with 20-plus home runs. That didn't happen.
Even if Boesch has a strong spring, there is a pretty good chance he is dealt for whatever need comes up during spring training. The main reason why Boesch will not make the Tigers roster is his lack of speed and defense. The primary need of bench players in Detroit will be their ability to pinch run or play defense.
2011: .283 BA, .341 OBP, 25 doubles, 16 HR, 54 RBI, .799 OPS
2012: .240 BA, .286 OBP, 22 doubles, 12 HR, 54 RBI, .659 OPS
Boesch played so poorly the Tigers brought up Avisail Garcia to play right instead of trotting Boesch out there because at least Garcia could play defense. Dombrowski has alluded to a possible trade happening if Boesch doesn't wow the Tigers this spring. I think a trade is the most likely option.
2013: .260 BA, .300 OBP, 25 doubles, 18 HR, 60 RBI, .700 OPS
There are several wild cards which could make spring training very interesting. The first is Avisail Garcia.
Garcia played quite well down the stretch for the Tigers, hitting over .300 and playing solid defense. Garcia needs to cut down on his strikeouts considering he struck out 10 times in 51 plate appearances. His power didn't show in his cameo, but he projects to have 15- to 20-home run power.
Another is blue chip prospect Nick Castellanos. Castellanos is still making the transition to the outfield, but he will be able to hit, and the power is still developing. Castellanos probably still needs another year to adjust to playing the outfield, but if there is an injury it wouldn't be a stretch to see him playing in Detroit.
Finally, the ultimate wild card is recent Rule 5 trade acquisition Jeff Kobernus. Kobernus is known as an athlete who has plus speed. Dombrowski talked about Kobernus having some versatility and trying him out in the outfield. Kobernus might spell the end to Ramon Santiago or Danny Worth's shot with the Tigers.