Detroit Tigers: Early Projections for 25-Man Roster in 2013
The Detroit Tigers have a sour taste in their mouths this spring.
The Tigers were unanimous favorites to win the American League Central Division in 2012 and make it to the World Series. After a rocky year, the Tigers accomplished both those feats but were swept out of the Fall Classic by the San Francisco Giants, and fans couldn't help but feel disappointed.
In 2013, the Tigers enter spring training with equal, if not higher, expectations than a year ago, and anything short of Detroit's first world championship since 1984 will be a failure.
The Tigers didn't make the biggest splash in free agency or in the trade market this offseason, but Detroit added some key pieces and parted ways with some dead weight, keeping them in contention for their third consecutive division title and second straight trip to the World Series.
Here are my projections for the Tigers' 25-man roster in 2013.
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1. Justin Verlander
2. Max Scherzer
3. Anibal Sanchez
4. Doug Fister
5. Drew Smyly
It's no surprise that Justin Verlander is the ace of the Tigers' staff again, and Jim Leyland has already announced that Verlander will be the Opening Day starter on April 1 against the Minnesota Twins.
It will be a toss-up during spring training who will earn the No. 2 spot, but it will likely be a battle between Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez.
Scherzer had a better year than Sanchez in 2012, but the Tigers signed Sanchez to a five-year, $80 million contract this offseason and might be obligated to start the season with Sanchez as the No. 2 guy.
The other rotation battle that will be interesting to watch this spring will be between second-year left-hander Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello.
Porcello and Smyly were both in the rotation last season, with Smyly earning the No. 5 job in spring training, but with the addition of Sanchez, the Tigers have six qualified starters, and someone will be on the outside looking in.
Smyly was extremely impressive in his rookie campaign last season, and was especially productive in his first few starts.
His 3.99 ERA was better than Porcello's 4.59 mark a year ago, and Smyly, who would be the only lefty in the rotation, should get the nod over Porcello for the last spot to start 2013.
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The Tigers' outfield is full of future, past and present stars with Andy Dirks, Torii Hunter and Austin Jackson roaming real estate at Comerica Park in 2013.
Dirks, entering his third major league season looks to have a breakout year after finishing with a .322 average in his first year as a primary player.
Dirks battled several injuries last season and only played 88 games, but complemented his .322 average with eight home runs and 35 RBI in only 314 at-bats.
Hunter, who signed a two-year, $26 million deal in November, brings his perennial Gold Glove to the other side of the Tigers' outfield and will be a welcomed veteran presence in the Detroit clubhouse.
Hunter posted a career-high .313 average last season, and added 16 home runs and 92 RBI, reinvigorating his 14-year MLB career.
Jackson came into his own last season, finishing the year with a .300 average, 16 home runs and 66 RBI.
The question is who will be the odd man out among outfielders.
Quintin Berry made his major league debut last season after spending seven-plus years in the minor leagues.
He gave the Tigers a shot of energy they desperately needed, leading the team in steals, going a perfect 21-for-21.
I think because of his value in so many areas, Berry will make the major league club out of spring training and will be joined by rookie Jeff Kobernus.
Kobernus was acquired by the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft before this season, and brings a similar arsenal to the Tigers as Berry.
Kobernus never played above the Double-A level but stole 42 bases last season and 53 the year before.
At Harrisburg of the Eastern League in 2012, he batted .282 with a .325 on-base percentage and .333 slugging average.
During his professional career, Kobernus has mainly played second base, but because of his outfield experience in college and his ability to give the Tigers a righty-lefty platoon in left, he has been attractive for Detroit so far this spring.
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The Tigers have two of the best hitters on the planet in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder.
Last season, with a .330 average, 44 home runs and 139 RBI, Cabrera won the first AL Triple Crown since 1967 and Fielder, while adjusting to a new team and a new league, had a solid year for the Tigers, boasting a career-best .313 average, with a 30 home runs and 108 RBI.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta has been the focal point of the infield this offseason, dodging rumors that he was on the trading block as well as the recent allegations about performance enhancing drug use.
Peralta had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2012, but despite all the negativity swirling around him, Peralta entered camp about 20 pounds lighter and will look to get back to his former self.
There won't likely be any position battles on the infield as all players have proven their worth and are steadfast in their roles, but the intriguing question is who Leyland will elect to have as utility players.
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Bruce Rondon has grabbed all the headlines for the Tigers this offseason after General Manager Dave Dombrowski and Leyland suggested him as the top closer candidate going into spring training.
Rondon has yet to throw a major league pitch and only had a cup of coffee in Triple-A, but he's gone into the spring with every opportunity to win the closer job.
Rondon will be helped out with a Tigers bullpen that performed phenomenally in the 2012 postseason.
Detroit's relievers posted a 25-23 record collectively last season with a 3.79 ERA, but in the playoffs the bullpen had a 2-2 record and an ERA of under three.
The Tigers return essentially the exact same bullpen as the unit that ended last season with one of the only questions being whether Smyly or Porcello will lose a starting spot, and be relegated to the pen.