As the Tigers prepare for the 2011 season, there are five main position battles Mud Hen fans should watch during spring training. As pitchers and catchers report this week, and with the position players trickling in as well, we’ll look at five roster position battles. We'll sort out the contestants and predict what might happen for the Tigers AND the Mud Hens.
THE POSITION: The final outfield spots.
THE CONTESTANTS: Let’s set the parameters: first, I’m going with the assumption that there are no injuries that keep Magglio Ordonez from playing right field and Austin Jackson from center. Second, let’s go with the assumption that Ryan Raburn begins the season as the starter in left. Third, I’m going to operate under the assumption that two infield back-ups make the roster, leaving only one outfield extra. Why? I expect do-everything back-up Don Kelly to make the roster, giving the Tigers another option in the outfield. … One player to watch in the outfield battle is Brennan Boesch following his Jekyll-and-Hyde season at the plate for Detroit last year. Before the All-Star Break, Boesch hit .342 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in 243 at-bats; after the break he batted just .163 with two homers and 18 RBIs in 221 at-bats. Which guy will he be this spring? … Casper Wells will get a “puncher’s chance” at the job after splitting time between Toledo and Detroit last season. Wells hit .233 with 21 homers and 46 RBIs in 103 games with the Hens but was on fire with the Tigers, batting .323 with four homers and 17 RBI in just 36 games with Detroit.
THE WILD CARD: Clete Thomas played in just 21 games for the Mud Hens last season, hitting just .183 before his season was derailed by knee problems. Thomas was a surprise addition to the Tigers’ roster in 2008 and hit .284 in the big leagues; in 2009 he batted just .240 but did have seven home runs. Of the available options, he’s also probably the best defensive outfielder.
THE PROBABLE OUTCOME FOR DETROIT: My guess is that the Tigers will give the everyday job in left to Raburn and not platoon. ... The fact that Boesch hits left-handed is a plus; the fact that he turns 25 in April and has just 15 games of Triple-A experience leads me to believe he’ll be in Toledo to start the season. … The fact that Wells can play all three outfield positions is a plus, as was his fine performance at season’s end; but he also is young (26 years old), and he still has things to learn at the Triple-A level, which leads me to believe he also will return to the Mud Hens. … Thomas is only 27, bats left-handed, can play all three outfield positions and has more major-league experience than Boesch and Wells combined. Unless he proves he isn’t healthy, or struggles at the plate, I expect him to earn the fourth outfield spot.
WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR THE MUD HENS: If you’re a Mud Hens fan, you have to love the potential of an outfield that includes Boesch, Wells and Andy Dirks. All three can hit, hit with power, and are at least solid defensively. My guess is that Toledo manager Phil Nevin would salivate at the chance to write those three names on his lineup card Opening Day.
FOR MORE: Click on this link to read Part 1: Second base, which was published on Monday; Click on this link to read Part 2: left field, which was published on Tuesday; Click on this link to read Part 3: the bullpen, which was published on Wednesday. Click on this link to read Part 4: the final infield spot, which was published on Thursday.