Blogs > Out of Left Field

A sometimes-irreverent look at Detroit's Boys of Summer, the Tigers, as they try to return to the top of the American League Central.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

JV on regional Sports Illustrated cover

As part of Sports Illustrated's Major League Baseball preview package, Justin Verlander was one of six star pitchers featured on regional covers for the magazine this week. Here's what Verlander's cover looks like, if you missed it:

Who's picking whom to win what in 2013?

Everyone makes predictions at this point of the year — including myself. It's just what we do. We jot down what we expect to happen, and then we come back and look at how everything panned out at the end of the season. Remember, it's just for fun, right?

Here are how some of the experts around the baseball world figure the 2013 MLB season will turn out. Everyone has different criteria and different things they're picking, so none of the entries are completely the same.

Feel free to point and laugh, if you'd like.

The Sporting News
AL Central champs: Detroit

World Series: Two of four contributors picked the Tigers to be in the World Series, with one saying they’ll lose to the Nationals, and the other saying they’ll beat Washington. (The other two picked Angels over Braves and Nationals over Angels)

Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw (NL); Jered Weaver (AL)
MVP: Joey Votto (NL); Mike Trout (AL)
Rookie of the Year: Oscar Taveras, St. Louis (NL); Wil Myers, Tampa Bay (AL)
Manager of the Year: Don Mattingly (NL); Terry Francona (AL)
AL Central champs:
Detroit (6 of 6)

AL champion: Detroit (5 of 6 — Dayn Perry picked the Rays)
NL champion: Washington (6 of 6)

AL Cy Young: 2 picked Justin Verlander
NL Comeback Player: 3 picked Victor Martinez
World Series champ: Washington 4, Tigers 2

FOX Sports 
Ken Rosenthal

AL Central champs: Detroit
World Series: Tigers over Reds 

MVP: Mike Trout (AL); Joey Votto (NL)
Cy Young: Justin Verlander (AL); Stephen Strasburg (NL)
Rookie of the Year: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota (AL); Jedd Gyorko, San Diego (NL)
Manager of the Year: Joe Maddon (AL); Bruce Bochy (NL)

Jon Paul Morosi AL Central champs: *ahem* Royals
World Series: Nationals over Blue Jays
MVP: Jose Bautista (AL); Bryce Harper (NL)
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez (AL); Adam Wainright (NL)
Rookie of the Year: Brandon Maurer, Seattle (AL); Shelby Miller, St. Louis (NL)
Manager of the Year: John Gibbons (AL); Davey Johnson (NL)

AL Central champs:
Detroit (43 of 43) 
World Series: Of the 43 contributors polled, 26 had the Tigers repeating as AL champions, with 17 having the Tigers winning it.

Baseball Prospectus
AL Central champs:
Detroit (40 first-place votes)
World Series winner: Washington Nationals
MVP: Mike Trout, LA Angels (AL); Joey Votto, Cincinnati (NL)
Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Detroit (AL); Stephen Strasburg, Washington (NL)
Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay (AL); Shelby Miller, St. Louis (NL) 
AL Central champs:
Detroit (7 of 7)
AL champions: 3 picked Detroit
World Series champs: 2 picked Detroit

USA Today
AL Central champs:
AL Central champs:
7 of 7 picked Detroit (although they didn’t get the memo about discontinuing the leaping Tiger logo around, oh, 2005)
World Series champs: 3 of 7 picked the Tigers to repeat as AL champs, but one of those did not think they’d win the World Series.

Sports Illustrated
AL Central champs:
AL champions: Rays over Blue Jays
World Series: Nationals over Rays

MVP: Mike Trout (AL), Bryce Harper (NL)
Cy Young: Justin Verlander (AL), Stephen Strasburg (NL)
Rookie of the Year: Jurickson Profar, Rangers (AL); Adam Eaton, D’backs (NL)
Mr. Irreplaceable: Robinson Cano (AL); Matt Kemp (NL)
Breakout Hitter: Yoenis Cespedes (AL); Paul Goldschmidt (NL)
Breakout Pitcher: Alex Cobb (AL); Kris Medlen (NL)

Batting champ: Miguel Cabrera (AL, .335); Joey Votto (NL, .323)
HR champ: Jose Bautista (AL, 44); Giancarlo Stanton (NL, 43)
RBI champ: Miguel Cabrera (AL, 126); Ryan Braun (NL, 115)
K/9: Al Alburquerque (AL, 12.5); Craig Kimbrel (NL, 15.6)

New Jersey Institute of Technology associate dean Bruce Bukiet (Using mathematical models, of course)
AL Central champs: Detroit (with 102 wins, best in MLB)

Yahoo! Sports
AL Central champs:
4 of 4 picked Detroit
World Series: Two of the four writers had the Tigers defending their AL pennant, but only one — Jeff Passan — had the Tigers breaking their 29-year championship drought.

Cy Young: All four picked Verlander to win his second
AL Central champs:
19 of 20 picked Detroit (including C.J. Nitkowski and Jack Morris — but not Tracy Ringolsby)
World Series: Thirteen of the panel (including Morris and Nitkowski) picked the Tigers to defend their AL pennant. Five picked the Tigers to win it all — but not Morris or Nitkowski. (The Tigers were the second most-popular pick — nine writers picked the Nationals.)

Baseball America 
(Picks by executive editor Jim Callis)
AL Central champs: Royals
World Series: Nationals over Rays 

Athlon Sports 
AL Central champs:
ALCS: Detroit over Los Angeles
NLCS: Washington over San Francisco
World Series: Detroit over Washington

MVP: Robinson Cano (AL); Joe Votto (NL)
Cy Young: Justin Verlander (AL); Clayton Kershaw (NL)
Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay (AL); Hyun-Jin Ryu, LA Dodgers (NL)

Who's going where in the Tigers' minor league system

Once it's set who is making the big league roster for the Tigers, it becomes a process of divvying up the minor leaguers, assigning them to their respective teams. Here's a preliminary overview of which big-name prospects in the Tigers system are going to which teams, based on rosters/lineups released by the minor-league affiliates this week. Obviously, there are still some assignments that are outstanding, and some players won't appear on this list. 

(Jose Alvarez, LHP; Duane Below, LHP; Casey Crosby, LHP; Shawn Hill, RHP; Jose Ortega, RHP; Luis Marte, RHP; Bruce Rondon, RHP; Luke Putkonen, RHP) — Crosby is the organization’s top starting pitching prospect, but is still a ways away from being ready. The veteran Hill is probably who the team would call on if a spot start is needed. Rondon needs some seasoning at Triple-A before he’s ready to be the Tigers’ closer, but he’s not that far off. Ortega (pictured above), Marte, Putkonen and Below have already spent some time in the big-league bullpen.

Position players (Bryan Holaday, C; Quintin Berry, OF, Nick Castellanos, OF; Avisail Garcia, OF; Danny Worth, IF; Kevin Russo, IF/OF; Ben Guez, OF; Gustavo Nunez, IF; Argenis Diaz, IF) — Castellanos and Garcia are in Toledo and not Detroit because the organization doesn’t want to stunt their growth as bench players with the big-league team. If someone’s needed, though, either might get the call-up. Worth probably played well enough to earn a spot on the bench, but has an option left, as did Berry, who was the Tigers’ Rookie of the Year in 2012, and Russo, who was signed to a minor-league deal in the offseason. Argenis Diaz is a stud defender, while Gustavo Nunez was recently returned to the Tigers after being selected in the 2011 Rule 5 draft.

Overview — May be as many high-end prospects as Toledo has had in a while, with quite a few up-and-coming players knocking on the door, as well as some big-league-ready backups who may get a call sooner rather than later.

