SS Omar Infante, 22
Two years ago, Infante was one of, if not the, top Tiger prospect. He was on all of the national Top-100 lists, and looked like a surefire star in the making. That is, until, 2003 came along. Infante struggled both at the plate and in the field, forcing the Tigers to send him back to down to AAA-Toledo. However, Infante had an extremely impressive showing in winter ball (.345 average with 13 SB's and 50 runs scored), and now will look to carry that performance over to the Tigers. The Tigers already have their tentative up-the-middle combo set with 2B Fernando Vina and SS Carlos Guillen, but Infante could force the Tigers hand if he can return to his 2002 form. What will be more interesting is whether or not the Tigers will keep Infante with the big league club as a reserve on the bench, or send him back to Toledo to allow him to play every day. Still could become an excellent everyday player for the Tigers, just needs to prove he can do it at the big league level.
OF Cody Ross, 23
The Tigers Minor League Player of the Year, Ross probably would have seen extensive playing time with the Tigers at the end of last season, but a torn ACL ended that chance, and his 2003 season. However, Ross is recovering remarkably well and all indications are that he should be close to 100% by Spring Training. Ross finished 4th in the International League in slugging percentage at .515, so he's definitely got the bat to compete at the major league level. Ross is also solid in the field and can swipe a base if the opposition doesn't respect his ability on the base paths. A player very much in the mold of Bobby Higginson, expect Ross to start the season in AAA, but an injury could pave the way for Ross to get extended playing time with the Tigers.
SP Nate Robertson, 26
Robertson also made his debut with the Tigers late last summer, starting his final 8 games of the year with average results. Robertson made some very good starts, but also had quite a few less-than-stellar performances. Robertson is older than the other two, and also has the best chance of sticking with the Tigers out of spring training as the fifth spot in the Tigers rotation is up-for-grabs. Robertson, a lefty, isn't a spectacular pitcher, doesn't throw particularly hard, and doesn't have great breaking pitches. However, he has shown in his minor league career that he can give his team a chance to win every fifth day, and will more than likely be given a similar opportunity this spring with the Tigers.
RP Fernando Rodney, 26
Rodney has seen limited action with the Tigers the past two seasons, but has yet to take a firm grasp on a role in the bullpen. That should all change this as the Tigers feel Rodney's pitching ability (including a deadly change-up) make him a potentially dominant closer. Now all he needs to do is show that he can use his immense talent and convert it into production on the baseball field. Rodney has the inside track to the Closer's job, but with a slew of potential fill-ins (Matt Anderson, Franklyn German, and Al Levine); there will still be plenty of pressure for him to perform.
Players like C Brandon Inge and RP Franklyn German could also see their season's start with Toledo, but have already established themselves more with the Tigers and no longer count as players waiting to get a real chance. Of the four, Rodney has the best chance of all to stick; it will be a shocker if he doesn't make the Opening Day roster. Robertson also has a very good chance, unless the Tigers make another acquisition to improve the rotation, which could leave Robertson on the outside looking in. Ross will probably start in Toledo, where he'll be allowed to play every day and work his knee back into game shape. Infante could very well show he's ready, but unless he can validate sending Fernando Vina or Carlos Guillen to the bench, look for Infante to also return to Toledo.