DETROIT – This might be the most exciting time of the year for Detroit Tigers fans.
Not only are the players back on the field after three months of bickering between MLB and the union, but the start of meaningful games is less than three weeks away, barring a major outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
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Miguel Cabrera is back to goofing around on the field. Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene are hitting batting practice bombs into the Detroit River. Michael Fulmer has returned to the mound. The young pitchers are knocking on the door.
Yes, it’s mostly smiles at Comerica Park these days. Just... try not to think about that lineup.
The lineup I’m referencing, obviously, is the one that scored just 582 runs in 161 games last season. That was 33 runs worse than the next-lowest team. It was worse than all 15 National League teams, which were forced to bat a pitcher instead of a player whose job is literally only to hit the ball.
It was almost unbearable to watch the Tigers’ offense for most of the 2019 season. Thanks to the 60-game schedule, they’ll score even fewer runs this year. But in reality, the offense should be much, much better.
From offseason additions to players staying healthy to simply getting something other than the worst-case scenario out of every single spot, this lineup will improve.
Here’s the thing, though. There are names on the team’s 60-man Club Player Pool that could make the offense really exciting and fun to watch. There’s no chance of the below lineup actually happening, but if Detroit sports fans can’t dream, what is there to root for?
We survived months of ugly off-the-field negotiating. We get constant reminders that the sport could be snatched from us at any moment. And we’ll soon be in the midst of a fourth straight year of intense losing.
But on this day, I bring you a much-needed dose of joy and hope: The most fun lineup the Tigers could possibly trot out on July 24.
1. CF Daz Cameron
2019 stats (Triple-A Toledo): .214/.330/.377 (.707 OPS), 13 home runs, 22 doubles, 6 triples, 17/25 stolen bases, 62 walks, 152 strikeouts in 120 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: Absolutely no chance
There are plenty of reasons Daz Cameron won’t be in the Opening Day lineup, or even on the 30-man roster.
First of all, the Tigers have a crowded outfield, with JaCoby Jones and Victor Reyes as center field candidates and Christin Stewart, Cameron Maybin and Travis Demeritte likely to man the corners.
But the much harsher reality is that Cameron simply doesn’t deserve a chance at the starting job yet.
He was a top 100 prospect in 2016 and has been among Detroit’s top 10 prospects since being acquired in the 2017 Justin Verlander deal. His offense isn’t up to par, though.
In 2019, a time of unprecedented offense in much of the minors, Cameron posted a poor .707 OPS while striking out 152 times in 528 plate appearances. He flashed the tools that make him a highly touted prospect -- 41 extra-base hits, 17 stolen bases and 62 walks -- but the whole package hasn’t come together.
Cameron is probably the most exciting center field prospect in the organization right now, and his inclusion on the 60-man roster makes him eligible for the dream lineup. Can you imagine him manning center with his plus speed and defense while tearing up the base paths at the leadoff spot?
The Tigers haven’t had a legitimate leadoff threat for years, and they hope Cameron can develop into that. For now, this is merely a pipe dream.
2. RF Riley Greene
2019 stats (minors): .271/.347/.403 (.750 OPS), 5 HR, 8 doubles, 3 triples, 5/5 SB, 22 BB and 63 Ks in 57 games.
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: Keep dreaming!
There are so many reasons to be excited about Riley Greene’s eventual promotion to the big league level.
For one, he was the first position player the Tigers selected in the first round since 2015 (Stewart) and the first taken in the top five since Eric Munson in 1999.
Greene rewarded the Tigers by rising from rookie ball to Class A Short Season to Single-A the very summer he was drafted. He was solid across those three levels, showing some power and speed to go with an elite ability to get on base.
He won’t turn 20 until September, and that’s the main reason he won’t see any time in Detroit this year.
Greene would already be one of the best hitters in the lineup. He posted a ridiculous 1.528 OPS in spring training before baseball was shut down, hitting two home runs and three singles while walking six times in 18 plate appearances.
He’ll likely be passed by Spencer Torkelson as the team’s top-ranked position prospect, but Greene is one of the top 10 outfield prospects in baseball and figures to be at the heart of the lineup soon.