(Kyle Lobstein, LHP; Warwick Saupold; Robbie Weinhardt; Tyler Stohr; Tyler Clark)

Position players (James McCann, C; Ramon Cabrera, C; Hernan Perez, 2B; Dixon Machado, SS; Wade Gaynor, 3B; Tyler Collins, OF; Daniel Fields, OF)

Overview — The Seawolves’ lineup is better than their pitching, with a couple of highly-regarded prospects at catcher in McCann and Cabrera, two of the better middle infield prospects in the system in Machado and Perez, and a couple of outfielders who opened eyes as non-roster invitees in big league camp in Collins and Fields. Collins, who is the No. 7 prospect in the system, reminds people of Andy Dirks. The Tigers thought enough of Lobstein, acquired by trade after the Rule 5 draft, that they doubled down and traded catcher Curt Casali to the Rays to keep the lefty, who will be Erie’s Opening Day starter.

(Drew VerHagen, RHP; Ryan Robowski, LHP; Melvin Mercedes, RHP; Joe Rogers, LHP; Will Clinard, RHP)

Position players (Eugenio Suarez, IF; Aaron Westlake, 1B; Dean Green, DH; Jason King, 3B; Brandon Loy, 2B; Steven Moya, RF)

Overview — Suarez might be the Tigers’ best shortstop prospect (ranked No. 9 in the system), while Westlake and Green have plenty of raw power potential, as does the massive, 6-foot-7 Moya, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery. VerHagen joined the Florida State League champs late, and may be on the fast track toward the upper minors, along with his former Vanderbilt teammate, Clinard, while the Tigers have high hopes for the burly Mercedes, who was a non-roster invitee to big league spring training.

(Montreal Robertson, RHP; Endrys Briceno, RHP; Jordan John, LHP; Edgar De La Rosa, RHP)

Position players (Austin Schotts, CF; Danry Vasquez, OF; Devon Travis, 2B; Jeff Holm, OF)

Overview — The Tigers’ third-round pick last year, Schotts is seen as the center fielder of the future, and is ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the system by Baseball America, after hitting .310 in rookie ball. Vasquez, the No. 6 prospect, is back with the ‘Caps after struggling there to start last season, but is still one of the Tigers’ top hitting prospects after signing as a 17-year-old. He, Briceno and De La Rosa all need to add muscle mass to live up to their potential. The Tigers have been transitioning the powerful Robertson from reliever to starter.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tigers 2013 Opening Day roster capsules

With a few last roster moves on Thursday, the Tigers got down to their Opening Day roster of 25 players — 12 pitchers, 13 position players. First, they pared off a couple of young relievers, sending Luis Marte and Bruce Rondon, the heir apparent at closer, down to Triple-A Toledo. With Rondon out of the picture, they'll go with a closer-by-committee approach to start the season. Then after Thursday's Grapefruit League game against Houston, the Tigers sent Danny Worth to Toledo, as well, handing the final spot on the bench to veteran reserve infielder Ramon Santiago.

So, with that, here are your 2013 Tigers:

Justin Verlander
Starting pitcher
No. 35

AGE: 30
DRAFT: 1st round 2004

Led the American League in strikeouts and innings pitched for the third time in four seasons, topping all of baseball in both categories this time, and had a career-high (and AL-best) six complete games. Verlander finished a close second in the Cy Young voting to Tampa’s David Price. Will be the Tigers’ Opening Day starter for the sixth straight year.

’12 stats: 17-8, 2.64 ERA, 238.1 IP, 239 K/60 BB

Max Scherzer
Starting pitcher
No. 37

AGE: 28
DRAFT: 1st round 2006 (by ARZ)

Finished second in baseball to only teammate Justin Verlander in strikeouts, leading the big leagues with an 11.08 strikeout-per-9-inning rate, posting career highs in wins (16) and K’s (231). Struck out at least eight in 10 straight starts late in the season, the first Tigers pitcher in the modern era to do so, and

’12 stats: 16-7, 3.74 ERA, 187.2 IP, 231 K/60 BB

Doug Fister 
Starting pitcher
No. 58

AGE: 29
DRAFT: 7th round 2006 (by SEA)

Sidelined twice with muscle injuries in his side, the 2012 was up-and-down for Fister, as he went 2-6 before the All-Star break, and 8-4 after it. His resurgent second half was punctuated by his dazzling start against the Royals in late September, when he set a new American League record (nine) for consecutive strikeouts.

’12 stats: 10-10, 3.45 ERA, 161.2 IP, 137 K/37 BB

Anibal Sanchez 
Starting pitcher
No. 19

AGE: 29
DRAFT: none (signed as non-drafted FA by Boston in 2001)

Acquired at the trade deadline from Miami, along with infielder Omar Infante, for a package of prospects, including Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly. Went 4-6 with a 3.74 ERA for the Tigers, but got stronger as he went on, culminating in three stellar postseason starts (1.77 ERA). Was re-signed to a five-year, $80 million contract in the offseason.

’12 stats: 9-13, 3.86 ERA, 195.2 IP, 167 K/48 BB

Rick Porcello
Starting pitcher
No. 21

AGE: 24
DRAFT: 1st round 2007

Went back to basics after arguably the worst of his four big-league seasons, where he led MLB in hits allowed (226), and allowed opponents to hit .310. He scrapped the slider in favor of the curveball, went back to his high school windup, and will wear his high school number, after giving No. 48 to Torii Hunter — and it paid off. He won the competition with Drew Smyly for the final spot in the rotation with a stellar spring training.

’12 stats: 10-12, 4.59 ERA, 176.1 IP, 107 K/44 BB

Drew Smyly
Long reliever
No. 33

AGE: 23
DRAFT: 2nd round 2010

Earned a chance to compete with Porcello for the final spot in the 2013 rotation after a stellar rookie campaign, where he became the first modern-era rookie to give up one or fewer runs in his first four career starts. Wound up in the bullpen after the Tigers traded for Anibal Sanchez, but was a valuable contributor in that role in the playoffs.

’12 stats: 4-3, 3.99 ERA, 99.1 IP, 94 K/33 BB

Joaquin Benoit
Relief pitcher
No. 53

AGE: 35

Had a rough stretch in the middle of the season, when he couldn’t keep the ball in the park, and wound up allowing 14 home runs, most among AL relievers. Still wound up being the most consistent and reliable member of a bullpen that had issues as a whole with consistency and reliability, appearing in a career-high 73 games. Surrendered just one unearned run in a 13-outing stretch in May-June. Will be one who likely gets save chances in closer-by-committee setup.

’12 stats: 5-3, 3.68 ERA, 73 G, 71.0 IP, 84 K/22 BB, 30 holds

Octavio Dotel
Relief pitcher
No. 20

AGE: 39

Dotel club option was picked up after a successful first season with the Tigers, giving the well-traveled reliever a unusual measure of stability. Started strong, not allowing a run over his first nine appearances, then went 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA in July-August. Limited RH hitters to a .197 batting average. Has by far the most saves among the closer-by-committee crew with 109 in his 14-year career.

’12 stats: 5-3, 3.57 ERA, 57 G, 58.0 IP, 62 K/12 BB, 11 holds

Phil Coke
Relief pitcher
No. 40

AGE: 30
DRAFT: 26th round 2002 (by NYY)

Coke went from struggling situational lefty at midseason to lights-out closer in the postseason, inheriting the role by default when Jose Valverde fell apart. His 5.82 ERA post-All-Star break was despite a streak of 11 straight scoreless outings in August-September. Appeared in all four ALCS games, picking up two saves, then struck out the first seven batters he faced in the World Series, a WS record. Has the only postseason saves among the closer-by-committee crew.

