The Detroit Tigers brought outfielder Torii Hunter on board for the 2013 season for two reasons: To help stabilize the top of the batting order to set up Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and give a veteran voice in the clubhouse.
If April is any indication of what Hunter brings to the table at the plate, then the mission has been accomplished.
One of three Detroit regulars to hit over .300 in April, Hunter has indeed bridged leadoff hitter Austin Jackson to the heart of the lineup by hitting a very impressive .375 in the first month of the season. Scoring 17 runs himself, he has nine extra-base hits over his first 22 games.
The home run production is on the wane—hitting only one so far—but with the big boppers behind him, the Tigers need him to be reaching base, not swinging for the fences.
Seeing the ball perhaps better than he ever has, Hunter could improve on last year’s career-high average of .313 with the Los Angeles Angels.
There is always a smile on his face and he has taken full advantage of the opportunity Detroit gave him on his quest to win a World Series ring. That infectious personality has to be rubbing off on those around him.
His base-stealing days are over—he hasn't even attempted a stolen base this year yet—and he will likely strike out more than 100 times this season, but his fast start is one of the big reasons why the Tigers find themselves at the end of April in first place in the American League Central.
One of the bigger keys to his success has been avoiding grounding into double plays.
That process started last year with the Angels, as the number dropped from a career-high of 24 in 2011 to 15. This year, he has hit into only one.
The nine-time Gold Glove outfielder has played 21 of his 22 games in right, starting 18. His two assists put him on pace for a third-straight year of double-digits, and he has yet to commit an error.
Hunter took a $6 million pay cut to chase after his first title. For both the Tigers and himself, that sacrifice of dollars for a championship run could pay off in spades come October.