3. DH Miguel Cabrera
2019 stats (Tigers): .282/.346/.398 (.744 OPS), 12 HR, 21 doubles, 48 BB and 108 Ks in 136 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: 100%, as long as he’s healthy and there’s a season
Miguel Cabrera had a fantastic spring training in 2019 before one of the worst offensive performances of his career, so his hot start this March has nothing to do with him being included in this lineup (OK, maybe a little).
For the 13th year in a row since he put on a Tigers uniform, Cabrera showed up to spring training in the best shape of his life. He put up great numbers, driving the ball to all fields and most notably hitting home runs on both pitches he saw from star Yankees hurler Gerrit Cole.
Even though he was a below-average offensive player last season, Cabrera is still probably a good hitter, and definitely one of the best on the roster.
But the main reason he’s included in this version of the Tigers’ lineup is his continuing ascent up the all-time leaderboards.
Cabrera is No. 51 all time in hits (2,815) and could realistically climb around 10 spots with a strong 60-game performance. Zack Wheat is at No. 41 with 2,884 career hits, so it would take 69 hits for Cabrera to get there, passing the likes of Charlie Gehringer, Ivan Rodriguez, Harold Baines, Babe Ruth, Mel Ott and Omar Vizquel along the way.
It would also set him up as a virtual lock to pass 3,000 hits next season. The only other active player within shouting distance is Robinson Cano (2,570 career hits).
Cabrera is even higher on the all-time RBI list, at No. 29. He’s sitting at 1,694 career RBI and could pass as many as six (current and future) Hall of Fame players: Cal Ripkin Jr., Jim Thome, Reggie Jackson, Frank Thomas, Adrian Beltre and Honus Wagner.
He would need 38 RBI to tie Wagner at No. 23, but only 14 to pass the other five.
Finally, while Cabrera wouldn’t be able to reach his 500th career home run this year, he’s sitting at 477 and could move up from his current post at No. 30 all-time. He’s currently tied with Beltre and trailing Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff, who each hit 493 bombs.
Tigers fans probably won’t get to see a playoff push no matter how many games are played, but Cabrera’s at-bats will be meaningful for the rest of his career, in terms of the record books.
4. 3B Spencer Torkelson
2019 stats (Arizona State): .351/.446/.707 (1.153 OPS), 23 HR, 17 doubles, 41 BB and 45 Ks in 57 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: Be reasonable, guys, he just got drafted! (But please?)
It took one day after Spencer Torkelson was signed for Tigers fans to start drooling over batting practice footage, but can you really blame them?
Torkelson was the obvious choice at No. 1 overall and has been called a “generational offensive talent” by MLB draft expert Jim Callis. Yeah, that sounds like a guy who belongs in the dream lineup.
Torkelson was an absolute star in college, walking more times than he struck out in 129 career games while demonstrating elite power and strong defense.
The Tigers announced him as a third baseman on draft night, so we’ll slot the 21-year-old at the hot corner for now.
Quick draft links:
- First round: Arizona State 1B Spencer Torkelson
- Second round: Ohio State C Dillon Dingler
- Competitive Balance Round B: LSU OF Daniel Cabrera
- Third round: Rice SS Trei Cruz
- Fourth round: Arizona State 3B Gage Workman
- Fifth round: High school 3B Colt Keith
Does it say more about the state of the Tigers or the potential of Torkelson that he’s our dream cleanup hitter a month after being drafted? I’ll leave that one up to you.
5. 1B C.J. Cron
2019 stats (Minnesota Twins): .253/.311/.469 (.780 OPS), 25 HR, 24 doubles, 29 BB and 107 Ks in 125 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: Why do you think they signed him?
C.J. Cron is fun, OK?
No, he’s not a prospect. He might not even be on the Tigers for a full month if he gets hot and another team wants him. But for as short as his Detroit tenure may be, Cron will hit dingers, and this city deserves some dingers.
Brandon Dixon led the Tigers with a measly 15 home runs last season. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Cron beat that in 60 games.
Cron hit 25 home runs in 125 games last season and 30 in 140 games the year before that. He should be on the field pretty much every day this season, so a mid-teens home run total isn’t out of the question.
Since he’s only on a one-year deal, Cron’s time in Detroit could be historically short. After the last few years, Tigers fans definitely will not take his power for granted.