’12 stats: 2-3, 4.00 ERA, 66 G, 54.0 IP, 51 K/18 BB, 20 holds

Brayan Villarreal
Relief pitcher
No. 60

AGE: 25
DRAFT: None (signed as non-drafted FA in 2005)

Despite not being on the Opening Day roster, Villarreal wound up fifth on the team with 50 appearances, and had a stellar first half (3-2, 1.55 ERA) before leveling off in the second half (0-3, 3.86 ERA). Equally dangerous against right-handed (.206 batting average against) and left-handed (.190 BAA) hitters. Will get some looks to close games, but is one that manager Jim Leyland feels you have to watch, so he doesn’t get overused.

’12 stats: 3-5, 2.63 ERA, 50 G, 54.2 IP, 66 K/28 BB, 10 holds

Al Alburquerque
Relief pitcher
No. 62

AGE: 26
DRAFT: None (signed by Cubs as non-drafted FA in 2003)

Did not return from elbow surgery in the 2011-12 offseason until September, then allowed just two earned runs in 15.2 innings of work between the end of the regular season and the postseason. Earned a postseason win in Game 2 of the ALDS.

’12 stats: 0-0, 0.68 ERA, 8 G, 13.1 IP, 18 K/8 BB, 1 hold

Darin Downs
Relief pitcher
No. 38

AGE: 28

DRAFT: 5th round 2003 (by Cubs)

Signed as a minor league free agent in November, 2011, Downs was one of the feel-good stories of the 2012 season, finally making it to the big leagues after nearly having his career derailed three years earlier by a wicked come-backer that cracked his skull. Despite good numbers after his July call-up, Downs was left off the playoff roster.

’12 stats: 2-1, 3.48 ERA, 18 G, 20.2 IP, 20 K/9 BB

Victor Martinez
Designated hitter/catcher/first base
No. 41

AGE: 34
DRAFT: None (signed as a non-drafted FA in 1996 by CLE)

Missed all of the 2012 season after injuring his knee in an offseason workout in January, requiring microfracture surgery. The four-time All-Star’s bat was missed in the middle of the lineup, where his AL-best .394 batting average with runners in scoring position in 2011 would have come in handy. Will be the primary DH, but could see time at first to spell Prince Fielder, and possibly behind the plate in interleague play.

’11 stats: .330 AVG./.380 OBP/.470 SLG, 12 HR, 40-2B, 103 RBI, 76 R

Brayan Pena
Catcher/first base
No. 55

AGE: 31
DRAFT: None (signed as a non-drafted FA in 2000 by ATL)

The free-agent acquisition takes the place of Gerald Laird as Alex Avila’s primary back-up behind the plate, as the switch-hitting catcher will get the nod against left-handed pitching. Had a career-high 25 RBI for the Royals in 2012, and hit .320 with runners in scoring position.

’12 stats: .236 BA/.262 OBP/.321 SLG, 68 G, 14 XBH, 25 RBI, 16 R

Alex Avila
No. 13

HEIGHT: 5-11
AGE: 26
DRAFT: 5th round 2008

Battling knee and leg injuries for much of the season, Avila was a shadow of his All-Star and Silver Slugger self from 2011, offensively, as 50 points dropped off his batting average, and his home run and RBI totals were halved. Still was third among all AL catchers in throwing out 26.2 percent of would-be base stealers.

’12 stats: .243 BA/.352 OBP/.384 SLG, 9 HR, 48 RBI, 21-2B

Prince Fielder
First base
No. 28

HEIGHT: 5-11
AGE: 28
DRAFT: 1st round 2002 draft (by MIL)

For the second straight year, provided protection for an MVP, this time batting behind Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Was the starting first baseman for the AL in the All-Star Game, after winning the Home Run Derby. Has the longest active streak of games played (343) in MLB. Ranked in the top 10 in the AL in six major offensive categories, including hitting a career-high .313, earning his third career Silver Slugger Award.

’12 stats: .313 BA/.412 OBP/.528 SLG, 30 HR, 108 RBI, 33-2B, 83 R

Miguel Cabrera
Third base
No. 24

AGE: 29

Passed Josh Hamilton for the AL home run lead in the final weeks of the season, capturing the first Triple Crown since 1967, and earning himself the American League MVP — the first native of Venezuela to win that honor, and the second Tigers hitter (Ty Cobb, 1909). Also won a Silver Slugger, the Sporting News’ Player of the Year honors, and the AL Hank Aaron award.

’12 stats: .330 BA/.393 OBP/.606 SLG, 44 HR, 40-2B, 139 RBI, 109 R

Omar Infante
Second base
No. 4

HEIGHT: 5-11
DRAFT: Signed as a non-drafted FA in 1999

The other part of the trade-deadline haul from the Marlins, Infante settled the revolving door at second base for the Tigers, returning to the franchise after more than a four-year absence. Struggled both offensively and defensively in his first few games with the Tigers, but settled in eventually, before breaking his hand in the final game of the World Series.

’12 stats: (with MIA/DET) .274 BA/.300 OBP/.419 SLG, 12 HR, 7-3B, 30-2B, 17 SB, 69 R, 53 RBI

Jhonny Peralta
No. 27

AGE: 29

Like Alex Avila, Peralta was another 2011 All-Star who saw a precipitous decline in his offensive stats in 2012, coming up 60 points short in average, and with eight fewer HRs and 23 fewer RBI, before waking up in the playoffs. Despite the offensive struggles — and belying a well-understood limitation on his range — Peralta still ranked second among AL shortstops with a .988 fielding percentage, and fourth among MLB shortstops with an Ultimate Zone Rating of 9.9. Went 75 games without an error from June 21-September 18.

’12 stats: .239 BA/.305 OBP/.384 SLG, 13 HR, 32-2B, 63 RBI, 58 R

Ramon Santiago
No. 39

HEIGHT: 5-11
AGE: 33

After looking around for a full-time gig, Santiago re-signed with the Tigers on a two-year deal, but struggled mightily in year one of the contract, hitting just .130 after the All-Star break. On the recommendation of the organization, Santiago played in the Dominican Winter League again, hitting .325. Got the final roster spot on the bench in a close call over Danny Worth.

’12 stats: .206 BA/.283 OBP/.272 SLG, 10 XBH, 17 RBI, 19 R

Austin Jackson
Center field
No. 14

AGE: 26
DRAFT: 8th round 2005 (by NYY)

After eliminating the leg kick from his swing, Jackson went on to establish career highs in home runs (16) and RBI (66), hitting .300 for the first time in his three-year big-league career. Was the Tigers Player of the Month in June, after returning from a month-long stint on the disabled list with an abdominal strain. Jackson put together a 16-game hitting streak midseason, as well as a 13-game scoring streak. Led the AL in triples (10) and was fifth in runs scored (103).

’12 stats: .300 BA/.377 OBP/.479 SLG, 29-2B, 10-3B, 16 HR, 66 RBI, 103 R

Torii Hunter
No. 48

AGE: 37
DRAFT: 1st round 1993 (MIN)

The nine-time Gold Glove winner chose Detroit as his desired destination after the Angels made it clear he wasn’t a priority to re-sign, agreeing to a two-year, $26 million deal early in the offseason. Like he had with the Angels at the end of his five-year stint there, Hunter will hit second and play right field, solidifying both spots. Hit .300 for the first time in his 13-year career, including .344 with runners in scoring position, and .340 against LHP, a weakness of the Tigers in 2012.

