Guillen focusing on health, transition
Venezuelan League stint builds confidence for shift to outfield
Carlos Guillen sounded a confident note that he'll be healthy and ready in Spring Training after playing a brief stint of winter ball in the Venezuelan League late last month.
Guillen missed the final five weeks last season with back problems, including inflammation that pinched a nerve and limited his mobility. His 113 games played in 2008 marked his lowest total since 2005 and was one reason behind the Tigers' decision to shift him from third base to left field.
Guillen finished last year with a .286 average, 29 doubles, 10 home runs, 54 RBIs and an .812 OPS, all drops from his previous two seasons. He had just two home runs and seven RBIs in 27 games after the All-Star break.
The hope is that outfield duty will allow the 33-year-old Guillen to limit some of the quick moves that an infielder would make and give him a better shot at staying healthy. By all accounts, his offseason work has put him in a good position to do that.
"I'm feeling good," Guillen said in a telephone interview Saturday from his home in his native Venezuela. "I'm doing workouts almost every day."
He felt good enough, in fact, to play some shortstop during his four-game stint for Magallanes of the Venezuelan League after getting the go-ahead from Tigers officials. At short and in the outfield, where he began his professional career more than a decade ago in the Astros organization, he felt comfortable and unencumbered.
Offensively, Guillen went 5-for-16 with three walks, two home runs, a pair of doubles and six RBIs. His brief stint, from Dec. 26-29, was a bright closing note for a Magallanes club that struggled this winter.
Because Magallanes did not make the Venezuelan League playoffs, Guillen's winter ball season ended there. Though teams can draft players from other squads in the league to field a club for the Caribbean Series in early February, that's not something Guillen or the Tigers are interested in doing so close to Spring Training, especially with the World Baseball Classic coming up. Guillen is on the projected roster for the Venezuelan team as an outfielder.
So for now, Guillen's focus is back on his workouts, much like it has been for most of the winter. He has been working out in his hometown of Maracay along with neighbor Miguel Cabrera. Tigers strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett has made multiple trips to Venezuela this winter to track their progress.
"We're working out together with Javair," Guillen said. "[Cabrera] is in good shape."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.