Spring the time to answer Tigers' questions
Newcomers, veterans have plenty to prove before opener
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can Austin Jackson hold his own on offense?
The Tigers believe he's ready to handle center field in Comerica Park right now, which is why they insisted on getting him in the deal that sent Curtis Granderson to New York. The question is how well Jackson will hit, and the opinions among observers are mixed. Jackson is more than just a multi-sport athlete trying to play baseball, but his high strikeout total and midseason struggles last year raised questions about whether he's ready to take on Major League pitching. If he is, Detroit's offense looks a lot more effective, especially at the top of the order. Expect Jackson to spend a lot of time in the batting cages with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, and a good number of spring games atop Detroit's lineup.
Both Sizemore and Inge had major surgeries last fall -- Sizemore for a fractured ankle, Inge for patella tendinitis in both knees. While Sizemore is expected to be ready for the start of camp, Inge said last month that he might not be ready to play in full games until the back half of the Spring Training schedule. Any setbacks for either of them could have big consequences for the Tigers, who need their bats as well as their time to build some infield continuity with Sizemore at second. 3. How will Miguel Cabrera rebound from his late-season disappointment?
The last time anyone saw Cabrera in uniform, he was walking off the field at the Metrodome and later blaming himself for the Tigers' final-week collapse. His domestic incident in the season's final weekend became the headline out of Detroit's demise, but he hit miserably in the days before that until hitting a two-run homer in the tiebreaker. He'll be continuing his counseling for alcoholism, and he'll have fellow countryman Andres Galarraga in camp as an instructor and mentor.
86-77, 2nd in the AL Central Projected batting order
1. CF Austin Jackson:
.300 BA, .354 OBP, .405 SLG, 4 HR, 65 RBI in 2009 (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre)
2. 2B Scott Sizemore:
.308 BA, .389 OBP, .500 SLG, 17 HR, 66 RBI in 2009 (Toledo/Erie)
3. RF Magglio Ordonez:
.310 BA, .376 OBP, .428 SLG, 9 HR, 50 RBI in 2009
4. 1B Miguel Cabrera:
.324 BA, .396 OBP, .547 SLG, 34 HR, 103 RBI in 2009
5. DH Carlos Guillen:
.242 BA, .339 OBP, .419 SLG, 11 HR, 41 RBI in 2009
6. 3B Brandon Inge:
.230 BA, .314 OBP, .406 SLG, 27 HR, 84 RBI in 2009
7. LF Ryan Raburn:
.291 BA, .359 OBP, .533 SLG, 16 HR, 45 RBI in 2009
8. C Gerald Laird:
.225 BA, .306 OBP, .320 SLG, 4 HR, 33 RBI in 2009
9. SS Adam Everett:
.238 BA, .288 OBP, .325 SLG, 3 HR, 44 RBI in 2009
1. Justin Verlander, 19-9, 3.45 ERA in 2009
2. Rick Porcello, 14-9, 3.96 ERA in 2009
3. Max Scherzer, 9-11, 4.12 ERA in 2009
4. Jeremy Bonderman, 0-1, 8.71 ERA in 2009
5. Nate Robertson, 2-3, 5.44 ERA in 2009
Closer: Jose Valverde, 25/29 saves, 2.33 ERA in 2009
RH setup man: Joel Zumaya, 4.94 ERA in 2009
LH setup man: Phil Coke, 4.50 ERA in 2009 The new guys
LHP Phil Coke: While Jackson was the player the Tigers insisted on getting in the Granderson trade, Coke could be the best piece of the deal in 2010. If Detroit decides it needs another starting pitcher candidate, Coke is the guy, having done it effectively coming up through the Yankees' farm system. If not, Coke becomes a power lefty in the bullpen who can work multiple innings, allowing Jim Leyland to move around relief pieces. He proved his worth in New York, and he could become more valuable in Detroit. RHP Max Scherzer: The key for Detroit in the Edwin Jackson trade with Arizona was getting the talented Scherzer, who has the chance to step into the heart of the rotation after his first full season in the big leagues. He's a pure power pitcher who will become a focus for pitching coach Rick Knapp to further hone his secondary stuff without taking away his aggressiveness. He might end up being the swing man whose performance determines whether this rotation as a group can match last year's effectiveness. LHP Daniel Schlereth: Ryan Perry's former bullpen mate at the University of Arizona is a teammate again, and he has the chance to eventually blossom in Detroit. Whether he opens the year with the Tigers is as much a matter of bullpen depth as his own development, but the latter could determine whether he ends up as closer material in a couple years. His fastball-curve combination has the potential to give hitters fits once he adds a little more polish to his command. His stuff has already proven just about unhittable for Minor Leaguers in limited time. At the very least, his first Tigers camp means some visits to Lakeland from his father, former NFL lineman Mark Schlereth. RHP Jose Valverde: The Tigers haven't had this type of proven closer at the top of his game in a long time, and they eventually found the money to add him with a two-year, $14 million deal once he was the last reliever left standing after the holidays. Considering the relative inexperience in the bullpen, he couldn't arrive at a much better time. Whatever transition he has to make to the American League after seven seasons in the National League isn't expected to be an issue. The more intriguing question is what kind of positive influence he could have on youngsters such as Perry, Schlereth, Cody Satterwhite, even Joel Zumaya, a factor that some in the Astros' organization say is underrated about him. Prospects to watch