’12 stats: (w/ LAA) .313 BA/.365 OBP/.451 SLG, 16 HR, 24-2B, 92 RBI, 81 R

Andy Dirks
No. 12

AGE: 27
DRAFT: 8th round 2008

Missed two months midseason with achilles tendinitis, limiting him to just 88 games in his first full MLB season, but was good enough when healthy to all but ensure himself of a starting job in 2013. Will be the primary starter in left field, especially when there is a right-hander on the mound for the opposition — Dirks hit .336 vs. RHP in 2012.

’12 stats: .322 BA/.370 OBP/.487 SLG, 8 HR, 5-3B, 18-2B, 35 RBI, 56 R

Matt Tuiasosopo
No. 68

AGE: 26
DRAFT: 3rd round 2004 (SEA)

A non-roster invitee to spring camp, the journeyman earned himself a spot on the big-league roster with a torrid spring, after a slow start. He’ll be the right-handed complement to Dirks in left field, playing primarily against left-handed starters, but also has the versatility to play either of the corner infield positions, if need be.

’12 stats: .242 BA/.329 OBP/.361 SLG, 12 HR, 57 RBI at Triple-A Buffalo in the Blue Jays system.

Don Kelly
No. 32

AGE: 33
DRAFT: 8th round 2001

Designated for assignment late in the season, then re-signed, Kelly made it back to the Tigers in September, and won Game 2 of the ALDS with a sacrifice fly in extra innings. Still struggled mightily at the bat in 2012, and was removed from the roster shortly after the World Series, then brought back on a minor-league deal. Won a job with a superb spring in 2013.

’12 stats: 75 G, .186 BA/.276 OBP/.248 SLG, 4 XBH, 7 RBI

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

DFM nationwide MLB season preview live chat

Digital First Media, the ultimate parent company of The Oakland Press, will have its nationwide MLB season preview live chat on Thursday, March 28, starting at 12:30 p.m. EDT.

I'm scheduled to lead off the festivities. (Our DFM online guru called me the leadoff man — so I guess my role is to take pitches, and work the count, and hopefully get on base.)

The rest of the lineup will likely include such luminaries as:
• 12:50 p.m.: Dennis Deitch, Delco Times (Phillies)
• 1:10 p.m. Jim Ingraham, News-Herald (Indians)
• 1:30 p.m.: Mike Berardino, St. Paul (Twins)
• 2:15 p.m.: Troy Renck and/or Patrick Saunders, Denver Post (Rockies)
• 2:30 p.m.: Mike Wollschlager, Fantasy Baseball
• 2:45 p.m.: J.P. Hoornstra AND Clay Fowler, LANG (Halos/Dodgers)
• 3:15 – 4:00 p.m.: John Hickey AND Alex Pavolvic, BANG (A’s/Giants)

Have your questions ready for me, or stick around and bounce ideas off any of our writers. We'll be doing these weekly (most likely on Tuesdays), like we do for the NHL.

Berry optioned to Toledo, Kelly appears to have made team

It was as honest and forthright a moment as you could wish for, from a professional athlete put on the spot.

Shortly after the World Series, Detroit Tigers outfielder Quintin Berry was a guest on one of the MLB Network shows on satellite radio, and one of the hosts asked him how he expected his role to increase this upcoming season.

There was a pause before Berry answered.

“Well, first I have to make the team,” said the 28-year-old journeyman, who got his first real shot at the big leagues in 2012, and earned Tigers Rookie of the Year honors. “There are no guarantees up here.”

None asked for, and none given.

Berry knew it would be an uphill battle to make the squad again, especially after the Tigers fortified their corner outfield position with the addition of free agent Torii Hunter.

Just another one of the slew of left-handed hitters vying this spring for part-time duty in left field, Berry got the news he’d half expected during the offseason, finding out Wednesday that he’d been optioned to Triple-A Toledo.

Knowing it might be coming didn’t make it any easier.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters in Lakeland, Fla., that it was a very hard conversation to have with Berry, very emotional.

“I don’t get much of a thrill out of breaking hearts,” Leyland told the beat writers, including MLive’s Chris Iott.

While not fitting the profile for what the Tigers needed to add — a right-handed hitting complement to starter Andy Dirks — Berry had other things working against him, as well.

First, he had options left.

Second, he was not as versatile defensively as some of the other candidates, unable to play anywhere but the outfield.

And third, he had to fight through patellar tendinitis in his left knee, putting him behind the 8-ball in the competition.

Despite being limited to 14 spring games, Berry hit .323, and walked nearly as many times (six) as he struck out (seven).

It still wasn’t enough to earn him a spot on the 25-man roster to start the season, although Leyland cautioned that the Opening Day roster is just that, and he expects Berry to contribute this season.

“I hope that he understands he’s a big part of this team. He’s not on it right now, but he’s a big part of this team and this organization,” Leyland told reporters, including Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji. “I think he did such a good job for us from time to time last year, he just had a tough time understanding it. I don’t blame him.”

The move leaves the Tigers with just 28 players in camp, one extra position player, and two extra relief pitchers.

Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago are vying for the reserve infield spot, although ESPN’s Buster Olney reported late Tuesday that the Tigers had made other teams aware that Santiago was available for trade.

Leyland told reporters that, as it stands now, utility man Don Kelly has made the team. Kelly was designated for assignment midseason last year, then rejoined the team for the playoffs, before being removed from the roster in the aftermath of the World Series.

He cleared waivers, but elected to become a free agent, later returning to the Tigers on a minor-league deal when no other opportunities arose. Kelly had an opt-out clause in the contract, for use if he had not made the Tigers’ roster, but he told reporters this week that he’d likely not use it.

For Kelly, who told reporters he’d gotten a nice text from Berry Wednesday morning, the decision was vindication of his choice to return.

“This is home,” he told Wakiji.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Porcello wins 5th starter job over Smyly

Rick Porcello took the challenge to his job personally.

Considered “expendable” by many after the Detroit Tigers re-signed Anibal Sanchez, giving them six MLB-caliber starting pitchers, Porcello went out and pitched like his job was on the line this spring.

In the process, he won the battle with second-year lefty Drew Smyly to be the team’s fifth starter. Tigers manager Jim Leyland announced the decision Tuesday.

“Please don’t call Porcello the fifth starter,” Leyland told reporters in Lakeland, Fla. “He’s one of our five starters.”

And Smyly, who ended last season in the bullpen after the acquisition of Sanchez at the deadline, and will start this season in the same spot, is not.

Not at the moment, anyway, although Leyland cautioned he could be sent out to Toledo at some point during the season, to get some starts in order to remain stretched out, in case he’s ever needed, should one of the first five falter.

While Porcello might not end up fifth in the rotation — Leyland has not decided in what order the other four starters will slot in, after Opening Day starter Justin Verlander — it was clear there was seen to be a drop-off after the top four of Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Sanchez.

Coming off one of the shakiest seasons of his four in the big leagues, Porcello’s experience was not enough to automatically ensure him of the spot over Smyly, who impressed in his 2012 debut. That left it up to a spring training showdown.

Neither pitcher lost the competition, though.

Porcello merely went out and won it.

The 24-year-old sinkerballer went 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 24 innings of work over six starts this spring, posting a gaudy 21-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio (his career K/BB ratio is 2.43).

Smyly was almost as good, going 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 21 1/3 innings of work over six starts, striking out 17 and walking three.

But, as with every other move they’ve made with Smyly, he appeared nonplussed by the decision.

“I knew we both pitched great. They know what they’ve got with Rick. He started for them for four years. He deserves it,” Smyly told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji. “I’m just pumped to be on the team from the beginning. I just wanted to make it, help contribute whatever I can for this team to win. ... I still see myself as a major league starter. I want to be a starter, but it just shows how much talent we have on this team.”

