2012 Tigers Preview: The Infield

After the initial shock of the Prince Fielder signing wore off, the question of where to fit him in the lineup came to the forefront. Who would be the designated hitter? What happens with Victor Martinez when he comes back next year?

As it turns out, Miguel Cabrera is set to show the world he hasn't just ballooned into an immobile slugger by moving to third base. Initially, you expect the errors to rack up at the hot corner this season, but Cabrera quietly had turned himself into a solid defensive first baseman. His only problem seemed to be pop-ups in foul territory. But good news for him: There's no tarp down the third base line at Comerica Park.

So it sounds like the Tigers are set to go with Cabrera at third and a designated hitter-by-committee. With that in mind, let's breakdown the infield, with the players that have a chance of making the big-league club out of Spring Training.

Catcher: Alex Avila, Gerald Laird

Avila simply was the iron man last year. With Martinez injured for much of last season, Avila was forced to play behind the plate for 133 games in his first full Major League season as a regular. The grind and the injuries caught up with him, as he hit just .073 (3-for-41) in the postseason. But before the postseason, he hit .295 with 14 home runs and an .895 OPS, started in the All-Star Game and was one of the best defensive catchers in the American League. Now back to full health, Avila should again be one of the top catchers in the AL.

Gerald Laird spent one season with the St. Louis Cardinals winning the World Series and providing one of the best GIFs of the year, before coming back to the Tigers. Laird played 37 games for the Cardinals, missing June because of a broken finger. His role as backup catcher is pretty clear, and his leadership in the clubhouse should help as well.

First base: Prince Fielder

You've heard plenty about Fielder already. He's had at least 28 home runs and 80 RBIs every season since 2006. His .299 average last year tied a career high. But don't be surprised if he struggles out of the gate while getting used to AL pitchers and the friendly confines of Comerica Park. Don't expect an Adam Dunn-like drop-off, but it could be a slow start.

Second base: Ramon Santiago, Ryan Raburn

Don't underestimate how big the resigning of Santiago was. He's a favorite in the clubhouse. He's also a versatile infielder who could have made starter's money somewhere. He wanted to stay in Detroit, and he's just fine with his role.

Raburn is another one of baseball's mysteries. Three straight years, he's had first halves that are worthy of demotion to minor-league ball. But if there was an All-Star Game for the second half, he'd be a candidate. Last year, he hit .341 with six home runs after the All-Star break with an OPS that approached 1.000 at .967. But that's why he's not an everyday player. His versatility will once again be utilized in the infield and outfield.

Third base: Miguel Cabrera, Brandon Inge, Danny Worth, Don Kelly

Reports say that Cabrera has begun to slim down, but he's still a far cry from what he looked like as a Marlin. Much like Jhonny Peralta at shortstop, Cabrera could surprise people with the plays he makes. The problem will likely be that his range is going to be well below average. When Doug Fister and Rick Porcello are on the mound, it's possible we'll see Cabrera or Fielder in the DH role more times than not. As for what he brings to plate, Cabrera could be the best hitter in baseball right now, and certainly the best hitting third baseman.

When Cabrera is at first or DH, that's when Brandon Inge or Danny Worth could see time at third. We've heard just about everyone's opinion on Inge, except for Inge himself. Inge's bat has always been a weakness, but his fielding isn't what it used to be either. Worth might be a younger option the Tigers decide to go for, with similar fielding and probably a more consistent bat. While Don Kelly saw a lot of time at third last year, he's probably going to see more of his time this year in the outfield. But from time to time, he could be here next year.

Outside of Prince, this is going to be the most-covered story in Lakeland.

Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta

Moving back to shortstop has reenergized Peralta's career. At 29 years old, Peralta hit a career-high .299 to go with 21 home runs and 86 RBIs last year. He also made his first All-Star Game. As mentioned above, his range was average, but he had a 0.988 fielding percentage. This will be the final year of his contract, but he does have a team option for 2013. Expect him to again be near the top in a lot of offensive categories, but a lot of balls to get through the left side of the infield.


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