Paul Wezner, Senior Editor
Let me give you a few stats. .261/.330/.419/.749. That .749 is the OPS of Brandon Inge, the Tigers' everyday third baseman. The MLB average for qualified third basemen last year was .793. All that, and Inge didn't even finish in the top ten among third basemen in fielding percentage, so he can't exactly hang his hat on his defensive standing. Brandon Inge provides respectable defense and below average offense. That might be acceptable if there were a hot prospect coming up behind Inge and he were just keeping the spot warm, or if there were a player on the roster expected to push him for playing time. But instead, the Tigers best option to push Inge would either be a minor leaguer who hasn't been able to post an .800 OPS since his first pro season back in 2001 (Jack Hannahan), or their starting second baseman to be pushed over to third by an emerging Omar Infante, who sure couldn't prove he was up to the task in 2005. Unlike the rotation where the Tigers have Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya knocking on the door, or the outfield where Dmitri Young is trying to get into shape and the Tigers have a hot prospect in Brent Clevlen who could be one great half year away from a big league cameo, there are no stud options behind Inge. Inge has proven capable of hitting left handers (an .843 OPS in '05), unfortunately, he only faced lefties one fifth of the time last year, and that's not likely to change. The Tigers have given Brandon Inge plenty of opportunity, and he's proven capable of being a platoon player, and not much more. If the Tigers have any illusions of making a run in 2006, they'll need to find a way to get more production out of the hot corner.
Mark Anderson, Minor League Editor
While a case can be made for nearly every position on the Tiger's team being the most significant concern, I think the starting rotation is a step above the rest. The most sure thing in the Detroit rotation is Mike Maroth. Is there any team in baseball that would be satisfied if Mike Maroth were their most consistent and known commodity? Jeremy Bonderman must prove healthy to start the 2006 season, on top of the fact that he must actually show he can make "the leap" over the course of a full season. Nate Robertson took to the Bob Cluck school of pitching in 2005, decreasing velocity in an effort to find control, and while his numbers were shiny, his velocity is what made him the pitcher he was. In addition to regaining his velocity and overpowering demeanor, Robertson must also show that he can sustain his strength for a full season rather than tiring significantly in the season's second half. Kenny Rogers is coming off a very good season in 2005, but he's also on the wrong side of 40; so who knows when that inevitable clock will start ticking louder and louder. Lastly, the fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs, without an experienced starter in the mix. One of Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, or Roman Colon will be toeing the Tiger rubber every fifth day, and while all three have blazing fastballs and immense potential, are they really ready for the big time? Combining all of these questions, leaves the rotation as one enormous question mark! The Tiger's offense will need to score plenty of runs this season if they are to approach .500.
Jason Avery, Amateur Baseball Editor
I think center field is the biggest question mark for the Tigers. Curtis Granderson and Nook Logan are expected to platoon there, but defensively is where the big concern lies. Obviously, Comerica Park has a big outfield, and while Logan has blinding speed, he lacks the instincts an outfielder needs to track down fly balls accurately, and that can lead to disaster for a pitching staff that overall, doesn't record many strikeouts. Granderson has good instincts and runs well, but how will he handle being the quarterback of the outfield defense? Both players will also have to cover much more ground due to Craig Monroe and Magglio Ordonez flanking them on the corners, so it could be a very difficult year for the young players out there. If there is a silver lining here, it's that Andy Van Slyke will be coaching the outfielders, so they can improve on the fundamentals of playing in center, but it will be hard to overcome playing with a right fielder whose knee is still in questionable health, and a left fielder who simply lacks the speed to get to a number of fly balls.
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