Despite the constant barrage of questions, Porcello was just as gracious, for the most part saying all the right things. He did clearly tire of the constant trade speculation, though, putting a cap on the questions midway through spring camp.

“I’m not talking about trades anymore. If you guys want to ask me about the game, and what’s going on, on the field, I’ll discuss that, as long as you guys want,” he said two weeks ago. “I’m not talking about trades or the fifth rotation spot anymore.”

Now, it’s no longer a question.

It resolved one of the only three major question marks the Tigers had coming into spring training.

The other two major dilemmas were who would be the new closer, and who would be the right-handed-hitting complement to Andy Dirks in left field?

While the former question will linger — maybe into the season — there was at least some clarity gained on the latter.

In other moves announced Tuesday, the Tigers placed Avisail Garcia (heel) on the 15-day disabled list to start the season. The move is retroactive to March 22, when he first hurt his foot.

Pitchers Luke Putkonen and Jose Alvarez were sent to minor league camp, along with catcher Brad Davis and Kevin Russo, leaving the Tigers just five over the Opening Day roster number of 25. Scheduled to start Tuesday’s game, starting pitcher Shawn Hill is expected to be one of the next transactions.

All those moves mean that, barring an unforeseen trade, non-roster invitee Matt Tuiasosopo will make the Opening Day squad, as a right-handed bat off the bench. After starting the spring slowly, he’s hitting .455 with five doubles, four homers and nine RBI over his last 15 games.

“If ever there was a guy who deserves a shot, based on how he’s performed, and gone about his business, it’s him,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland told reporters, as tweeted by The Detroit News’ Tom Gage.

Don Kelly, Danny Worth and Ramon Santiago are still battling for the final spot on the bench.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Tigers swing deal with Rays to keep Lobstein

For a long while, it looked like one of the two Rule 5 draft acquisitions was going to stick around with the Detroit Tigers. In the end, the other one did.

Just two days after offering IF/OF Jeff Kobernus back to the Washington Nationals, the Tigers swung a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays to keep left-handed pitcher Kyle Lobstein. Both players were acquired by trade in the aftermath of the Rule 5 draft in December.

Kobernus looked like he had a shot to stick around with the team as a right-handed-hitting outfielder for a while, but was offered back to the Nats on Saturday. While the Tigers weren't going to carry Lobstein as a situational lefty (Darin Downs has all but locked that job down, with an 0.71 ERA this spring), the organization saw promise in the former second-round pick of the Rays as organizational starting pitching depth.

So the Tigers traded from a position of strength, sending minor-league catcher Curt Casali (a 10th-round pick in 2011) to the Rays for the rights to keep Lobstein. Afterward, the Tigers optioned the 23-year-old Lobstein to Double-A Erie. He'd spent all of 2012 at Double-A Montgomery in the Rays' system last year, going 8-7 as a starter with a 4.06 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 144 innings.

This spring with the Tigers, Lobstein had a 7.50 ERA in 12 innings of work, striking out 10, walking six, and allowing a .353 batting average against. Casali appeared in seven games this spring, hitting .125.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Out of Left Field 2013 predictions — award winners/playoff matchups


MVP — Jose Bautista, Toronto: Surrounding this guy with plenty of talent takes away some of the “good player, bad team” counterarguments, and also provides him protection like he’s never seen before. Could have a monster year.

Cy Young — Justin Verlander, Detroit: While the last three winners (Tampa Bay’s David Price, Detroit’s Verlander and Seattle’s Felix Hernandez) are all among the favorites to win it again, Verlander has been the closest thing to the most dominant pitcher in baseball over the past two seasons. He’ll make it three, and capture his second Cy Young.

Rookie of the Year — Wil Myers, Tampa Bay: Granted, it’s likely that the Rays start the uber-prospect in the minors, so they don’t start his arbitration clock, but you know that it’ll be tempting for the always offensively-challenged Rays to bring up the best hitter in the minors, who hit .314 in the Royals’ system last year.

Comeback Player of the Year — Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay: Despite just 74 games played last year, the Rays signed their cornerstone 3B to a contract extension, locking him up through 2022. Last year was the first of his five big-league seasons when he wasn’t a factor in the MVP race, but expect him to be back to his 25-homer, 100-RBI self. Other good bets: Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston (again); Victor Martinez, Detroit; Mariano Rivera, New York.

AL Wild Cards:
Rays, A’s
ALCS matchup: Angels vs. Tigers (Tigers in 7)


MVP — Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh: The 26-year-old just keeps getting better, even if the Pirates seemingly don’t. His candidacy — as it was last year — likely will be tied to the fortunes of his team, meaning if the Pirates slide in the second half again, guys like LA’s Matt Kemp and SF’s Buster Posey are more likely candidates.

Cy Young — Stephen Strasburg, Washington: Nobody will be asking him questions about when he’s going to get shut down this year — the only thing getting shut down will be opposing offenses.

Rookie of the Year — Oscar Taveras, St. Louis: Seems like it would be one of the Cardinals’ sure-fire pitching prospects here, especially since there’s likely to be more of a need for them. But Taveras is one of the most talented hitters in the minors, and he’ll be a regular in St. Louis sooner or later.

Comeback Player of the Year — Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado: Before being limited to 47 games by of a groin injury that required surgery in 2012, Tulo had finished in the top 5 in NL MVP voting for three straight years, winning Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2010 and ’11. Other good bets: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia; Carl Crawford, Los Angeles

NL Wild Cards:
Dodgers, Braves
NLCS: Nationals vs. Dodgers (Nats in 5)

World Series: Nationals vs. Tigers (Verlander beats Strasburg in Game 7)

Out of Left Field 2013 predictions — AL Central

1. Tigers
— Detroit has the best rotation in the division, and the best lineup. Arguably the best pitcher in baseball (Justin Verlander). Arguably the best hitter on the planet (Miguel Cabrera, pictured above). Aside from the question mark at closer, the Tigers don’t have very many glaring holes, meaning that how they deal with injuries and expectations will again be the limiting factor for this team.

2. Royals — Yes, yes. I know I picked the Royals for second last year, and it was truthfully not yet “Their Time,” but this year GM Dayton Moore has finally put a starting rotation together — turning over four-fifths of last year’s — with the solid bullpen and lineup filled with young stars. The deal with Tampa Bay, swapping stud prospect Wil Myers and others for starters James Shields and Wade Davis, is the kind that can either get a GM fired — or a contract extension.

3. Indians — An offseason of wheeling and dealing left the Tribe with a new manager and 17 center fielders — give or take. The remodeled outfield will probably have late FA signing Michael Bourn in center, Michael Brantley in left and trade acquisition Drew Stubbs in right, leaving FA adds Nick Swisher and Mark Reynolds in a first-base platoon. All the transactions won’t matter a whit if the starting rotation can’t be better for manager Terry Francona than it has been for the fired Manny Acta.

4. White Sox — Everybody underestimated the ChiSox a year ago, given what they’d lost, and they went out and held first place for more than 100 days, until finally folding in the final weeks, blowing a three-game lead with 16 to play. If Chicago gets the same kind of seasons it got from guys like Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko, Alex Rios, Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, the White Sox could prove everyone wrong again. Then again, their offseason additions did not offset their losses for the second straight year, leaving you to wonder how they would ... again.

5. Twins — By all appearances, the Twins traded away as many CFs as the Indians added — actually, only two — attempting to use trade chips to rebuild the organization’s lackluster pitching. Outside of the core of Joe Mauer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau, there’s not too much to excite anyone into thinking the Twins might not eclipse the 96 and 99 losses in their last two seasons.

