2012 Tigers Preview: The Outfield

Our Tigers preview continues with the outfield. With players back from injury, the starters are set. Brennan Boesch should be good after the thumb injury ended his 2011 season, Delmon Young's oblique is healed up and Austin Jackson looks to put a tough offensive season behind him.

The infield has question marks with position changes. That's not the case in the outfield. But similarly to the infield, the Tigers are looking to score runs with their players more than prevent them. That may not be the ideal option in spacious Comerica Park, but that's the team they've got.

With that, let's break down the players who have a chance to make the big-league club out of Spring Training.

Austin Jackson

After nearly winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2010, Jackson had a sophomore slump at the plate in 2011. Jackson hit just .249 with a wOBA of .309. After leading the American League with 170 strikeouts in 2010, that number increased to 181 in 2011, as fans clamored for Jim Leyland to replace him in the leadoff spot. All signs point to Jackson continuing to lead off this season. In the field, Jackson might have the most range of any center fielder, which should make up for the slow corner outfielders. His defense is getting better, as his UZR went from 5.2 in 2010 to 7.9 last year.

Brennan Boesch

Boesch was having quite a season before a thumb injury ended things in August. In 115 games, Boesch had 16 home runs and a .799 OPS. He's expected to hit second in the lineup. Given the fact that he hit .302 against lefties, his spot in the lineup shouldn't change according to the pitcher. The issue, of course, is his defense. While his UZR in the outfield went from -4.2 in 2010 to -5.8 last year, it actually went from -6.6 to -1.7 in right field, where he's expected to spend most of his time in 2011. But like most of the Tigers' starters, he's there to swing the bat.

Delmon Young

The trade for Young surpsied a lot of people last season. After underperforming and dealing with injuries in Minnesota during the year, Young hit eight home runs and had a .756 OPS in 40 games with the Tigers. In the postseason, Young hit five home runs in nine games, but only hit .235. While he's not the best fielder, his defense improved quite a bit last year. His UZR/150 was -3.7 in 2011 after being in the negative double-digits the previous three seasons. Young is a free agent after this season, and Leyland said he wouldn't put him into a permanent DH role.

Andy Dirks

Dirks is coming from being a Caribbean hero to a likely backup role with the Tigers. Dirks came up in May 2011 when Magglio Ordonez went on the disabled list. He had a .703 OPS in 235 plate appearances with the Tigers, but 204 of those came against right-handed pitchers. Dirks hit .315 with Toros del Este in the Dominican Republic and had the series-winning hit in the Caribbean Series finals. His UZR in Detroit was -1.9, but that's because it was -5.9 in center field. He was above zero in the corner outfield spots and can still adequately fill in center if needed.

Don Kelly

Mr. Everything, Kelly will be all over the field once again (hopefully not on the mound), but should see more time in the outfield than the infield this season. Leyland has said that there is no more valuable 25th player on a roster than Kelly, and when it comes to his versatility, he's right. Kelly isn't going to shine at any one position, but now that he has played all nine positions in his career, we know he can't look out of place anywhere. Kelly's OPS last year was .672. He's not going to smack the ball, but he'll give you something every time he's in the lineup and put the ball in play. His UZR/150 in the outfield was 11.4 last year. Expect him to come in as a defensive replacement quite often.

Clete Thomas

When Leyland mentioned Thomas' name at the Prince Fielder press conference, it caught a lot off people off-guard. Thomas hasn't played in the Majors since 2009. He underwent microfracture surgery midway through the 2010 season, but did go through full workouts in Lakeland last year. He spent all of last season in Toledo, hitting .251 with a .715 OPS. He's a bit of an unknown given that the above group would seem to fill all the vacant outfield roster slots, but if Leyland mentioned him at the press conference, there's likely a reason for it.

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