If you care to see the complete list of 20 players that were expected to hold down a job when spring began, you can find them here, along with their 2015 player preview article:
Starting first with the position players, where we had ten spots locked down when spring began, including the entire starting lineup, as well as outfielder Rajai Davis, who figures to receive extensive playing time across the outfield. With Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera both receiving at-bats this week, and Cabrera playing in the field, it’s safe to believe those ten will hold.
That leaves up for grabs the backup catcher job, the backup infielder role, and the Don Kelly super sub position.
At catcher, it was believed that James McCann had the inside track on the job as a highly-touted prospect who needed no more seasoning in the minors. And McCann has done everything possible to earn that job, working hard behind the plate and with the staff, while hitting .400 in 30 at-bats. Holaday isn’t a bad catcher, and he’ll be a valuable player to keep fresh in Toledo, but the Tigers need to know what they’ve got in McCann.
The final two spots really came down to three players – Hernan Perez, Andrew Romine, and Tyler Collins. The two infielders would compete for the infielder job, and the loser of that competition would be trade-off with Collins. Collins would bring more offense on the bench, but less speed and defensive flexibility. And as of now, it appears as if the Tigers appear more interested in the defensive flexibility.
Collins hasn’t had a bad spring (.256 average, four extra base hits), but he also hasn’t set the world on fire. With the designated hitter spot locked down by Martinez, and four guys competing for the playing time at three spots in the outfield, there wasn’t going to be much opportunity for him to play, outside of the occasional pinch-hit situation. Manager Brad Ausmus touched on that earlier this week, saying with this lineup, there likely wasn’t going to be a huge need for pinch hitters very often.
So given the lack of need for an outfield bat, and the question marks the Tigers have defensively around the infield diamond, it makes more sense to start with the team carrying two primary infielders, so both Perez and Romine will make the cut. This is the sort of role that will be in flux throughout the year, and if the offense is scuttling, you might see a change in preference, but to start, there will be speed and defense coming off the bench, not pop.
On the pitching side of things, the rotation was basically locked down before camp started, and despite some struggles on the part of right-hander Alfredo Simon (7.02 ERA), that’s how camp will break.
In the bullpen, a group with so much inconsistent performance should be expected to have a lot of flux in who would receive the seven spots, especially when you can frequently mix and match a variety of roles to complete the group. For example, the Tigers had kicked around using a left-hander to be both the second lefty and the team’s long reliever.
Entering the spring, five guys were presumed to have a job locked down, assuming healthy. Bruce Rondon and Joakim Soria have both been excellent this spring, and will be going north with the team. Al Alburquerque hasn’t “wow’d” anybody, but he’s been the same reliable pitcher he’s always been, with the outstanding slider. His middle relief role is safe.
Two guys expected to be locks have had their share of struggles – Joe Nathan and Tom Gorzelanny. Gorzelanny’s stuff has looked flat, lacked velocity, and he’s struggled with his effectiveness. Nathan meanwhile had one miserable outing, and thrown the occasional bad pitch here and there that continued to provoke concern.
Had young lefty Kyle Ryan continued to shine and pitch as well as he did in the latter half of March as he did in the beginning, it’d be a good bet that Gorzelanny would be losing his spot. But with Ryan having a couple of bad outings, and lacking on experience, the safe move for the Tigers is to return Ryan to Toledo for more seasoning, and keep Gorzelanny, at least to start.
Nathan meanwhile continues to cause a stir, but he’s owed $10 million this year (plus $1 million next off-season to not pick up his option), and it’s simply too early for the Tigers to throw in the towel on him yet. It’s entirely possible he’ll have a short leash this year, especially if Rondon and Soria are pitching well, but for Opening Day, the ball will still be Nathan’s.
That leaves the final two spots – one for a late-inning left-hander, and the other for a middle or long reliever.
Ian Krol has pitched well enough, and shown the stuff and the maturity that the Tigers won’t be able to keep him off the team. To add to that, with his mid-90’s fastball, he’s likely going to become the go-to lefty that was originally expected to be Gorzelanny. That means Gorzelanny will likely be relegated to early game and long relief work.
And that’s because the seventh and final spot will go to Joba Chamberlain, who was signed shortly after pitchers and catchers reported to Lakeland. He’s also had struggles this year, and has faced competition from young right-hander Angel Nesbitt, who became the talk of camp earlier this spring. Nesbitt has avoided the late spring struggles that got Ryan, but similarly, he has limited experience above A-ball and would benefit from more seasoning. If Nathan's thumbnail injury proves to be problematic, and he might require a delayed start, it's a good bet that Nesbitt would grab that role.
So there you have it. Take the first 20 and convert them from pencil to pen. Then add McCann, Perez, Romine, Krol and Chamberlain. And there’s your Detroit Tigers 25-man Opening Day roster.