Out of Left Field 2013 predictions — AL West

1. Angels
— The Halos have managed to do what their division rivals, the Rangers, have not over the past couple of offseasons: get their man. The Angels landed the biggest FA fishes in the last two years, pulling in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (both pictured above). The back end of the rotation might be the only sore spot for an otherwise stacked team. That rumbling from the direction of California isn’t an earthquake, it’s the angst of potentially discontented baseball fans, should this season NOT end up in the Angels-Dodgers World Series the hot stove league predictions seem to favor.

2. A’s — When we were here at this time last year, the Athletics were supposed to be building for the future. Looked that way well into the 2012 season, too, until everything began to click. Last year’s group of rookie starters is a year older and wiser, and the A’s are loaded with HR-hitting outfielders and utility infielders. Wouldn’t be surprised if Oakland contends again, but also wouldn’t be surprised if the A’s end up where we thought they might last year.

3. Rangers — It was a bad stretch there for Texas, losing out on every big-name free agent they targeted, including their own in Hamilton, but this is still a talented team, one that was just a couple of bad days at the end of the season from being the best in baseball. The Rangers have stockpiled some of the best minor league talent, but how much guys like Mike Olt or Jurickson Profar help in the short term is questionable. Enough to offset the losses of Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Mike Young? Maybe. Enough to win the West? Could be. A World Series? Probably not.

4. Mariners — The M’s tried to address their woeful offense, trading for spare parts from the Angels (Kendrys Morales) and Nationals (Michael Morse), and they’ve got a ton of prospects (Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, Mike Zunino) on the door step, but they’re still a long way away from contending in this particular division.

5. Astros — Welcome to the American League, Astros. Please wear “Hello, my name is ...” tags on the front of your jerseys. If you think that Miami’s Mike Redmond, the Cubs’ Dale Sveum and the Rockies Walt Weiss have it rough, at least they have SOME talent. First-year Houston manager Bo Porter does not. While new GM Jeff Luhnow doesn’t think the Astros will challenge the Mets’ modern-day record for losses (120), they’re far closer to that than they are to contention.

Out of Left Field 2013 predictions — AL East

1. Blue Jays —Which team ‘won the offseason’ more, the Dodgers or Blue Jays? Tough call. Toronto got better in bulk, swinging two blockbuster trades, getting Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle from the Marlins, and NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets. They gave up a couple of top prospects and a couple of headaches to get quantum leaps better. They also added last year’s first-half MVP, Melky Cabrera, fresh off his PED suspension, adding six new starters to a lineup that already had MVP candidate Jose Bautista (pictured, right).

2. Rays — Evan Longoria is healthy, and locked up long-term, providing the anchor to what’s always an offensively-challenged lineup, but — as always — the key to the Rays is on the mound. Tampa Bay may have the best pitcher and best closer in the game — last year’s stats argue they do in David Price and Fernando Rodney — but they’ll need some of that vaunted young pitching to come through to replace the traded James Shields and Wade Davis.

3. Orioles — Yes, the Orioles are tired of hearing that they’ll regress after a season that depended so much on extra-inning and one-run wins, but you can’t stop people from exercising logic. Sure, an offense anchored by franchise cornerstones Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado had a lot to do with it. So did a lights-out bullpen. But the starting pitching still leaves a lot to be desired, even if uber-prospect Dylan Bundy eventually joins the rotation.

4. Yankees — When the season opens, the Yankees could potentially have nearly $90 million worth of players on the disabled list. No one doubts the resumes of the players assembled by GM Brian Cashman — they merely doubt whether there’s enough duct tape and bungee cords in the world to keep the aging cast cobbled together. If healthy, of course NY can contend. But that’s a big, huge, giant ‘IF.’

5. Red Sox — They’re still cleaning house in Boston, two seasons after the September “beer-and-fried-chicken” collapse, adding as many good guys as they could. They traded for Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan, and signed Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew and Jonny Gomes. Good dudes, all. Will that put them in contention? Who knows. As has been written all offseason long, any AL East team could win it — or finish last.

Out of Left Field 2013 predictions — NL West

1. Giants
— You can’t argue against two World Series championships in three years. You can’t argue against a team built around a rock-solid starting rotation, and MVP Buster Posey (pictured). The Giants kept the band together, re-signing OFs Hunter Pence and Angel Pagan, 2B Marco Scutaro and closer Sergio Romo. When your big offseason addition is Andres Torres to platoon in LF, you know things are going well.

2. Dodgers — Sure, the Dodgers spent enough dough to be everyone’s odds-on favorites, and they should be huge factors. Adding FA starters Zack Greinke and Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu behind Clayton Kershaw in the offseason, after taking on seemingly half of Boston’s payroll at last year’s trade deadline to get the Adrian Gonzalez-Carl Crawford package. Still, the monumental expectations seem like a lot for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in four seasons.

3. Diamondbacks — With all the comings in a very busy offseason, there seemed to be one constant in the D’backs’ outfield: Adam Eaton, one of the grinders perfect to play for Kirk Gibson, was a lock to start the season as a Rookie of the Year candidate. That was before he was shelved for two months by a sprained elbow. Still, the team has been remade in Gibby’s image, trading glitz for grit. Whether or not that — along with a good rotation and bullpen — will get Arizona past either SF or LA in the star-powered NL West remains to be seen.

4. Padres — The Padres didn’t make a whole lot of changes to a roster that was among the youngest in baseball a year ago, continuing their long rebuild. Seems like Gold Glover and Silver Slugging 3B Chase Headley (who’ll start the season on the DL) is constantly in trade rumors, but if the Padres hold onto him, they have a pretty decent block to build around.

5. Rockies — Do the names Jhoulys Chacin, Juan Nicasio, Jorge De La Rosa, Jeff Francis , Tyler Chatwood or Drew Pomeranz ring a bell? Nope? Those will be the guys that first-year manager Walt Weiss will be depending upon to fix last year’s ghastly 5.81 starter ERA for the Rockies. How those guys do matters as much or more than how guys like Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez do with the bat.

Out of Left Field 2013 predictions — NL Central

1. Reds —
The great Aroldis Chapman ‘Will-he-start or Will-he-close?’ drama is over. The lefty fireballer will stay at the back end, giving the Reds a very good bullpen to go with a pretty good rotation. They added Shin-Soo Choo for lefty power, but have no clear-cut center fielder (Billy Hamilton, anyone?). That’s a small problem, though, considering the rest of the team — anchored by one of the best young infields in baseball, including Brandon Phillips (pictured) — is World Series-caliber.

2. Cardinals — No Chris Carpenter, no Kyle Lohse? No problem, not for one of the top organizations in baseball, a group that just reloads from its stacked farm system, no matter who they lose. (Even if it’s Tony La Russa or Albert Pujols). There was every reason to believe that the Tigers might be headed for a 2006 World Series rematch with the Cards, and there’s no reason to think it might not happen this fall.

3. Pirates — This has to be the year the Pirates finally finish over .500, right? They’ve flirted with breaking their 20-year streak of sub-.500 finishes each of the last two seasons, only to fold at the end. If former Yankee catcher Russell Martin can provide enough pop to support Andrew McCutchen in the lineup, and young stars like Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole can live up to their billing, this could be the year. Just don’t bet the farm on it.

4. Brewers — The Brew Crew almost made it back to the playoffs after it looked like they’d waved the white flag by trading Zack Greinke. The offseason was much more quiet, meaning the rotation remains startlingly average without Greinke. Hard to see how Milwaukee breaks into what should be a solid top 3 teams in this division. UPDATE: The Brewers added some luster to that rotation, signing Kyle Lohse in late March, but it’s probably not enough to elevate them into contention.