C Alex Avila: Being the son of the assistant GM doesn't matter here. Even if young Avila hits up a storm this spring, he could end up headed to Triple-A if the Tigers decide they can't find enough playing time behind Gerald Laird for him to develop. Whether he opens in Detroit or Toledo, however, he looks a lot like the starter in waiting, whether it's next year or later this summer. The most important factor for him, though, might be to learn the pitching staff as much as he can in six weeks, whether for future reference or immediate use. CF Austin Jackson: He has the unenviable role of trying to succeed Granderson in Detroit. In that respect, it's a no-win situation for him. In terms of winning confidence in the organization and securing a big league job, however, there's a ton for him to win from this camp. A strong Spring Training performance could go a long way towards easing the minds of some uneasy Tigers fans. OF Wilkin Ramirez: Don't brush off the possibility that Ramirez could make this team as an extra outfielder if his power-speed combination and a hot spring prove him useful enough for Leyland to find him playing time. He'll challenge Jackson for the best athlete in camp, but he has some big steps to make in his game before he can realize his potential and play on more than raw ability. 2B Scott Sizemore: Sizemore basically went unnoticed in his first big league camp last spring despite hitting two solo homers in 10 at-bats. He won't escape attention nearly that well this time, not when he's being counted on as Detroit's starting second baseman. His offensive game has enough facets that he could slot into several different spots in the order, and while he can't match Placido Polanco's defensive track record, scouts suggest he has the chance to show better range. OF Casper Wells: Like Ramirez, Wells has a good chance to get overlooked this spring, but this is potentially a huge camp to determine his path in this organization. While most team officials see him as a corner outfielder, Wells is determined to prove he can play center, and put in a lot of time in his training facility to put him in shape ahead of camp. If the Tigers unexpectedly decide Jackson needs more time in the Minors, Wells could be part of a Plan B in the outfield. On the rebound
RHP Jeremy Bonderman: Chalk up last year as a lost season, and Bonderman essentially has missed a year and a half since a blood vessel restriction in his shoulder led to season-ending surgery in the summer of 2008. Among those who have seen him throw this winter, Justin Verlander sees life on his throws again, something he didn't have when he tried to come back last summer. Pitching coach Rick Knapp has been upbeat on him, too. The Tigers have enough confidence that they've penned him into the fourth spot in the rotation without challenge. His return would be a major boost for Detroit, and just as big of a development for Bonderman in his final season of the four-year, $38 million contract he signed after 2006. RHP Armando Galarraga: As surprising as Galarraga's 2008 performance was, his 2009 struggles were just as disappointing. He seemingly lost his aggressiveness to pound the strike zone, but he also was dealing with elbow discomfort that didn't let up until he rested his arm following the season. He comes into camp with a rush of much-needed confidence following a brief winter stint in Venezuela, and he'll compete for the fifth spot in the rotation. If he's on, he might have the best chance to win the rotation competition. LHP Nate Robertson: After everything from a revamped training regimen a year ago to surgery removing masses from his elbow last summer, Robertson is finally in a position to realistically battle for a starting spot again. How much bite he can regain in his slider will determine how well he can contend again. He's in the last year of his contract, so he has plenty riding on this camp. LHP Dontrelle Willis: Once again, no one knows what to expect out of Willis, who went from 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the Rangers last May to an eight-walk meltdown in Pittsburgh a few weeks later on his way back to the disabled list with anxiety disorder. Like Robertson, he's in a contract year, and it's probably now or never for him to overcome his struggles. RHP Joel Zumaya: Until the Tigers signed Valverde, Zumaya was in line for a shot at the closer's role nearly everyone envisioned for him three years ago. That chance is gone now, but his challenge to stay healthy and reclaim his setup prowess is not. He underwent surgery last summer to remove a bone fragment from the stress fracture in his throwing shoulder, leaving questions as to how hard he can effectively throw. If he can show he's back, he has a chance to be a presence in the eighth inning again. Long gone
CF Curtis Granderson: What ended up as a winter of debate on the motivation for trading Granderson to New York is pretty much done now, and Detroit is left to move on with the challenge of replacing him in center field as well as the leadoff spot. Coincidentally, the Tigers and Yankees face each other four times this spring. RHP Brandon Lyon: The Tigers gave some effort toward re-signing Lyon before he landed a three-year, $15 million deal in Houston and Detroit turned its attention towards Valverde. Not many relievers could duplicate Lyon's second-half dominance, but a healthy Zumaya would go a long way toward replacing Lyon in his previous eighth-inning role. 2B Placido Polanco: No sooner had the Tigers declined arbitration to their free-agent second baseman than talks heated up with Polanco and the Phillies on a three-year, $18 million contract. By then, though, the Tigers had long since looked to Sizemore to take over at second. While Polanco's defense leaves a lot to replace, Detroit hopes Sizemore can make up a good amount of the offensive void. RHP Fernando Rodney: It wasn't always smooth -- all right, it was rarely smooth -- but Rodney converted 37 of 38 save opportunities for Detroit last year, setting himself up for a two-year, $11 million contract with the Angels as a free agent. Aside from the conversion rate, there's plenty of reason to believe the Tigers upgraded at closer with Valverde.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.