Posted on March 11, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
In the early stages of a rebuilding effort, the Detroit Tigers were a little better than expected last season, finishing 64-98, which was good for third in the AL Central. However, it remains to be seen if further improvement is in the cards for 2019. Can Detroit continue their climb back to the top of the AL Central or will they be forced to take a step back?
Detroit’s rotation was far from the worst in baseball last year, but the club was no doubt disappointed with their overall performance. Michael Fulmer took a big step backward in 2018, going 3-12 with a 4.69 ERA. He also underwent offseason knee surgery, so it remains to be seen whether he can reclaim his spot as the team’s ace. Jordan Zimmermann is unlikely to fill that role. In fairness, he started to get back on track last year following an ugly 2017 campaign. But Zimmermann appears to be a mid-rotation starter at best at this point in his career. On the bright side, lefty Matthew Boyd had a solid 2018 season and should be a steady presence in Detroit’s rotation this season.
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Meanwhile, the Tigers are hoping that some of their offseason additions will payoff. The club signed lefty Matt Moore in hopes that he can have a bounce-back season. Moore was a front-line starter not too long ago, but he’s had two bad seasons in a row and may not have much left in the tank. The Tigers also brought in Tyson Ross, who is also just a few years removed from being a high-caliber pitcher. Ross was solid but unspectacular last year but is still hoping to get back to the level he was before undergoing thoracic outlet surgery in 2016.
Finally, the Tigers will hope to get something out of some of their younger starters. They’re still waiting on Derek Norris to turn things around, as he is yet to establish himself as a reliable major league starter. The likes of Spencer Turnbull, Beau Burrows, and Kyle Funkhouser may also get a chance in 2019. However, most of Detroit’s top pitching prospects won’t be on the major league radar until 2020.
As is the case with most rebuilding teams, Detroit’s bullpen remains a work in progress. Shane Green will continue to serve as the team’s closer after earning 32 saves in 38 opportunities last year. However, Green also owned a 5.12 ERA in 2018, which is in line with his career numbers. The likes of Joe Jimenez, Daniel Stumpf, Blaine Hardy, and Buck Farmer will be Detroit’s primary setup men. Jimenez boasts some good potential, but that group is largely underwhelming overall.
The Tigers will hold out hope that some of their younger pitchers can establish themselves and force their way into prominent bullpen roles. Victor Alcantara certainly flashed a lot of promise while posting a 2.40 ERA in his 27 appearances last season. Sandy Baez and Matt Hall will also get a look despite struggling in the majors late last season. The Tigers are also high on Bryan Garcia, who they hope to get back in the second half of the season once he completes his recovery from Tommy John.
Offensively, there is definitely much to be desired for the Tigers heading into the 2019 season. Miguel Cabrera is no longer the impact player he once was. He also missed most of last season with a ruptured biceps tendon. That will put the pressure on Nicholas Castellanos to be the big bat in the middle of Detroit’s lineup. The club also has high hopes of John Hicks, who will share duties at first base and the DH spot with Cabrera this season.
In need of some help, the Tigers signed Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercy this winter to serve as their middle infield tandem. Neither is coming off a banner year offensively, but they should be steady defensively up the middle and bring a veteran presence to Detroit’s young roster, especially with Jose Iglesias landing elsewhere and Victor Martinez retiring.
Of course, if the Tigers are going to make any noise this year, they’ll need their younger players to stand out. Jeimer Candelario will return as the team’s primary third baseman, but he’ll need to take a step forward in his development. The same is true for center fielder JaCoby Jones, who has struggled to establish himself in the majors. Detroit is also unsure of what rookie Christin Stewart will produce in his first extended action in the majors as the club’s primary left fielder.
The Tigers are fortunate because most of the other teams in their division are also rebuilding and not expected to be particularly strong this season. However, they are definitely not set up to contend in 2019. Even if some of their young players start to develop, there are still questions about some of their veteran players being able to carry their weight. Look for the Tigers to repeat last year’s record of 64-98, as their rebuilding project temporarily stalls.