6. LF Niko Goodrum
2019 stats (Tigers): .248/.322/.421 (.743 OPS), 12 HR, 27 doubles, 46 BB and 138 Ks in 112 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: Yes, but probably at shortstop.
If you don’t like Niko Goodrum, why are you the way that you are?
Goodrum has been one of the few slivers of light during an otherwise dark era of Tigers baseball. The team took a chance on him after he was dumped by the Twins and it paid immediate dividends, as he was a 1.3 WAR player in 2018.
He was even better last year, most notably improving his walk rate to a point where there’s hope he could actually become something like a .340 OBP player, with a little more improvement.
Goodrum figures to start at shortstop this season, but I reserve the right to put him wherever best suits the Very Fun Lineup because he appeared at first base, second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field last season. He also took a stab at designated hitter, but he probably would have rather been on the mound or wearing catcher’s gear.
Goodrum racked up 44 extra-base hits last season in just 112 games after totaling 48 in 2018. For the second year in a row, he stole 12 bases with a high success rate.
He’s just an all-around good baseball player and team representative, and the Tigers could use a bunch of those.
7. C Austin Romine
2019 stats (Yankees): .281/.310/.439 (.748 OPS), 8 HR, 12 doubles, 10 BB and 50 Ks in 72 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: As long as Miggy doesn’t beat him up again
There was temptation to go with Eric Haase’s tantalizing power or the absurdity of throwing Dillon Dingler in here a month after the draft, but ultimately, there are reasons to want to see Austin Romine in a Tigers mask.
Like Cron, he’s on a one-year deal and might only be in Detroit for the next couple of months. But unlike Cron, we don’t actually know what Romine can do as a full-time starter.
The veteran backstop has never appeared in more than 80 games in a season, and his highest number of plate appearances was 265 in 2018.
Last year, Romine posted a solid .748 OPS with some power. He puts the ball in play, though he doesn’t draw many walks. Overall, his offense was above-average for a catcher.
What can he do with a full season of at-bats? Well, we still won’t know that since 2020 will be 60 games long (at most). But Romine should still get a chance to show what he can do atop a depth chart.
8. 2B Isaac Paredes
2019 stats (Double-A Erie): .282/.368/.416 (.784 OPS), 13 HR, 23 doubles, 57 BB and 61 Ks in 127 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: No chance, but a promotion might not be far off!
For our enjoyment, we’re going to imagine Isaac Paredes skipping Triple-A altogether and joining the starting lineup while also switching positions. No biggie!
Paredes is a borderline top 100 prospect who’s been in the system since the 2017 Justin Wilson/Alex Avila trade with the Chicago Cubs.
The most exciting part of Paredes’ game -- for some of us -- is what happens when he doesn’t swing the bat. Last season in Double-A Erie, Paredes drew 57 walks compared to 61 strikeouts in 127 games. That’s elite plate discipline for a 20-year-old and something that’s blatantly absent from the MLB roster.
While he played only third base and shortstop last season, Paredes has seen plenty of action at second base in the low minors and winter ball, so it’s within the realm of possibility.
9. SS Willi Castro
2019 stats (Triple-A Toledo): .301/.366/.467 (.833 OPS), 11 HR, 28 doubles, 8 triples, 17/21 SB, 37 BB and 110 Ks in 119 games
Probability of being in actual Opening Day lineup: Probably not happening, but he could be on the 30-man roster
I chose Willi Castro’s minor league stats above because they support my argument better than his MLB stats, but I’ll admit, his first taste of big league action wasn’t without adversity.
In 110 plate appearances, Castro walked six times and struck out 34. He posted a terrible .624 OPS and recorded just eight extra-base hits.
But one glance at his Triple-A numbers shows he has nothing left to prove there.
Castro has been productive since the Tigers acquired him from the Cleveland Indians for Leonys Martin in 2018. Last year, he showed his well-rounded skillset by stealing 17 bases, racking up 47 extra-base hits and reaching base at an elite clip.
For a team that’s trying to figure out its future offensive identity, why wouldn’t the Tigers find a way to get Castro in the everyday lineup, especially in a shortened season? Goodrum’s defensive flexibility gives the Tigers this option, and they should take advantage of it.
Castro has defensive questions, but the Tigers don’t have any elite shortstop prospects in the pipeline, so he’s the best-case scenario.