For, lo the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on earth; the time of the singing birds is come; and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The legendary Voice of the Turtle passage from the Song of Solomon means only one thing in the heart of Detroit baseball fans: It’s time for baseball. The late, great, Ernie Harwell would recite the Voice of the Turtle when baseball would begin, and every year it bestows the same amount of happiness in me, knowing that baseball is back.
Spring Training is still young. The Tigers are only three games in and there is still 35 more days to go before Justin Verlander takes the mound in Minnesota on Opening Day.
For the most part the Tigers roster is pretty set in stone, but there are a few roster spot battles that are going on before the season begins. Not to mention a few players that every Tigers fan should be on the look out for before Spring Training ends.
With that said here are five players to watch in Spring Training:
Drew Smyly/Rick Porcello: I know it’s two different players. But since they are both vying for the same thing, it just seemed logical to mull them both into one. Smyly impressed last year in his rookie season. The 22-year old had spent only one season in the minors prior to 2012 before eventually taking over the fifth starter spot in the Tigers’ rotation. He posted a 3.99 ERA between the bullpen and starting rotation.
After the signing of Anibal Sanchez the Tigers ran into a basic math problem: five spots in a rotation, six starting pitchers available. Meaning someone is going to have to get traded or put into the bullpen.
Porcello has seemed to have trouble ever since his solid rookie year, which was the last time he posted an ERA under four. Porcello’s WHIP and hits per-nine have all jumped up since his rookie season and although the Tigers’ defense doesn’t exactly help this sinkerball pitcher’s cause, Porcello has yet to show the consistency the Tigers would of hoped to see at this point in his career.
With Porcello and Smyly both gunning for the fifth spot, it’ll be interesting to see who slips up first. This is the first time since 2009 Porcello has had to earn a spot in the rotation. Smyly, on the other hand, was in this same position last year and won the job. This will be one of the bigger story lines in Tigers camp.
Bruce Rondon: This one is rather oblivious. With the potato head gone — (Jose Valverde)– Bruce Rondon will now get a shot to close ballgames at the major league level on a club that not only went to the World Series, but expects to be there again come October.
Rondon dominated the minors last year. In 53 innings pitched between A, AA, and AAA the flamethrowing right hander posted a minuscule 1.53 ERA and struck out 66 batters. Walks and Rondon’s secondary pitches are the only thing that come into question at this point. But no one will truly know if this youngster is ready to take the ball in the ninth until the season begins.
It will be interesting to watch how Rondon gets out big league hitters for the first time he sees them. So far Rondon has struck out two hitters, surrendered a hit and walked a batter in one inning of work in Spring Training.
Brennan Boesch: One word fits Brennan Boesch’s 2012 season: nightmare, because that’s what it was like every time he stepped up to the plate. His .246/.286/.372 slash line supports such a harsh, but true, comparison.
The Tigers’ outfield is pretty much set, for the exception of left field. Andy Dirks looks to get the most of the playing time, but the Tigers really want to get a complementary right handed platoon bat to go along with Dirks. In other words it’s not looking good for ole Mr. Brennan Boesch.
If Boesch wants to get any playing time this year, he better have a good spring. And not a Ryan Raburn spring where he hits seven home runs then hits only one all year, (i’m look at you, Indians fans. Don’t get your hopes up). He needs to prove right out of Spring Training he can be a viable asset to the Tigers’ outfield.
Avisail Garcia: Avisail Garcia, or “Little Miggy” tugged at Tigers fans heart strings last year. When the Tigers faithful got to see Garcia for the first time walking around with what looked like his big brother Miguel Cabrera, everyone fell in love with him. And the fact that he hit over .300 in 47 AB’s didn’t hurt either.
Like I stated earlier the Tigers are looking for a right handed platton bat for left field. Garcia is a right handed hitter, and he can play a pretty good outfield as well. The general thought is Garcia will start out the year in Triple-A but if he could have a good spring, who knows. Maybe Little Miggy and Miggy will start out the year together in Minnesota.
Alex Avila: Much like Boesch, Avila’s 2012 campaign is one he wants to forget. Avila has shown that he is more than capable of putting up good offensive numbers behind the dish. In 2011 the Tigers’ catcher hit .295/.389/.506 while claiming a Sliver Slugger and making the All Star team as the American League’s starting catcher.
Avila has had problems with his knees, which sidelined him for a little while in 2012 and it looked like it affected his swing. Over the corse of Spring Training be sure to look out for how Avila performs at the plate. If we start to see the Avila who drove the ball the other way with authority again it’s going to be a good year offensively from the catching position.