Detroit Tigers spring training preview: position players

It’s only days away.  By this time next week Detroit Tigers position players will be in Lakeland, Florida, ready to start the 2013 season. This season of Tigers baseball will be filled with lofty expectations after a couple years of immense success which have brought two AL Central titles and two trips to the ALCS with an American League pennant to boot. The Tigers offense underwent big changes before coming into Lakeland last year, with Prince Fielder coming to town, along with Delmon Young playing in Detroit for a full season, Gerald Laird wearing the old english D for a second time, and Miguel Cabrera moving to 3rd base. This season, there are not as many changes as last year, but there are still changes to be reported. So here is a position by position look at the 2013 Detroit Tigers.

Catcher– Alex Avila will be back for his 3rd season as the starting back-stop for the Tigers.  The 2011 All-Star will be trying to rebound from a difficult 2012 season after hitting .295 the year before. Avila is expected to play 130+ games this season, after playing in 116 last year. The back-up catcher situation has changed.  Gone is Gerald Laird, and in comes Brayan Pena on a one-year deal to back up Avila. Pena is a career .248 switch hitter with time in Atlanta and Kansas City over 8 seasons.

1st base – Prince Fielder had a very successful 1st season in Detroit, winning a Silver Slugger award with a .313 average along with hitting 30 homers and 108 RBIs. Fielder seems to have fit in well in the Tigers clubhouse, and has been a great addition to the ball club. Expect to see him play every game barring injury.

2nd base-  For the past couple of years, second base has been a trouble spot for Detroit, as the club has not been able to find someone to lock the position down on a full-time basis. Players such as Scott Sizemore, Will Rhymes, Ryan Raburn, Carlos Guillen, Brandon Inge, Ramon Santiago, and Danny Worth have all played second the past couple of seasons. Not a problem this year, as former Tiger Omar Infante, who was acquired at the trading deadline last year, will be the starter for a majority of the year.

3rd base- Nothing to see here.  After winning the first triple crown since 1967, Miguel Cabrera has made his claim to being the best player in the major leagues with a killer season in which he hit .330, with 44 bombs and 139 RBIs. His defense at the hot corner, a position he hasn’t played since 2008, was a very pleasant surprise. He will be in the line-up every game, the same as Prince Fielder.

Shortstop- Jhonny Peralta is back for his 3rd full season as the starting shortstop in Motown. Peralta, like teammate Alex Avila, had a fantastic 2011 season, but had a difficult 2012 campaign. During the offseason, reports have been circling that Peralta has really dedicated himself to getting into better shape to help improve his range at shortstop. Peralta should be in the line-up for most of the time, but manager Jim Leyland has given Peralta days off in past seasons. So, expect either Ramon Santiago or Danny Worth to get the starting nod on those days.

Outfielders– Two of the three outfield spots are set in stone. Gold-Glove candidate Austin Jackson is coming off a break-out season last year with career highs in batting average, home runs, and RBIs, not to mention scoring 103 runs which set the table for a potent Tiger line-up. In right field, Torii Hunter brings his talents to the Motor City after signing a two-deal with Detroit. Hunter is coming off a career best year in batting average at .313.  Along with solid defense in right field, the former rival of the Tigers will be an asset as a clubhouse leader as well. In left field, Andy Dirks seems to have been given the early nod to be the starter, although it has been rumored that Detroit has been kicking the tires on right handed hitting outfielders to platoon with the southpaw Dirks.

Designated Hitter- Victor Martinez comes back to the starting 9 after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. V-Mart’s return is welcomed after a year where the production from the DH position for the Tigers was the worst in baseball. Martinez is expected to be ready to go for spring training, and is expected to be the full time DH. Martinez shouldn’t be expected to be catching all season, so that should keep him rested and ready to drive in Cabrera and Fielder.

Spring Training Battles- With most positions set, the biggest battle to report would be between Ramon Santiago and Danny Worth. Both have spent the past couple of seasons on the roster, and they both can field all the infield positions with above-average defense. Santiago could have the upper hand, since he has more experience at the major league level, along with the fact that the Tigers signed him to a two-year contract just last off-season. The other question mark is that left field spot, as top prospects Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos are in the mix to platoon with Andy Dirks. Players such as Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Don Kelly, and rule 5 draft pick Jeff Kobernus are all players that are on the fringe of making the 25 man roster. Look for a fierce battle to stay in the big leagues, maybe get a chance with another MLB team, or get sent down to the Mud Hens of Toledo.

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