Detroit's backup middle infielders should get an excellent opportunity this spring to show what they can do.
The Tigers will be bringing SS Carlos Guillen back slowly from his knee ligament surgery of last September. Detroit wants him to be ready for Opening Day but won't want Guillen to push it until he shows how healthy he is.
2B Omar Infante, entering his second season as a regular, will be coming off winter ball, so the Tigers won't need to play him a lot to get him ready for the start of the season either.
Manager Alan Trammell will want to check out Martinez at short, second and third to gauge his suitability at each position. Smith, who showed what he can do last season, will get playing time to sharpen up for the regular season.
It's unlikely 3B Brandon Inge will play full-time at his new position this spring, either. Inge was excellent at playing multiple positions for Detroit last season, and Trammell might want to give him a little work at those positions again -- just in case. Inge caught and played third, center and left for the Tigers last year.
Before circumstances induced Detroit to make Inge its regular third baseman for 2005, Trammell was toying with the idea of working him out at short and second to expand his versatility.
That could give a showcase opportunity to non-roster invitee Mike Hessman, who plays third and first, along with minor league farmhand 3B Jack Hannahan, facing a critical year in his future with the organization.
Promising SS Tony Giarratano, coming off surgery to repair a shoulder separation last summer, can expect to get some exhibition game action, too.
Giarratano is one of Detroit's few rising minor league stars who isn't a pitcher. He was drafted in 2003 and should start at the Double-A level this season.
2B Ryan Raburn, who had a September call-up with Detroit last year, made a positive impression in the same situation last spring. He'll get more chances this spring, along with the others.
--3B Dean Palmer was among 19 non-roster players invited by Detroit to participate in major league spring training.
Palmer, 36, has not played since May of 2003, retiring before last season, and in his last three seasons with the Tigers totaled just 87 games. He had no home runs and only six RBI the last two years.
"I truthfully feel I can still play," Palmer said. "I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't feel that way."
He has a career .251 batting average with 275 home runs and 849 RBI in 14 seasons.
Two shoulder surgeries and an operation to fuse disks in his neck ended his career, but Palmer says swimming has restored strength to his shoulder and his neck hasn't bothered him in a year.
--Detroit announced it was inviting 19 non-roster players to major league spring training, 11 of whom have big-league playing experience, including former Tigers 3B Dean Palmer.
The 19 are RHPs Nelson Cruz, Craig Dingman, Sean Douglass, John Ennis, Andrew Good and Matt Roney; LHPs Mike Bynum and Doug Creek; Cs Brandon Harper, Sandy Martinez, Mike Rabelo, Michael Rivera and Maxim St. Pierre; INFs Tony Giarratano, Jack Hannahan, Mike Hessman, Kevin Hooper and Palmer; and OF Alexis Gomez.
Cruz pitched for Detroit in 2000, going 5-2 with a 3.07 ERA. Dingman and Ennis spent time with the Tigers and in the minors last season, while Douglass worked 14 games for Toronto last year. Good pitched for Arizona, and Roney spent last season in the minors after sticking with Detroit as a Rule 5 choice in 2003. Creek is a veteran of eight major league seasons.
Martinez played in one game with Cleveland and three for Boston last season. Rivera broke into the majors with Detroit. Gomez played with Kansas City last season.
Hessman played 48 games with Atlanta over the last two seasons.
--Former Detroit 3B Tom Brookens has agreed to serve as manager of the Tigers' short-season Class A team at Oneonta of the New York-Penn League.
Brookens played 12 seasons with the Tigers (1979-88), New York Yankees (1989) and Cleveland Indians (1990), finishing with a career batting average of .246 with 71 home runs and 431 RBI in 1,336 games.
"I had a dream of going home to Pennsylvania after my playing days and helping to raise my kids," Brookens said. "But the timing is right for this now.
"It really began during the fantasy camp last year when Al Kaline asked if I'd ever thought about getting back in the game. It just sort of went from there. I'm grateful for the opportunity."
Brookens, 51, played on Detroit's 1984 world championship team and remains close with Tigers manager Alan Trammell and coaches Kirk Gibson and Lance Parrish.
