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Ranking the 10 most exciting Detroit Tigers players heading into the 2019 season

Tigers open regular season Thursday in Toronto

Jeimer Candelario, Joe Jimenez and Matt Boyd are three of the most exciting Detroit Tigers players heading into 2019. (Getty Images)
Jeimer Candelario, Joe Jimenez and Matt Boyd are three of the most exciting Detroit Tigers players heading into 2019. (Getty Images)

DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers will begin the regular season Thursday in Toronto, and even though they aren't expected to be very good, there are a handful of exciting players on the Opening Day roster.

From young players getting their first real chance at the MLB level to established players looking to take the next step, here are the 10 most exciting Tigers on the 25-man roster.

10. Grayson Greiner

Current role: Starting catcher
2018 stats: .219 average/.328 on-base percentage/.281 slugging, six doubles

Grayson Greiner tags out Hunter Dozier of the Kansas City Royals at home plate at Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 29, 2018, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Grayson Greiner tags out Hunter Dozier of the Kansas City Royals at home plate at Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 29, 2018, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

For the first time since 2014, the Tigers will open the season with a starting catcher not named James McCann. Greiner is interesting because he's the reason the Tigers were willing to move on from McCann, who would have been a cheap option.

Greiner is considered a good defensive catcher with a weak bat, and that played out on the field in 2018. He managed just 21 hits in 96 at-bats, with six doubles and no home runs.

Greiner did demonstrate the ability to draw a walk, which resulted in a solid .328 OBP. If he can hit closer to .250 at the MLB level, that OBP could rise to the .350 range, which would be excellent, especially from a catcher.

Greiner batted .313 with a .389 OBP in the spring and added five doubles and a home run in 32 at-bats. If he's somewhere in the middle of his spring numbers and last year's regular-season numbers, he will be an upgrade at catcher.

9. Josh Harrison

Current role: Starting second baseman
2018 stats: .250/.293/.363, 13 doubles, eight home runs

Josh Harrison bats against the Philadelphia Phillies during the Grapefruit League spring training game at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 7, 2019, in Lakeland, Florida. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Josh Harrison bats against the Philadelphia Phillies during the Grapefruit League spring training game at Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium on March 7, 2019, in Lakeland, Florida. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The Tigers signed four one-year players for the 2019 season, and Harrison is by far the most interesting.

Just two years ago Harrison was a National League All-Star because he hit 26 doubles and 16 home runs while stealing 12 bases. He posted a .771 OPS that season, his best since 2014, when he finished top 10 in MVP voting.

The Tigers got Harrison at a deep discount because he wasn't a good hitter last season. He played in only 97 games with very little power and finished with his worst on-base percentage since 2013.

Harrison is a low on-base player for a leadoff hitter, so he has to make up for it with some power and a high batting average. If he can do that, he'll be a valuable trade chip for the Tigers in July. Last year, Al Avila traded Leonys Martin for a good prospect in Willi Castro. That type of move would be the best-case scenario for the Tigers' deal with Harrison.

8. Nicholas Castellanos

Current role: Starting right fielder
2018 stats: .298/.354/.500, 46 doubles, 23 home runs

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Castellanos isn't higher on the list because we basically know what to expect from the Tigers' most consistent hitter.

In the last three seasons, Castellanos has finished with an OBP between .320 and .355 and a slugging percentage between .490 and .500. As long as he plays in 150 games, it's a safe bet Castellanos will finish around 25 home runs and 40 doubles, as he did each of the last two seasons.

As a player on a bad team in a contract year, Castellanos will be surrounded by trade discussion throughout the first half. He's young enough that the Tigers could sign him to an extension, but they could also get decent value for him in a trade.

Castellanos is a bad defender, but his bat more than makes up for it. He had a decent spring training and should be one of the team's best hitters again this season.

7. Jeimer Candelario

Current role: Starting third baseman
2018 stats: .224/.317/.393, 28 doubles, 19 home runs

Jeimer Candelario bats against the Chicago White Sox on April 5, 2018. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jeimer Candelario bats against the Chicago White Sox on April 5, 2018. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Injuries destroyed Candelario's fisrt full season as an MLB starter, although he played in 144 games.

