DETROIT – As part of the amended 60-game MLB season, each team will be allowed to include four additional players on its Opening Day roster.
That number will be cut from 30 to 28 two weeks into the season, and from 28 to 26 four weeks into the season. But during that early window, more players will have a chance to prove themselves and stick around long-term.
Here’s a look at some of the Detroit Tigers’ players who could benefit from expanded rosters.
SS Willi Castro
Considering Willi Castro’s position during the original spring training, it’s hard to believe he wasn’t basically a lock to make the roster, even with only 26 players.
There were three factors working in Castro’s favor before games were shut down in March. First, he’s one of the organization’s top hitting prospects and, at 23 years old, has reached the early part of the window when a rebuilding team would usually give him a chance. In other words, it’s the perfect time for him to transition from the minors to the majors.
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Secondly, Castro backed up his prospect pedigree with actual production at the highest level of the minors. He slashed .301/.366/.467 in 119 games at Triple-A last year, hitting 28 doubles and 11 home runs. He also stole 17 bases in 21 attempts and hit eight triples.
Finally, Castro was among the team’s hottest hitters in spring training, which was important after an uninspiring cup of tea at the big league level in 2019. He racked up eight hits in 25 at-bats during the shortened spring, including four doubles. Perhaps the only concern was he struck out nine times and walked just once in 27 plate appearances.
Castro was likely headed back to Triple-A with Niko Goodrum starting at shortstop and Jordy Mercer available as a backup. But due to extra roster spots and the lack of a minor-league season, there’s almost no argument against adding him to the 30-man.
RP Shao-Ching Chiang
Shao-Ching Chiang was an interesting addition to the Tigers’ first spring training roster. He hadn’t had much success as a minor league starter with the Cleveland Indians, but he arrived in Lakeland touching the upper 90s with his fastball.
On top of having some of the filthiest stuff in a crowded bullpen competition, Chiang showed an ability to miss bats during two spring outings. He was such a late addition that he felt like the type of player who would generate hype in the spring but ultimately miss the roster.
Now that the team can carry an extra reliever or two, Chiang might have a legitimate shot to showcase what he’s got. The Tigers have almost nothing to lose as a rebuilding team in a shortened season, so a guy who flashed elite strikeout potential in his first taste out of the bullpen could get at least a chance to prove himself.
OF Travis Demeritte
When the Tigers acquired Travis Demeritte in the Shane Greene trade last season, he was in the midst of a breakout at Triple-A. His .944 OPS was built on 20 home runs and 28 doubles, as well as a strong walk rate that made up for too much swing-and-miss.
Demeritte struggled in Detroit, though, slashing just .225/.286/.343 in 186 plate appearances after the trade. He had 12 extra-base hits and 14 walks, but struck out 63 times in 48 games.
Demeritte was likely to be pushed off the Opening Day roster by the foursome of Cameron Maybin, JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes and Christin Stewart, but then he hit four home runs in just 16 spring at-bats.
While he still struck out way too often, Demeritte’s power surge -- two of the home runs came off of Gerrit Cole, one of the best pitchers in MLB -- put him in contention for a roster spot, possibly at the expense of a struggling Stewart.
If the Tigers want an extra power bat off the bench for the first two weeks of the season, Demeritte might get a chance. If he can take advantage of that opportunity, two weeks could turn into more.
C Eric Haase
Ron Gardenhire and the Tigers love catchers. They had a bunch of catchers receiving significant at-bats at spring training and they were even talking about taking three of them north with the team.
Though Haase is clearly better at the plate, it looked like Grayson Greiner was the favorite to back up starter Austin Romine. Now, the team will almost certainly have at least three catchers for Opening Day.
Haase never really got a chance with the Indians, earning just 32 at-bats at the MLB level even though he displayed massive home run power in the minors. He hit 75 home runs over the last three minor-league seasons.
That success was translating to the MLB level for the first time in spring training, as Haase hit two home runs, a double and two singles in 12-at bats. He also drew four walks.
He has strikeout issues at the plate and isn’t as strong as Greiner defensively, but Haase will likely get a chance to prove his power and on-base abilities are worthy of a backup role.
OF Derek Hill
We’re about to find out just how much the Tigers like Derek Hill. The former 2014 first-round pick has spent six seasons in the minors, so it’s either now or never for him in the Tigers’ organization.
Hill has two skills that could earn him a spot: speed and defense. He’s a good center fielder and has 156 stolen bases in his minor-league career.
Hill is well down the list in terms of outfield prospects in the organization, but the Tigers don’t have control of him beyond this year. If they want to get anything out of the former first-round pick, they might give Hill a two-week tryout to start the shortened season.
RP Nick Ramirez
Nick Ramirez did a nice job out of the bullpen for the Tigers last season, striking out 74 batters in 79.2 innings as a long reliever and posting a 0.9 WAR.
The Tigers released and then resigned Ramirez before spring training, where he allowed just three hits, two walks and one run over six innings. He also whiffed six batters.
Ramirez is the opposite of bullpen candidates like Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero. Those guys have eye-opening stuff but lack consistency. Ramirez could claim a roster spot based on results.
Perhaps the greatest question for Ramirez will be: How much do the Tigers need another long reliever? If Tyler Alexander and Michael Fulmer both start in the bullpen, the team might go in another direction with its remaining spots.
Gardenhire knows Ramirez got him out of some sticky situations last season, so don’t count the lefty out.
C Jake Rogers
Many of the justifications for putting Haase on the roster also apply to Jake Rogers. The difference is Rogers remains one of Detroit’s top prospects, and if he isn’t on the MLB roster, he could lose a year of much-needed development.
Rogers’ disastrous 2019 numbers are well-documented. General manager Al Avila and Gardenhire know they rushed him to the majors.
But Rogers is still among the best defensive catching prospects in baseball, and he’s developed rapport with the team’s top pitching prospects, such as Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo. He shouldn’t be cast aside simply because the Tigers drafted Dillon Dingler in the second round of the 2020 draft.
There are only so many innings to go around for catchers this season, and that could make it tough for Rogers to break into the rotation of Romine, Greiner and Haase. But he obviously needs more work at the plate, and the best way to get that is in game action.