Detroit Tigers: 5 Key Questions Heading into Spring Training
With the Detroit Tigers' players a few weeks away from reporting for spring training, there are still some questions that need to be answered. While the Tigers look like a strong playoff contender on paper, it may not necessarily translate on the field, and the lineup may still be tinkered with heading into the regular season.
Two of my favorite things about spring training are that every team has optimism for the season, and that there are always some surprises that emerge. Let's take a look at what I think are the top five questions the Tigers and their fans are seeking answers to before April rolls around and we hear "Play Ball".
Will Victor Martinez Be as Productive as He Was in 2011?
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Victor Martinez missed all of the 2012 season with a severe knee injury, which prompted the Detroit Tigers to go out and sign Prince Fielder to help fill the gap as Miguel Cabrera's protection in the lineup.
Martinez, who will be the full-time DH, is 34 years old and reports say he looks great and will be healthy.
Last year's DH, Delmon Young, is gone and when healthy, Martinez brings a balance to the lineup by being a switch-hitter and showing more patience at the plate. Still, with Martinez's age and a year-long layoff, no one knows if he'll be the same hitter as he was before the injury.
All eyes will be on Martinez in spring training to determine if he can become the hitter he was before he got injured. If Martinez can be the player he was in 2011, then the Tigers may have the best player acquired this offseason.
Prediction: Martinez recovers fully and hits over .300.
Who Will Be the Tigers' Closer?
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A big question heading into spring training is whether or not the Detroit Tigers will be comfortable with Bruce Rondon—a 22-year-old rookie—as their closer.
There is no doubt that Rondon is talented. He throws a fastball touching the 100s and the Tigers GM, Dave Dombrowski, has even referred to him as a "rare talent". However, Rondon has never faced big league pitching and that can be a scary proposition for a rookie closer.
The other viewpoint is that while the Tigers are in a "win-now" mode by continually investing a lot of money into the team, will they let their season hinge on a player with no experience?
That being said, I still feel that Wilson should be given a chance in Detroit, even if he couldn't be counted on until May or June as a safety net. Either way, until Rondon actually proves himself in the regular season, the question will still remain.
Prediction: Rondon will be the closer unless an unforeseen trade occurs.
Will Peralta's Lack of Range at Shortstop Be an Issue?
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It appears that most fans are worried about the Detroit Tigers' infield defense with an emphasis on Jhonny Peralta's lack of range. Earlier in the offseason, the Tigers flirted with shortstop Stephen Drew and then were linked to Baltimore Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy.
I believe people overlook that Peralta has very good hands and is very solid on handling the ground balls he can get to. Granted, Peralta, who was an All-Star in 2011, didn't hit as high of an average in 2012 and had a poor season offensively—but he can bounce back this season.
Will Peralta's sure hands make the Tigers feel better about his other defensive deficiencies? We'll need to see how this plays out in spring training.
Until the team breaks from spring training, observers will be waiting for the Tigers to address their infield defense. And since Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Omar Infante aren't going anywhere, Peralta is the player that is targeted for a defensive upgrade.
Prediction: Peralta goes north with the Tigers, but the front office continues to search for an upgrade throughout the season.
Who Will Be the Tigers No. 5 Starter—Porcello and Smyly?
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At this point, most Detroit Tigers fans are aware of the team's desire to trade Rick Porcello to help fill other needs. There are too many rumors to discuss in this article but until Porcello, 24, is officially traded, he'll still be in spring training with the team. GM Dave Dombrowski already has said that Porcello has a "leg up" on Drew Smyly in the starting rotation battle.
I believe that Dombrowski was painted into a corner with his answer about the competition and that there is no doubt the Tigers want Smyly to be in the starting rotation.
This starting rotation battle will be one to watch carefully, and maybe Porcello could help to change the Tigers' minds to want to keep him. Regardless, this will probably be considered the most written about battle in spring training.
Prediction: Porcello makes the starting rotation unless he is traded.
Will Torii Hunter Have a Productive Season?
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When the Detroit Tigers signed outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year deal, both the Tigers and their fans were ecstatic. Hunter represents an upgrade in the Tigers' defense in right field and also gives them a respectable bat in the No. 2 spot in the lineup.
Hunter had an amazing year in 2012 hitting .313 with 16 homers and 92 RBI, batting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Hunter's luck will continue this year batting between Austin Jackson and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, but will that be enough?
The only question facing Hunter is, at 37 years old, can he still play every day and produce the way he has over his career? While Hunter has no current injury problems and appears to keep himself in shape, at 37 he may not be able to recover as quickly from the bumps and bruises of playing baseball.
It's nothing major to worry about, but the Tigers should monitor his health, and hopefully his skills won't decline rapidly over the next two seasons.
Prediction: Hunter will stay healthy and hit .280 with 12 homers and 85 RBI.