After getting off to a hot start, Candelario's season was derailed by uncharacteristically poor plate discipline. For a player who was a reliable source of high on-base percentage throughout his minor-league career, Candelario whiffed far too often after the injury.

Now that he's healthy, Candelario returned to his career tendencies in the spring, walking more than he struck out and posting a .382 OBP. He also maintained the power gains he's made as a major leaguer, hitting five doubles and three home runs in 48 at-bats.

A quiet 2018 dampened the excitement around Candelario, but he's still a high-upside player who could be a part of the team's long-term plans. At just 25 years old, Candelario could take another step forward this season, depending on his health.

6. Joe Jimenez

Current role: Late-inning relief pitcher
2018 stats: 4.31 ERA, 78 strikeouts in 62.2 innings, 1.20 WHIP

TORONTO, ON - JULY 2: Joe Jimenez #77 of the Detroit Tigers reacts at the end of the ninth inning after surrendering the tying run during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on July 2, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 2: Joe Jimenez #77 of the Detroit Tigers reacts at the end of the ninth inning after surrendering the tying run during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on July 2, 2018 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

Tigers fans have longed for a relief ace throughout the current era, and Jimenez is the first player to come from the minor leagues and look like that guy.

Jimenez was excellent last season striking out 78 batters in 62.2 innings. He was extremely unlucky in terms of ERA, as he finished with a 2.91 FIP and a 1.20 WHIP.

Any pitcher who strikes out 11 batters per nine innings and prevents runners as well as Jimenez has a chance to be an elite relief pitcher, especially since he did so as a 23-year-old.

Spring training was encouraging for Jimenez, as he continued his strikeout pace and allowed just seven base runners in 8.2 innings.

If Shane Greene struggles as the closer, Jimenez will be the top candidate to take over, and that could be the start of a long reign handling the ninth inning duties.

5. Christin Stewart

Current role: Starting left fielder
2018 stats: .267/.375/.417, one double, two home runs

Christin Stewart of the Detroit Tigers bats against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Sept. 15, 2018, in Cleveland. (David Maxwell/Getty Images)
Christin Stewart of the Detroit Tigers bats against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on Sept. 15, 2018, in Cleveland. (David Maxwell/Getty Images)

Tigers fans got a good look at one of Stewart's best skills during a 17-game preview last season, but he didn't hit for much power.

Stewart drew 10 walks compared with 13 strikeouts in 17 games and added 16 hits. He finished with a .375 on-base percentage, making up for his four extra-base hits.

Stewart's MLB debut was a long time coming, as he had nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. He'll get his first true chance as a starting outfielder this season, when the Tigers should be willing to ride the highs and lows with their young prospect.

Defense is a major struggle for Stewart. The corner outfield spots will be an adventure in Comerica Park this year, but the Tigers are hoping Stewart and Castellanos make up for those deficiencies at the plate.

Stewart will need to bounce back from a rough spring in which he struck out 23 times and drew just two walks in 58 at-bats.

4. Miguel Cabrera

Current role: Starting first baseman
2018 stats: .299/.395/.448, 11 doubles, three home runs

Miguel Cabrera rips the ball through the right side of the infield for a single against the Baltimore Orioles. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
Miguel Cabrera rips the ball through the right side of the infield for a single against the Baltimore Orioles. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

Cabrera was already going to be an interesting case coming into the 2019 season, then he added to the intrigue by hitting five home runs during the spring.

It feels like Cabrera's season could fall anywhere in between another injury-plagued disappointment to the best hitter in the American League.

After seven straight seasons of All-Star-level production, Cabrera had a .728 OPS in 2017 and hit just three home runs in an injury-shortened 2018. He's only two years removed from a 38-homer season, but can Cabrera get back to an elite level?

At age 36, there are certainly doubters, even though Cabrera hit .340 with a 1.142 OPS in 20 spring training games. He's struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons, and when he was healthy, he was a very expensive singles hitter.

