TigsTown Outfield/Catcher Preview

It's not as if the outfield and catching positions have plenty of competition, but the outfield is the lone source of a spring battle for a starting job; that being the battle between Nook Logan and Curtis Granderson for centerfield.

The centerfield battle is the lone spot up for grabs among all the positions this spring, but there probably won't even be a ton of competition for the spot anyway. Curtis Granderson and Nook Logan will both get the opportunity to battle for the spot, but after the 2005 that each had, it's clear that Granderson has the upper hand.

Granderson of course only got a fraction of the playing time that Logan did in 2005, as Granderson spent much of the season in Toledo. However, in the playing time he did receive, Granderson showed his worth, giving the team solid defense in center and blasted 8 homers with a .272 average in 162 at bats. The lone disappointment was his walk rates, but if history is any indication, that will come in '06, as it has taken Granderson a few hundred at bats to adjust to his next level before getting in a comfort zone. Granderson's combination of a good bat and solid defense certainly give him the upper hand.

But that doesn't mean Logan should be counted out. Logan's speed makes him a wildcard, he can cover so much ground (an important part of playing in spacious Comerica Park) and makes things happen on the basepaths (his highlight of '05 coming when he scored from first base on a passed ball). Logan though still needs to prove he can hit regularly, because a .258 average without a lot of walks will spell trouble, especially when competing to be a leadoff hitter. If Logan can finally turn the corner with his bat though, watch out.

The corner outfield spots are already settled, barring injury of course. Magglio Ordonez, who looks to be 100% recovered from his knee injury of '04 and his hernia from '05, will look to have a monster season in right, returning to his pre-injury form. One thing is for certain, the Tigers didn't hand him a $75 million contract for him to post a .795 OPS in 300 injury-riddled at bats.

In left field, Craig Monroe will return for his 4th stint as a Tiger outfielder, having proven himself to be an extremely reliable, albeit slightly below average performer. The good news with Monroe is that he gives the team solid defense, respectable numbers at the plate and hasn't had any injury problems. A .280 average with 20-25 home runs and 80-90 RBI is certainly nothing to complain about from the Tigers standpoint, as he's been one of the few constants in these trying years.

The designated hitter is slated to be Dmitri Young, though manager Jim Leyland hopes to be able to use Young in the field more in 2006 and give Ordonez more rest by just using him at DH. The good news with Young is that after struggling with injuries the past couple years, Young finally realized that he was no longer 26 years old and his body couldn't rebound like it used to. So, to his credit, he dedicated himself in the offseason to get in shape, shedding 30 pounds in hopes of being able to make it through the year without any problems. The Tigers likewise are going to need a big year out of Young, as he's one of the team's highest paid players and has yet to produce like one.

Young and the loser of the centerfield job will likely compose the backups, but the team could elect to carry one other backup if they're not confident Young can play and they'll instead use him to back up first base. In that case, Marcus Thames and Alexis Gomez are likely to be the frontrunners for that job, with Gomez having more versatility, while Thames has the better bat. Thames destroyed International League pitching last year but hasn't proven to be able to do the same thing against big leaguers, and he'd likely need to do it in minimal at bats. Gomez on the other hand hits for a good average, but doesn't have a lot of power, and wouldn't be a huge threat as a bat off the bench. All this of course could be for naught if the Tigers decide to keep Carlos Pena for yet another season.

Moving to behind the plate, there is very little question to the depth chart. Barring injury, Ivan Rodriguez will attempt to bounce back after a miserable 2005 (in which he dealt with steroid accusations courtesy of significant weight loss and Jose Canseco, a manager who he found himself at odds with, a divorce, and a broken clubhouse). Rodriguez of course is a first ballot hall-of-famer, and will be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to rebounding. But the Tigers expect more than a .276/.290/.444 line.

Rodriguez's backup will be Vance Wilson, just as he was in '05. Wilson struggled with the bat, but nonetheless carried himself professionally despite the struggle of receiving very little playing time. So long as Wilson continues to work well with the pitchers, the Tigers will be happy with Wilson's work – though they wouldn't mind a jump in his .197 batting average.

All in all, the Tigers have a solid group amongst the players named, and even a bit of competition going on in spring. The key once again will be keeping the stars healthy – if Young, Ordonez and Rodriguez all have big years, the Tigers will likely follow. If they don't, well, losing season #13 is likely what'll be in store for the club.


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