Last season was the third in a row in which the Detroit Tigers failed to make the playoffs. They had the worst record in baseball. So what did they do? What any team would do with aging players, a closed window, and high-priced contracts. They began the rebuild. They traded J.D. Martinez, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila in July. They also moved Justin Verlander and Justin Upton in August. So far this offseason, they’ve shipped Ian Kinsler to the Los Angeles Angels. They may not be done, as there have been rumors that they’re shopping Michael Fulmer, Jose Iglesias, and Nicholas Castellanos. Tigers fans will have to be patient because it’s going to be a while before they are relevant again.
Detroit Tigers 2018 Season Preview
The Tigers head into 2018 with no expectations of winning the AL Central. The Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins are poised to be atop the division. The Chicago White Sox are further into their rebuild at this point, and the Kansas City Royals may not be ready to completely go that route yet. Let’s take a look at the Tigers and what they have to look forward to.
Changing the Approach
The Tigers spent money. The late Michael Ilitch wanted to see his team win a World Series and he had no problem handing out big contracts to do it. Verlander, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera alone signed for $673.5 million. While those three players made it to the World Series in 2012, they unfortunately could never get that ring. Now, the Tigers are taking a different approach. The Tigers can still spend and will do so, but only as a complement to the players they develop. Although anyone on the team could be traded, they do have a couple quality young major league players.
Fulmer won the Rookie of the Year award in 2016. Although he slipped a bit last year, he was still solid at a 3.83 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Fulmer was also dealing with numbness in his fingers. He underwent surgery in September to repair the ulnar nerve and is expected back at full strength for spring training. Castellanos is likely moving to right field this season. It will be interesting to see if it affects his hitting. A similar move adversely affected Miguel Sano in 2016. One thing we know about Castellanos is he hits the ball hard. According to Fangraphs, Castellanos hit the ball hard 43.4% of the time. This ranks him 5th in the majors behind Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, Paul Goldschmidt, and Corey Seager. That’s pretty good company. It translated to 26 home runs and 101 RBI last year, and he is only getting better.
What The Tigers Will Look Like This Season
Along with Fulmer and Castellanos, the Tigers have a few other names that fans will surely recognize. Cabrera is a first-ballot hall of famer and will again be in the middle of the lineup, along with Victor Martinez. Miggy had his worst season last year. In his defense, he was battling back issues and other ailments. He is still only a year removed from .316/.393/.563 campaign, during which he recorded 38 homers and 108 RBI. He may be on the downside of his career, but can still be a very productive hitter. James McCann and Iglesias have been the starting catcher and shortstop, respectively, for the past three years. Leonys Martin, a seven year veteran, should man center field.
The pitching staff returns Jordan Zimmerman, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd. The Tigers acquired Mike Fiers to fill out the staff along with Fulmer. While there is some upside here with Boyd and Norris, the Tigers will be counting on their prospects to take them to the next level in a few years. The bullpen doesn’t look much better. Shane Greene will return to handle closing duties after taking over last season. Alex Wilson and the newly-acquired Travis Wood should handle the bulk of the setup work.
What They Have Coming
The top four prospects in the Tigers system are right handed pitchers. Franklin Perez (39), Matt Manning (55), Alex Faedo (59), and Beau Burrows (77) all ranked in the top 100 prospects, according to mlb.com. Perez is the closest to a sure thing. He came over from the Houston Astros for Verlander in August. He is 20, but pitched at the Double-A level last year. Scouts have said that he has four average-to-above-average pitches right now. With a little more refining in the minors, he could turn into a top notch starter. At worst, he is still projected as a number three guy.
The Tigers received two other players in the Verlander deal: Daz Cameron and Jake Rogers. Cameron is a center fielder who is the son of former major league outfielder Mike Cameron. He has speed, and his defense in center is Gold Glove caliber already. Cameron can hit a little as well, as he had 51 extra base hits and a .270 AVG in 123 games in A-ball last year. If he shortens his swing like he started doing last year, he could turn into an All-Star.
Rogers was by far the best defensive catcher in the 2016 draft. He threw out 46% of opposing runners last year in A-ball. What surprised people is that his bat is actually good, too. In 110 games among three stops in A-ball he hit 18 home runs and drove in 70. He is 22 years old, and while he may be a couple years away, he could turn into something special for the Tigers.
Patience and What’s Next
The rebuild is just beginning, so Tigers fans shouldn’t expect much from their team this season. PECOTA has them projected at 68 Wins and finishing with the third-worst record in baseball. That sounds about right. They have some promising arms and a couple of controllable pieces to build around. They also have the first overall pick in this year’s draft. Houston drafted Carlos Correa at number one in 2012. Five years later, they won a World Series. So, even if the immediate future looks bleak, at least there may be a light at the end.