5. Cubs — There are no Astros around anymore to keep the Cubbies out of the basement of the always-competitive NL Central. Chicago lost more than 100 games for the first time in almost 50 years, and it appears this will be a long building process for GM Jed Hoyer and president Theo Epstein, even if there are building blocks like Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo.

Out of Left Field 2013 predictions — NL East

1. Nationals — The chic pick for a few last year (*ahem, pats own back*) is the no-brainer pick for almost everyone this year, especially since the Nats have done nothing but get better. They’ll have Stephen Strasburg for a full year, and ponied up the money for closer Rafael Soriano and starter Dan Haren, and traded for CF Denard Span, only adding to a lineup, rotation and bullpen that were already World Series-worthy. Oh, yeah, and they have that Bryce Harper guy (pictured).

2. Braves — There is not a more exciting outfield in baseball, after Atlanta signed B.J. Upton from Tampa Bay, then added his brother, Justin, in a trade with Arizona, putting them next to young star Jason Heyward. The rotation has a good mix of young star power and veteran presence, and the Braves might have the best closer in baseball in Craig Kimbrel.

3. Phillies — Philadelphia is still home to some of the biggest names in baseball — Ryan Howard, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon — but that may not be enough in a stacked division. It appears Philly’s window is closing rapidly, but the offseason did nothing to inspire confidence in the franchise’s ability to carry out a “win now” philosophy.

4. Mets — Everything written about Atlanta’s star-studded outfield will NOT be written about New York’s. The Mets may end up with one of the most nondescript lineups around him, but they still have to feel the offseason was a success after locking up “Captain America” David Wright long-term. Add in a few prospects from the R.A. Dickey trade, and there’s at least a future to look forward to for Mets fans.

5. Marlins — The Marlins won the 2012 offseason, then promptly flopped, and divested themselves of nearly everything of value aside from Giancarlo Stanton and the fountain in left-center field at Marlins Park. Put it this way: The top three spots in the Marlins order could come down to either 35-year-old Juan Pierre or former Tigers prospect Gorkys Hernandez leading off, ahead of 37-year-old Placido Polanco. Good luck with that new managerial gig, Mike Redmond.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tigers return Rule 5 draft acquisition Kobernus to Nats

Another experiment ends.

The Tigers thought maybe minor-league speedster Jeff Kobernus could be the right-handed hitting complement to Andy Dirks in left field, and traded Justin Henry to the Boston Red Sox for the Rule 5 draft rights to the former Washington Nationals farmhand.

Kobernus had never played above the Double-A level, and hadn’t played the outfield since early in his college career at Cal, but had the athleticism the team was trying to infuse into the roster.

Heading into the final week of camp, though, with Kobernus hitting just .220 with a pair of triples and no stolen bases — and just .190 against left-handers, the role he’d need to excel in to make a contribution — the Tigers decided that particular experiment was over, announcing they were planning to send him back to the Nationals.

By rule, the Tigers would have had to carry Kobernus on the active roster all season, or offer him back to the Nationals at half the original $50,000 selection price.

“There are a lot of things we liked about (Kobernus). We just saw somebody ahead of him. No final decisions,” Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski told reporters, as reported by FOX Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji. “We did try to make a trade over the last couple days; we were not able to consummate that.”

That leaves, as internal options for the left field spot, journeyman Matt Tuiasosopo and career infielder Danny Worth, along with left-handed bats in Quintin Berry and Don Kelly. Manager Jim Leyland had recently said it was "99 percent" sure that the Tigers would have a right-handed hitting player in that fourth outfield spot.

Tuiasosopo, in particular, has been crushing the ball of late, coming into Saturday’s game hitting .480 with four homers and four doubles over his previous 12 contests, then added an RBI single in Detroit’s 10-6 win.

“There’s going to be fans and they’re going to email in and they’re going to be tweeting and twitting or whatever they call it, as soon as they see Kobernus is gone, they’re going to have Tuiasosopo on the team,” Leyland told writers after the game, as reported by Wakiji, “and all I’m telling you is, he is a candidate.”

Of course, the Tigers could always look outside the organization to fill that role, as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Out of Left Field offseason live chat, March 20

Throughout the remainder of spring training, and into the regular season, I'll be available for once-weekly live chats with Detroit Tigers fans. Our first offseason chat is scheduled for Wednesday, March 20, at 12:30 p.m.

Feel free to bookmark this page, or come back here later to check.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Castellanos among latest eight trimmed from Tigers camp

Nick Castellanos will be starting in left field ...
For Triple-A Toledo.
The Tigers sent their top prospect to minor league camp, along with seven others, officially ending any speculation that he might hit his way into a part-time role with the big-league club.
Detroit also sent outfielder Tyler Collins, infielder Argenis Diaz and right-handed starter Trevor Bell to minor league camp. The contracts of catcher Bryan Holaday and pitchers Jose Ortega and Duane Below were optioned to Toledo, while Hernan Perez was optioned to Double-A Erie.
Castellanos will undoubtedly begin his season with the Mud Hens, allowing him to work more on the transition to the outfield, and get the at-bats of a full-time player.
The organization has said all along that it wanted neither Castellanos nor fellow prospect Avisail Garcia to be part-time or bench players at the big league level, if it was going to cost them at-bats and stunt their growth. But that didn't stop fans — and others — from speculating that one or the other might end up as the right-handed complement to starter Andy Dirks in left field for the Tigers.
Holaday had a strong spring, but the Tigers brought in Brayan Pena to back up Alex Avila behind the plate, while Bell is considered pitching depth should the big-league rotation run into injury problems. Below has struggled since the beginning of last season.

Monday, March 11, 2013

So there's a hitter in the Verlander family

LAKELAND, Fla. — So, apparently, there’s a hitter in the Verlander family.

While elder brother Justin Verlander, the ace of the Detroit Tigers, is still searching for his first big-league hit, his younger sibling, Ben, had a heck of a day for their alma mater Saturday afternoon.

Ben Verlander went 4-for-4 in Old Dominion University’s 10-8 win over Northeastern, tying the school record with three home runs. He was named a Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week for the feat.

“Yeah, how about that, huh?” Justin Verlander said after Monday’s rocky loss to the Mets. “I’m so excited for him. That is so awesome. I called him the other night. He was kind of short about it — that’s just the way he is. He didn’t talk about it too much. Yeah, he’s been raking. Really excited for him.”

Drafted by the Tigers in the 46th round out of high school, Ben Verlander spent his first season at ODU as just a pitcher, then became a two-way player last year, playing left and right field and DH’ing, along with continuing to pitch.

This year, he’s just concentrating on hitting, his proud older brother said.

“This is his first year as not a two-way (player). He just committed himself to hitting,” Justin Verlander said. “He came up last year, and worked with our hitting coach, Mac (Lloyd McClendon). He said he feels great, and I couldn’t be happier for him. That’s really exciting.”

Even better was getting the play-by-play from their father, Richard, over the phone.

“I was getting updates from my dad. His first at-bat he hit a granny — or one at-bat he hit a grand slam. He goes, ‘Oh, he just hit a grand slam!’ I get a text like an hour later, ‘He just hit an other one!’ I get another text, ‘He hit another!’ ” Justin Verlander recalled. “So I call, and I’m like ‘What the (heck)? This has to be a different experience for you, rooting for home runs.’ He was like, ‘Yeah, no kidding. This is totally different.’ ”

After hitting .250 a year ago (and posting an 8.83 ERA and an 0-1 record on the mound), Ben Verlander is leading the Monarchs with a .500 batting average 12 games into the season.

