Tom Greene | February 18th, 2020
Tigers fans, it’s that time of year again! Pitchers and catchers have reported, Spring Training games are around the corner, and believe it or not, the weather will thaw out and Baseball will be back on Woodward Avenue once again.
Make sure to check out our other Team Previews here.
Last season started with hope for respectability, but injuries disappointed fans before the calendar turned to May. For more on how last season went, check out my previous season review.
As far as this season goes, it’s all up in the air. While World Series aspirations are simply not realistic, that’s not what the clubhouse thinks. (Of course, this also doesn’t mean the players are publicly saying it’s realistic, either). The team remains poised to win, and manager Ron Gardenhire will make sure that’s the case.
Let’s look at the projected 2020 team.
Picking up Austin Romine in the offseason certainly helps the situation behind the plate, as fans are still mystified why Al Avila let James McCann go. But, Romine brings a veteran presence to help Grayson Greiner as his career moves forward.
As for the infield, the Tigers added C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and Jordy Mercer re-joined the team on a minor league contract. Signing Cron helps Miguel Cabrera get off his feet and signing Schoop gives Dawel Lugo veteran help in the field of play. Of course, this gives Harold Castro freedom to platoon at 1st or catch, but with the extra help, it could also leave him in Toledo.
Your projected starters are Romine behind the plate, and Cron, Schoop, Niko Goodrum, Jeimer Candelario and Cabrera at DH. Mercer has the experience, but Goodrum and Candelario have something to prove. Jake Rogers proved to belong here last fall, but the signing of Romine may leave him in Toledo.
The starting infield on the final day of the season last year hit .263. If this can be raised to .280, the team can achieve respectability. If it can go as high as .300, breaking .500 could be a real possibility.
Over the last two seasons, Al Avila has worked to improve his infield, while acquiring outfielders and pitchers over Trade Deadline deals. (Of course, the infield has also been worked over July 31st, just ask Willi Castro). With these trades, the outfield at the end of last season was Christin Stewart, JaCoby Jones, Victor Reyes, and Travis Demeritte.
The Tigers signed Cameron Maybin to a one-year deal to provide a veteran presence in the outfield as well as the infield. This should help correct mental mistakes and fielding errors, which sadly were aplenty last season.
While it was already covered, Cabrera can now be cemented as the Designated Hitter with the infield as it stands. He and Cron can platoon that spot, which can open up a spot for Hicks if either or both need a day off.
Your projected outfield will be (in no particular order), Maybin, Stewart, and Demeritte, with Reyes and Jones as primary backups. With the veteran signing, Harold Castro could end up in Toledo. Again, Cabrera and Cron will DH, with one of the outfielders available to pinch-hit… in a pinch.
The outfielders (with the DH) only hit .237 last season. If this unit can hit .250, respectability can be achieved. If it can hit .275 or above, .500 could happen.
Starting Pitching Predictions
We know the hitting was sub-par last season. But, what was much worse was the pitching. (It feels like this every season in Detroit, doesn’t it?)
My inaugural article at The Scorecrow can show you what the rotation should’ve been last year. Injuries weakened it, and eventually evaporated it enough to where Gregory Soto was brought in to eat up innings. It was an eerie sight, as Soto was brought up from Erie.
The Tigers signed Ivan Nova to, once again, provide a veteran presence to the rotation, as now Matt Boyd becomes the Ace. With Michael Fulmer now moved to the 60-day IL, Boyd’s role now becomes more relied on, but Nova is behind to help him.
Your projected starting rotations (barring any injuries!) are Boyd, Jordan Zimmermann, Spencer Turnbull, Nova and Daniel Norris. Tyler Alexander can spot-start, and if Fulmer can re-join the rotation after Tommy John surgery, the starters could last much longer than what it did last season.
The starting ERA last season was roughly 5.20. This was inflated by Zimmermann’s 6.91 ERA and Soto’s 5.77 ERA. For any team that smells the postseason, the ERA must be below 4.00. A solid goal for the rotation would be 4.50. Yes, a lot of work to still be done, but it will at least bring them to respectability. An ERA under 4.00 could mean an over .500 record. A lot of great strides would be made.
Unfortunately, saying the word “Bullpen” in downtown Detroit leads to plenty of eye-rolls and groans. The Tigers haven’t had a Pen finish in the top half of Major League Baseball statistically since 2000. Yes, it’s been 20 years since a statistically “good” Pen has played in Detroit. This includes Todd Jones‘ adventures and Jose Valverde‘s Perfect 2012 season… as crazy as that may seem.
The total ERA doesn’t need to be discussed here, the first paragraph should tell you enough. Your projected Pen is Joe Jimenez at Closer, with Buck Farmer, Soto, Alex Wilson, Jose Cisnero, Bryan Garcia, David McKay and John Schreiber.
To be 100% realistic, the focus for this group is to simply get three outs without allowing a run. Walks happen (whether we like them or not). Hits happen. Simply get three outs without allowing a run, and great things will happen. And, focus on what’s in front of you (behind the plate), not behind you (on base).
Players to watch for
The Tigers haven’t made the playoffs since 2014. 2015 and 2016 were trying years. 2017 was the epic realization that the team needed to be drastically rebuilt. Gardenhire took over in 2018.
Simply put, the Tigers are in year three of a rebuilding project. This means players from the 2017 trades should be primed and ready to play in the Majors at any time, right? On that, it’s a big “We’ll see.”
Candelario has bounced up and down in Detroit and Toledo; good. Isaac Paredes has bounced from West Michigan to Erie, it’s time to watch for him.
Franklin Perez has stayed in Single-A, whoops. Rogers has major-league promise, success.
All these prospects described came from trades for J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, Justin Wilson, and Alex Avila. Paredes, Perez, and King are very ripe and young, let’s give them that. But, it’s time for them to make bigger strides towards the majors.
On another note, are we ready to see Casey Mize in the majors? He’s dominated Single-A and even into Double-A last season. Things look great for him to take the next step to Triple-A, and (if the team is where it was last season) possibly the major leagues. Yes, we may see Casey Mize in a Tiger uniform this season. It’s a real possibility.
2020 Season Predictions
47 wins is rock bottom (except for the 2003 Tigers, of course). Loosely put, the only way the Tigers have to go is up.
However, let’s flashback to the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Tigers went from 43-119 to 72-90. This was when the Tigers got Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez, Carlos Guillen, and Ramon Santiago in Free Agency. Now, Cron, Schoop, and Nova aren’t necessarily those three players, but the veteran presences helped the team get back onto its feet again.
This is realistically possible for the 2020 team. If we look at winning percentages, if the Tigers finish 74-88, it will be the same percentage jump that we saw from 2003-2004. But, 70 wins is not unrealistic for this team.
Your 2020 prediction for the Tigers is 70-92, finishing in 4th place in the AL Central division. The Royals are filled with young talent, but adapting to a new managerial style of Mike Matheny could put them in the division’s cellar.
The Tigers certainly have a mountain to climb. It certainly feels a lot more like Mt. Everest, rather than Tal’s Hill. But, this mountain has been climbed before, and it certainly can be climbed again.
Let’s see what the Tigers can do in 2020!
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Main Credit Image:Embed from Getty Images