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Where Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day roster likely stands amid coronavirus suspension

Spring training suspension interrupts position battles

Victor Reyes #22, JaCoby Jones #21 and Niko Goodrum #28 of the Detroit Tigers look on during a pitching change in a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Comerica Park on May 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers won 6-2.
Victor Reyes #22, JaCoby Jones #21 and Niko Goodrum #28 of the Detroit Tigers look on during a pitching change in a game against the Los Angeles Angels at Comerica Park on May 31, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers won 6-2. (2018 Joe Robbins)

DETROIT – The status of baseball season is shrouded in uncertainty after spring training was suspended due to the coronavirus, but what would the Detroit Tigers roster look like if the season started today?

The timing of this suspension puts MLB in a weird spot. Opening Day has already been pushed back at least two weeks, but it’s unclear when players will actually be able to get back on the field. Whenever that is, baseball would presumably need some type of abbreviated spring training to let players build back up to regular-season speed.

During that time frame, the Tigers will have some roster issues to work out.

Ron Gardenhire and his staff still have a number of decisions to make in the Tigers’ starting lineup, bench and bullpen. The next two weeks would have given them the data they needed to make those decisions, but now they’ll have to wait out this coronavirus delay.

So now, as camp gets abruptly shut down, who has the edge?

Starting lineup

The Tigers have seven of nine spots locked up in the starting batting order, assuming everyone is health for the regular season. (NOTE: JaCoby Jones is currently recovering from an injury that’s kept him out for most of the spring.)

Here are the sure-fire starters:

  • Catcher: Austin Romine
  • First base: C.J. Cron
  • Second base: Jonathan Schoop
  • Shortstop: Niko Goodrum
  • Center field: JaCoby Jones
  • Right field: Cameron Maybin
  • Designated hitter: Miguel Cabrera

That leaves third base and left field up for grabs.

Everyone expected third base to be a battle this spring, but it hasn’t quite turned out the way the Tigers hoped. It’s a close battle, no doubt, but not because both candidates are playing well.

Jeimer Candelario and Dawel Lugo are a combined 9-for-51 this spring with two doubles, two home runs and 10 strikeouts. The most glaring stat: Neither has drawn a single walk.

Candelario figures to have the edge because he’s shown more signs of success at the MLB level, but the Tigers like what Lugo brings defensively.

It seems like the Tigers prefer Candelario, who has gotten nine more at-bats than Lugo this spring. It’s possible Lugo could have taken the lead with a strong spring, but with both struggling, the Tigers are likely to go with the player who has more upside and a better track record.

Christin Stewart was the presumptive left fielder heading into the spring, but he’s done nothing to secure that job, going 4-for-28 without an extra-base hit. He isn’t making any hard contact. Considering his obvious defensive limitations, he’s not going to make the starting lineup if he doesn’t hit for power.

Victor Reyes is having a solid spring after a breakout second half of 2019. He’s a better fielder, a strong base runner and an option at the top of the lineup. Right now, Reyes should have the edge.

Starting lineup prediction:

  1. Cameron Maybin, RF
  2. Niko Goodrum, SS
  3. Miguel Cabrera, DH
  4. C.J. Cron, 1B
  5. Jonathan Schoop, 2B
  6. Jeimer Candelario, 3B
  7. Austin Romine, C
  8. Victor Reyes, LF
  9. JaCoby Jones, CF

Starting rotation

This is the most straightforward group heading into the season.

While the Tigers have plenty of young arms nearing their MLB debuts, the top five starting pitchers at the start of the year appear to be locked into place.

Matt Boyd will be the ace of the staff, followed by Spencer Turnbull, Daniel Norris, Ivan Nova and Jordan Zimmermann, in some order.

Norris, Nova and Zimmermann could very well be replaced midway through the year if the organization’s top prospects dominate Triple-A, but there isn’t any drama in terms of the Opening Day roster.

Bullpen

There are two locks in the bullpen: closer Joe Jimenez and setup man Buck Farmer. Beyond them, there are more than a dozen relievers fighting for six spots.

You can read a more comprehensive breakdown of the bullpen battle by clicking here, but the overarching theme is the Tigers have to pick among a group of veteran starters moving to relief roles and younger, unproven options with more upside.

Rule 5 pick Rony Garcia and the organization’s No. 15 prospect, Bryan Garcia, appear to be heading for roster spots. Tyler Alexander is Gardenhire’s favorite long relief option, so he’ll probably fill that role.

The final three spots are more complicated. Gregory Soto has had a rough spring overall, but in his last outing, he was firing 100 mph darts with pinpoint control. It was a dominant showing, and a lefty flamethrower is a valuable asset.

Jose Cisnero has been miserable this spring, allowing nine hits, eight runs and four walks in four innings. But the Tigers keep running him out there, so it seems like they’re going to give him every opportunity to make the cut.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, David McKay has been excellent in 6.1 innings, allowing just two hits, two walks and one run while striking out five batters.

It’s a shaky group, but the Opening Day bullpen as it stands appears to be Jimenez, Farmer, Rony Garcia, Bryan Garcia, Alexander, Soto, Cisnero and McKay.

Bench

Since Reyes likely would likely be the fourth outfielder if Stewart wins the job, the reverse is probably true. Stewart would be a left-handed bat off the bench with some pop, and if he got going a bit, he could maybe move into a bigger role. He could also start in left field if Reyes moves over to center or right to give Jones and Maybin days off.

Harold Castro seems like a safe bet to make the team. He can play all four infield spots as well as anywhere in the outfield. He’s not a great hitter, but he puts the ball in play and hits for a high average, which can be valuable in a fill-in role.

Who will backup Romine? Grayson Greiner was definitely the front runner heading into spring, but Eric Haase has already proven to be a much more dangerous hitter.

Haase has a track record of solid offense in the minor leagues, and he’s backed that up this spring by going 5-for-12 with two home runs, a double and more walks (four) than strikeouts (three). He has a 1.563 OPS and has much more upside at the dish than Greiner.

Greiner, by the way, is 2-for-16 with a .410 OPS this spring.

Most people are assuming the final spot goes to Jordy Mercer, and that would absolutely be the right call if the Tigers were trying to be competitive this year. But since Mercer is on a minor-league deal and Lugo can’t be optioned to the minors without being exposed to waivers, I have a feeling the Tigers might try to give Lugo one last chance.

Since Candelario hasn’t exactly run away with the third base job, it might not hurt to have a backup plan in place. Maybe one of them would get going.

To recap, Stewart, Castro, Haase and Lugo would be the Tigers’ bench players.


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