So has Justin Verlander — who is 0-for-24 with 14 strikeouts in his eight MLB seasons — gotten grief from his younger brother yet, about who is the better hitter?

“Not yet,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll get it.”

Not a good day for anyone named JV

LAKELAND, Fla. — Sometimes, it just isn’t your day.

A couple of players in the Tigers’ Grapefruit League game against the Mets Monday know that feeling ... um, intimately.

Justin Verlander was not sharp in Monday’s outing, giving up two home runs — one to the first batter of the game — walking two and plunking two more.

How far off he was, though, wasn’t evident until his day was done, five innings later.

The last batter he faced was Jordany Valdespin, who’d led off the game with a homer. When Valdespin squared to bunt in the fifth inning, a 94 mph fastball caught him in a ... very sensitive area. He lay on the ground (BELOW) for a minute or two before coming out of the game. Verlander came out at the same time.

“Have you ever ...” Verlander was asked after his stint was done.

“Hit somebody in the nuts? No,” he answered, dead-pan.

“I mean, he took a hack at the first pitch. He already hit one bomb, and then the next one, he just totally squared at me, and I was like ‘Oh, God, this isn’t going to be good.’ Right out of the hand, it’s like ‘Oh, (crap).’ That is right at his balls.”

What is that feeling like, knowing you can’t pull a pitch back?

“Usually, it’s not bad, because the guy turns on it, and it hits him in the back or butt, or something. When a guy’s facing right ... I mean, you never throw a pitch with a guy looking right at you,” Verlander said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, God.’ ”

For his part, Valdespin was no worse for wear. Having already been down on the field once after Prince Fielder slid into him early in the game, Valdespin was pulled from the game after writhing around in pain after being plunked.

A short while later, though, he was seated on the picnic tables outside the Joker Marchant Stadium clubhouse, all smiles as he talked to the Tigers’ Ramon Santiago.

“It’s all fine,” he said, when asked if he’d been hit there before. “No. First time.”

Verlander knew it wasn’t quite his day long before that, though, feeling a bit fatigued in the bullpen before the game.

“Ahh, off. Um. Just my rhythm was off, and that kind of led to everything. Fastball control was not good. Change-up was bad. Slider was bad. Breaking ball was all right, which is odd. ... It just wasn’t a good day. Usually there’s one of those in the spring, one or two, and you’d rather get them out of the way in the spring,” said Verlander, who routinely will have one clunker per spring, usually right about now.

“It usually later (in the spring), right about now. My agent calls me the Farmer’s Almanac. Everything’s usually dead on cue.”

It was something he’d done to himself, pushing himself harder than normal in his last bullpen session.

“The last bullpen session was the first one where I really got after it, and I felt like that kind of ran over into this start. Just didn’t feel fresh,” he said.

“That’s an adjustment, too. Because in-season, there’s going to be times where I want to go into the bullpen to work on stuff, and kind of tax myself — I need to be able to respond. So I think it was kind of a good thing to be able to do that this time, and get my body kind of accustomed to it, so next time I do it, I feel great.”

In all, Verlander gave up five runs on four hits, striking out just three batters.

Tigers send five to minor league camp

With at-bats beginning to come at more of a premium, the Tigers sent a handful of players to minor league camp on Monday to get them some work there.

Infielders Dixon Machado and Eugenio Suarez, outfielder Daniel Fields, catcher Ramon Cabrera and right-handed pitcher Melvin Mercedes were all sent across the street at TigerTown.

The Tigers' sixth-round pick out of Detroit U-D Jesuit in 2009, Fields might have been the most recognizable name among those prospects. Injuries have slowed his progression some in recent seasons, and he spent most of 2012 at Class A Lakeland, before bumping up to Double-A Erie for 29 games.

Fields did not get a hit in 13 plate appearances this spring, but stood out with the glove in center field, making several splashy plays.

"I don’t know where he’s going to end up, whether he’s going to be a center fielder, or corner guy. He’s certainly a top prospect, and he handled himself pretty well this spring, to be honest with you," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He’s a high school kid that played a couple of years now. It takes time. That’s why they’re in camp as prospects. That’s what they are. Take a look at them, and get them exposed to a little bit of the atmosphere, and the big-league competition.

"I like all those kids.

"But they need to go play. They’re not ready for this yet."

Machado's contract was optioned to Double-A Erie — he spent all last season at Class A Lakeland — along with Cabrera, who was acquired in the offseason to replenish the organization's minor league catching depth. Suarez played at Class A West Michigan with Leyland's son, Patrick, last season. The hefty fireballer, Mercedes, spent most of the season with the Whitecaps, as well. 

"Well, obviously, most of them babies. And I say that with respect. I mean young kids. I liked all of them. The two middle infielders I think are really athletic," Leyland said.

"I know my son played with Suarez last year, and was telling me about him. I was looking forward to seeing him, and I thought he made a good impression.

"Machado looked much stronger. The Cabrera kid looks like he can hit, which is what our reports were. Fields is a talent. Struggled a little bit this spring, but ... excellent talent. Big kid, Mercedes, just needs to learn a little bit about the art of pitching, to go along with his equipment.

"Good experience for those kids to come into camp, but playing time starts to get cut down for some of the younger guys. We’re still in pretty good shape, so that’s why we made the move."

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Berry's back for Tigers, and WBC participants will be soon, too

After missing 12 games with patellar tendinitis, outfielder Quintin Berry was back on the field for the Tigers in Sunday's exhibition game against the Nationals.

Berry entered the game in the sixth inning, replacing center fielder Austin Jackson, and went 1-for-1 on the game. 

"Well, he blooped a hit in, did fine in center field. He’s just getting back. I’m hoping I’m able to play him some — I’m hoping he doesn’t come in tomorrow sore, because he needs to get some at-bats. He did fine, first time back," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
"He’ll be in the game tomorrow (Monday), if he’s OK. Whether he starts or not ..."

The speedy outfielder, one of the contestants for the left-field job, did not attempt a stolen base after reaching base in the seventh. 

"He’s actually on his own. And I think it’s even better with the injury that he’s on his own, because he knows if it’s not quite right, and he won’t go," Leyland said. "I don’t want to sit over there and send him, and force him to go. If he feels good enough to run, he can run. He’s got a green light. He might have been — and I don’t know — but he might have been a little hesitant today, first time back."

It's not just that spot.

Several of the Tigers' World Baseball Classic participants could be back very soon, after Venezuela was eliminated with a 6-2 loss to Puerto Rico Saturday night. Anibal Sanchez, Miguel Cabrera and Omar Infante all played for the Venezuelan squad.

"I assume I’ll get our guys back shortly," said Leyland, who dismissed the thought that their return will further jam up a couple of already overstocked positions, saying he'll be "thrilled" to have them back. "What it means is, and I talked to the guys today: Some of those guys are going on both those long trips, some of those guys fighting to make the team are going on both of them, because that’s the only way I can get them at-bats.

"Normally, if you’re set, you wouldn’t have to do that."

It means a common-sense approach to substituting frequently in Wednesday's game against Florida Southern College — normally the spring opener on the schedule — as well as a reasonable approach to the rosters for longer bus trips to visit the Mets in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Thursday and the Cardinals in Jupiter, Fla., on Saturday. The veteran infielders will likely make one trip, and veteran outfielders the other. When the Tigers go to those two venues later in the spring (March 24-25), they'll stay the night, and take the full squad.

"When we go down there next, and spend the night, we’ll be getting close, with a week to go," Leyland said. "And then you’re going to be playing your line-up. There’s still going to be a couple of decisions that still won’t be made, right at that time."

Some decisions on cuts are coming sooner rather than later, though.

"Pretty soon," the manager said. "Don’t blink."