His job as Oneonta's manager in 2005 will be his first professional managing or coaching position. Oneonta is the starting point for many collegians Detroit drafts in June, along with promising players who debuted last year.
--LHP Andy Van Hekken, who pitched a shutout in his first major league start but did not reach the majors the last two seasons, has left the Detroit organization to sign with the Atlanta Braves.
Van Hekken agreed to a Triple-A contract with the Braves' organization, ending a six-year stint with the Tigers, and was invited to spring training with Atlanta.
"I got a good offer from Detroit," Van Hekken said. "It was between Detroit and Atlanta. I just felt Atlanta would be a better situation for me."
Van Hekken pitched in five games for Detroit in 2002, going 1-3 with a 3.00 ERA, including the shutout. But diminished velocity the following season resulted in his being sent to the minors again. Last year at Triple-A Toledo, Van Hekken was 9-7 with a 4.96 ERA.
--C Ivan Rodriguez and SS Carlos Guillen were named as co-recipients of the "King Tiger" award, voted by members of the Mayo Smith Society, an international Tigers fan club.
"The Society reinstated the King Tiger Award (for the first time since 1980) so the most loyal Tigers fans could express their appreciation of players' accomplishments between the white lines and of their involvement in the community," says Todd Miller, society administrator.
Rodriguez was the Tigers' first All-Star Game starter since first baseman Cecil Fielder in 1991 and hit .334 for the season.
Guillen, traded to Detroit by the Seattle Mariners after the 2003 season, also made the AL All-Star team and reached career highs with a .318 batting average, 20 home runs and 97 RBI.
The Mayo Smith Society is named after the Detroit manager who skippered the 1968 World Champion team. It was founded in 1983 in Washington, D.C., by Dale Petroskey (now president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum), his brother Dennis, and Bill Mackay. It boasts nearly 1,000 members across the United States and Canada.
BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Candidates with major league experience among the 19 non-roster players Detroit has invited to participate in major league spring training next month.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not a young guy, but I feel I can play another couple of years. I'm excited about it. There's probably no one looking forward to spring training more than I am." -- Former Detroit 3B Dean Palmer, 36, attempting a comeback this spring after shoulder and neck injuries forced him to retire in 2004. He has not appeared in a major league game since May 2003.
Detroit has added three players, two of them backups, in its drive to improve for 2005. INF Ramon Martinez was signed to complement INF Jason Smith as reserves and backup C Vance Wilson was obtained in a deal with the New York Mets. Closer RHP Troy Percival was the Tigers' marquee free agent signee. Adding Wilson allows Brandon Inge to remain on third base full-time while giving manager Alan Trammell a competent catcher to rest C Ivan Rodriguez 1-2 days per week. The Tigers would still like to make a significant outfield upgrade.
ARRIVALS: C Vance Wilson (trade with New York Mets), INF Ramon Martinez (free agent, signed from Chicago Cubs), RHP Troy Percival (free agent, signed from Anaheim), RHP Colby Lewis (waiver claim, from Texas), OF Byron Gettis (waiver claim, from Kansas City), OF DeWayne Wise (waiver claim, from Atlanta).
DEPARTURES: CF Alexis Gomez (outrighted to Triple-A Toledo and invited to major league spring training, waiver claim from Kansas City), RHP Esteban Yan (elected free agency, club declined arbitration, signed two-year $3 million deal with Anaheim).
BIGGEST NEEDS: Run-producing outfielder, upper-tier starting pitcher, second southpaw reliever.
MEDICAL WATCH: RHP Colby Lewis (rotator cuff surgery in mid-April) hopes to be ready to pitch in the spring. SS Carlos Guillen (right knee ACL surgery Sept. 28) will be prepped in the spring with Opening Day in mind. CF Alex Sanchez (right quadriceps) will be ready for spring training. 2B Fernando Vina (right hamstring, 2/3-torn left patella tendon) declined surgery, which was iffy as far as a recovery, and is facing the end of his career. Won't be ready for spring training or Opening Day. RHP Nate Cornejo (right shoulder labrum surgery) will be brought slowly in the spring. RHP Fernando Rodney (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to be ready in spring training. RHP Chris Spurling (right elbow ligament transplant) is throwing again and hopes to compete for a job in the spring.