With all other positions pretty stable, there really are only a handful of battles for the Tigers heading in to spring training. The 5th rotation spot will be interesting, there will be bullpen spots up for grabs, but I believe the main focus will be Centerfield after the trade of Cameron Maybin to clear some salary from the books.
The centerfield job is pretty much up for grabs as spring games commence later in the week with JaCoby Jones, Tyler Collins, Mikie Mahtook, Anthony Gose, David Lough, and Alex Presely all via for the position to name a few. Mahtook in my opinion has a slight edge; however a lot can change over the next month. Let’s take a look at some of the options…
Alex Presley: A 31-year old, left hander, who has played parts of seven seasons in the bigs for five different teams. A lifetime .253 hitter (.678 OPS) with some speed, can hit a gap from time to time, won’t walk a ton, and strikes out once every six at plate appearances. Presley has 70 games (of 320 played) in centerfield and rates out somewhat negatively at the position with -14 runs saved above average for his career. Alex was resigned in the offseason by Detroit after playing in the Tigers organization for part of 2016.
David Lough: Was signed to a minor league deal in the offseason by Detroit after playing in parts of five seasons for three teams, where he hit a combined .254, with a .671 OPS. Lough has played center in 61 of his 309 games and rates out to be pretty average with a +4 in runs saved above average. After hitting .286 his rookie season (2013) in KC, Lough struggled to repeat the hitting for average or the extra base pop (26 in 96 games) displayed that season.
Anthony Gose: We all know Gose who appeared in 30 games last season in Detroit and 140 the previous year. We also know about his run in with Toledo Lloyd McClendon as well. A one-time good looking prospect, Gose has never developed the ability to consistently hit Major League pitching, as he .240 career average shows. Anthony remains an intriguing player however because of his speed (23 steals in 2015), which you would also assume means solid defensive capability, but doesn’t based on his -18 runs saved above average rating in center for his career.
Mikie (pronounced Mike-e) Mahtook: Was acquired in the offseason by Detroit for a player to be named. The one-time highly thought of prospect (still just 27) has yet to show consistency to be an impact in the Majors. In 2015, Mahtook looked like he was ready to lock down the job for Tampa, after hitting .295, with a .970 OPS in 41 games. The following season however, Mahtook hit just .195 and spent time back down in the minors and on the DL. Like Lough, Mahtook rates out to be pretty average in center with a +2 runs saved above average rating. The former first round pick I believe will at the very least platoon vs. lefties (.192/.276 RHP/LHP batting average split) to start the season
Tyler Collins: This could be the make or break year for Tyler, as he enters his 4th season of possible big league experience. To date, he’s hit .253 with a .709 OPS and some extra base ability. From a defensive standpoint, Collins is a bit below average from what we’ve seen in the outfield and specifically looking at center, he rates out to a -6 runs below average in 30 games (not good!). If JaCoby Jones proves to not be ready, this could be the other platoon split with Mahtook, as Tyler has hit righties at a .265 (.753 OPS) clip, vs. lefties who he hits .174 (.420 OPS) against.
JaCoby Jones: I have to say, I absolutely loved the fire that Jones brought to the Tigers last year and it was right when they needed it. That said, the fire burnt out quickly and Jones hit .214 over 13 games, striking out 12 times in 28 plate appearances. We did see Jones play 5 games in center last year, but not enough in my opinion to gage his ability there.
This ought to be interesting with the theory of needing to be strong up the middle. My guess is we see a Mahtook/Collins platoon based on starting pitcher matchup, with Mahtook also replacing Collins late in games that he starts as a defensive replacement