Cabrera will be anchored in the heart of the Tigers' order once again, and if he's back to his 30-homer, 40-double form, that will only help guys like Castellanos, Candelario and Stewart hitting around him.

The Tigers have Cabrera under contract for $30 million the next three seasons and $32 million in 2022 and 2023, so they're hoping he has plenty left in the tank.

3. Daniel Norris

Current role: Bullpen
2018 stats: 5.68 ERA, 51 strikeouts in 44.1 innings, 1.47 WHIP

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris (Getty Images)
Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris (Getty Images)

When it comes to Norris, there's really no way to soften the blow: His Tigers career has so far been a disaster.

When the Tigers traded David Price to the Blue Jays, Norris was the prized pitcher they got in return. He looked good when healthy in 2015 and 2016, but the last two seasons have been dreadful.

Norris is no longer considered among the favorites to be in the Tigers' starting rotation when they're ready to be competitive again, and he's found himself in a bullpen role to open the season. Will he succeed in the role and be moved to the bullpen full time? Could he earn another chance to enter the starting rotation?

Norris was a top left-handed pitching prospect in baseball when he came to Detroit, so if he ends up in the bullpen, it would be a bit disappointing. But he could still be a valuable relief pitcher because of his electric raw stuff.

There's still hope for Norris as a starter, but if he's going to earn another chance, he needs to show improvement while he's got a roster spot. Spring training certainly didn't inspire any confidence, so Norris needs to flip the switch.

2. Spencer Turnbull

Current role: No. 3 starting pitcher
2018 stats: 6.06 ERA, 15 strikeouts in 16.1 innings, 1.29 WHIP

Spencer Turnbull pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on Seot, 30, 2018, in Milwaukee. (Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Spencer Turnbull pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on Seot, 30, 2018, in Milwaukee. (Jon Durr/Getty Images)

One of the few exciting storylines out of spring training was the emergence of Turnbull, who not only earned a spot in the starting rotation, but begins the season ahead of both Tyson Ross and Matt Moore.

Turnbull showed some positive signs in four games last season, striking out 15 batters in 16.1 innings and posting a 1.29 WHIP. He also had a 2.85 FIP, suggesting his inflated ERA was largely due to bad defense.

Turnbull was excellent this spring, allowing just three runs in 15 innings while striking out 15 batters. He only issued two walks, finishing with a clean 1.00 WHIP.

As the team's No. 19 prospect, Turnbull has definitely been in the shadows of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Franklin Perez and the other top pitching prospects in the organization. But he's the first one to earn a real shot in the starting rotation, so it signals an exciting first step toward the next era.

If Turnbull struggles, the Tigers have the luxury of giving him a long leash in a season that isn't expected to end in a playoff berth. At best, he could continue to miss bats and be a middle-of-the-rotation option for the future.

1. Matt Boyd

Current role: No. 2 starting pitcher
2018 stats: 4.39 ERA, 159 strikeouts in 170.1 innings, 1.16 WHIP

Tigers SP Matt Boyd (Getty Images)
Tigers SP Matt Boyd (Getty Images)

Is Boyd a good starting pitcher? That's the question that still needs to be answered, even after a full season in the rotation.

Boyd's final numbers were solid, especially his 1.16 WHIP and three strikeouts per walk.

The knock on Boyd going into 2018 was his low strikeout rate. That continued early in the season, as Boyd had low strikeout totals but continued to prevent runs.

But in July Boyd started to pick up the strikeout rate. He struck out 28 batters in 25 innings over a four-start stretch before a rough month of August. He struck out 28 batters in 23.1 innings in September, combined it with a 5.40 ERA and an opposing OPS of .931.

It was almost as if Boyd could either be a good strikeout pitcher or a good run prevention pitcher, but not both. That doesn't really make sense.

This spring was similar as Boyd struck out 10 batters per nine innings but allowed too many runs. He also allowed too many walks and home runs.

If Boyd can limit base runners and average eight strikeouts per nine innings, he could be a legitimate No. 3 starter for the Tigers going forward. He enters 2019 with likely the highest expectations of any Tigers starter, so it's important for him to build on last year's success and maintain his hold on a rotation spot going forward.


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