Below find the final big league roster projections for the Detroit Tigers, with two necessary caveats. One, this assumes no new injuries, which could obviously change the plan, and two, no trades. The latter will continue to be a point of discussion, especially around Rick Porcello, but as of now, nothing is "hot" with regards to Porcello, and the likelihood of him being traded appears less than it was in January, or when spring training started.
Left Out: Bryan Holaday
No surprises here, especially with Holaday officially sent to Toledo on Tuesday.
Again, no surprises. The only theoretical position battle exists for the utility infield spot between Santiago and Worth, but with Worth still having an option remaining, that helps settle the debate. Santiago is also a valued clubhouse member and a reliable utility guy.
What could be more interesting is if Infante or Peralta got hurt, who would get most of the starts in their stead? It's a good bet it'd be Worth.
Garcia was likely to head back to the minor leagues anyway to get every day at-bats, but his heel contusion that will sideline him and end his chances of competing for a spot. Likewise, injuries have done Berry in, preventing him from having the chance to prove why he's more valuable than keeping a right-handed bat on the bench.
The starters are obvious, and the love affair with Kelly continues for another season, given his versatility, all important especially because he can also help out at the corner infields as well. Kobernus hasn't been great hitting just .220, but has adjusted quickly to defense in the outfield, possesses the speed the Tigers were hoping to have on the bench having legged out a couple triples, and is a right-handed bat. For now, that's good enough.
Left Out: LHP Drew Smyly
As of now, with no trade on the horizon, the Tigers have six starters, something they insisted they didn't want. But if things stand pat, then expect the final starting nod to go to Porcello, who has quite simply out-pitched Smyly over the past month. Beyond the 2.50 ERA, which means little, Porcello has struck out 18 in 18 big league innings, hasn't walked a batter, and has shown dramatic improvement with his revived curveball, after shelving the slider. Smyly's been solid, he just hasn't out-pitched Rick.
Trade conversations will continue right up until Opening Day. But as of now, the offers have gotten better, but clearly not nearly good enough for Dave Dombrowski. The Tigers have no needs that need to be filled, and so without an offer that is clearly worth pulling the trigger on, the team is better off having an embarrassment of riches in the rotation, and seeing how the landscape evolves.
Fister's struggles aside, the rest of the rotation was never in question and has performed exactly as expected thus far in spring.
The two most noteworthy question marks of the spring get answered in this bullpen with Bruce Rondon situated as the team's closer, at least to start out, and Smyly making the team as a reliever, and potentially a long reliever.
After some early spring hiccups, Rondon has smoothed out some of his issues. He's still a work in progress, and him closing games will not be a walk in the park, but he's clearly proven to have both the stuff and the ability to improve to eventually become the team's full-time closer, even if he's not quite there just yet.
Meanwhile, if the Tigers are without a dominating ninth inning man, they need the other six slots filled with the six best arms they possibly can, which means Smyly can't be excluded. He could be used in a variety of roles for the team, both in long relief and spot starts, as well as in the late innings as left-handed specialist. Downs has been very effective this spring as well, he's just not the pitcher that Smyly is.
The rest of the spots were likely solidified before pitchers and catchers even reported, with the only potential question mark being Villarreal's occasional wildness down the stretch last year. He's walked just three in nine innings spanning eight appearances this spring, and his power fastball is a weapon the Tigers have always been high on, so he'll head north as well.
Putkonen and Marte will head to Toledo along with Downs to continue to refine their games. Lobstein will likely be offered back to the Rays organization, as his stuff hasn't been overwhelming, and there appears to be minimal interest at this point in time in giving up another commodity to keep him in the organization.
So, there you have it, the Tigers 25-man Opening Day roster. Rondon closing, Porcello in the rotation (in Detroit), Smyly ready to help out of the bullpen, and Don Kelly back from the dead once again.
Stay tuned next week for the final edition of the TigsTown minor league roster projections.