WezBlog: Five Key Roster Questions

As we head into the final week of spring training, with just 32 players left in camp, it's time to examine some tough questions for who will make the 25-man Opening Day roster. Who will get the final infielder spot, is Steve Lombardozzi secure, and what to do about that bullpen?

Who wins the final infielder spot?

With Eugenio Suarez out of big league camp, the job is officially down to Danny Worth and Hernan Perez to be what will likely be a platoon shortstop, as well as reserve at second base and maybe third. Andrew Romine can play third, as can Steve Lombardozzi and Don Kelly, so the need there is relatively less.

Both players have had good camps, but the smart money is on Worth to be added back to the 40-man roster and head north with the Tigers. Opening a spot on the 40-man roster will not be an issue, as Jose Iglesias, Bruce Rondon and Andy Dirks can all comfortably be placed on the 60-day disabled list, opening up room. That decision to go with Worth comes down to three key points;

1) He's experienced. Worth has spent parts of the last four seasons in Detroit serving as a utility infielder. He understands how to handle the role of being a utility infielder in the big leagues, not always an easy job.

2) He's not a top prospect. Hernan Perez is only 22 years old and is still developing – everyday at-bats in Toledo would be very beneficial for him. Worth is 28, and for all intents and purposes, is what he is. Perez is a top ten prospect in the organization that could potentially be a starter down the line. You don't want to jeopardize that future for occasional at-bats as the 24th or 25th man on the roster.

3) He outperformed Perez. Spring training stats should always be taken with a grain of salt, but Worth has showed better command of the bat, more patience, and better gap power than Perez has this spring. He's also been very solid defensively at both second and short, while Perez has the athleticism, but still struggles with the finer points of the game.

Is Lombardozzi's roster spot secure?

It was a foregone conclusion that Steve Lombardozzi would make the 25-man roster when spring training got under way. But, quite a bit has changed over the last couple weeks. With the various injuries, it's likely that the Tigers are going to carry two shortstops – Romine and Worth/Perez – which lessens the need for another utility player in the infield.

So, it comes down to the outfield. And the question becomes, does someone else on the roster offer something Lombardozzi doesn't? The answer to that question is yes, and that player is Tyler Collins. The 23-year old outfielder has been mashing all spring, can offer similar outfield defense to Lombardozzi, and possesses something no one else on the bench is likely to have – pop in his bat.

With an option remaining for Lombardozzi, and with Don Kelly and two shortstops on the roster, versatility suddenly becomes a less valuable commodity to the Tigers current roster needs. It's something to watch.

Has Phil Coke done enough to earn a bullpen job?

Has he earned it? You could argue it either way. Will he make the roster? Most likely. He's been doing a better job at missing bats in his more recent appearances, and quite frankly, with the loss of Bruce Rondon, the Tigers are in need of some reliable relievers, and Coke has been reliable for the club in the past. He also gives them the second left-hander they'd prefer, even if manager Brad Ausmus has said he doesn't need two.

Can the Tigers rely on Joba Chamberlain to be the setup man?

I posted on Twitter on Friday that arguably no injury will hurt the Tigers more than the loss of Bruce Rondon, who will miss 2014 with Tommy John surgery. With more examination of the roster, I think that's even more true now.

Chamberlain hasn't pitched in a big league game since March 13, but he's been getting action on the back fields, as TigsTown documented in two of the spring notebooks from earlier this week (can read those reports here and here. Simply put, the concerns that many had about Chamberlain being signed appear to be warranted – he continues to struggle with command and consistency, and you simply can't rely on a guy to be your setup man with those traits.

So, if not Chamberlain, who?

Good question – and it's why they pay Ausmus the big bucks. The two obvious candidates besides Chamberlain are Al Alburquerque and Ian Krol.

The problem with Alburquerque has been health and consistency – he's never thrown more than 49 innings in a season, and has had struggles with the command of his pitches at times. If healthy and performing, he could well be a good fit with his strikeout ability, those are just two very big ifs.

Krol has had a good spring, but not a great spring. And if they start to use him as a setup man, then they lose their ability to use him situationally against left-handed hitters, which is where he'd be most effective.

The minor league options – Melvin Mercedes and Corey Knebel primarily – are in need of more seasoning before they're ready for the big leagues. How much seasoning is very much up for debate. Mercedes has a heavy fastball, but is still battling his control (along with his weight). Knebel has two above-average big league pitches now, but has never faced competition above Low-A ball. The slider that he would occasionally just spin and not slide he could get away with in West Michigan – such a thing won't be the case against upper level minor leaguers, or especially big leaguers. Both could be ready by this summer, but it's no guarantee, and even if one develops and is ready for that role, that still leaves half a season to figure out something else.

If a move isn't made, this could well become something that is handled more on a committee basis, but you'd have to think the Tigers are going to be exploring potential signings or acquisitions here, especially after last year's bullpen struggles.

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WezBlog: Five Key Roster Questions

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