By Joe Underhill
Hope springs eternal! Regardless of how the 2022 season came to a close, Spring Training signals a new beginning and for fan bases starved for on-the-field success, Spring Training offers hope that this year will be different. For fans of the Detroit Tigers, there are four major storylines to watch that will go a long way in determining the success of the Tigers in 2023.
When the Tigers decided to non-tender a contract to Jeimer Candelario, the question of who would play third base for the 2023 season became a major off-season question. The answer to that question is still to be determined as camp opens. There are no fewer than six players who are vying for playing time at third base this year. It is very likely there will be several players who will log significant innings at third this year.
While the Tigers didn’t sign or trade for an established third baseman, they did acquire two players with experience at the position in Nick Maton and Matt Vierling. Both Maton and Vierling have big-league experience and have played all over the diamond.
Vierling is more likely to get his reps in the outfield, but has been able to handle playing on the dirt without issue. Maton is more likely to spend time on the dirt. A natural shortstop, has played all over and is a solid defender.
Another candidate with an early advantage is Ryan Kreidler, a shortstop by trade and a candidate for a utility role. Kreidler showed his glove is major-league ready, but his bat struggled mightily in his first big-league experience. Kreidler did post positive wRC+ in the minors, however.
In addition to these three players who are all on the 40-man roster, the Tigers also traded for Tyler Nevin (40-man who plays the four corners), and have brought in Andy Ibanez and Cesar Hernandez on minor-league contracts with invites to big-league camp. Also, youngsters Colt Keith, Justyn Henry-Malloy, and Andre Lipcius will get the opportunity to show they should be in the Tigers’ future plans.
The Tigers’ starting rotation in 2022 was in flux, as 10 different pitchers made at least eight starts. Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, Alex Faedo, and Beau Brieske were all lost for the year, with Mize only lasting 10 innings before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Skubal and Mize are still a long way from being ready to get back into the rotation. The Tigers do not have a projected starter who threw over 100 innings in 2022. Eduardo Rodriguez is back and healthy after missing a large portion of last season with injuries and personal issues. Spencer Turnbull is back after missing most of 2021 and 2022 with Tommy John surgery and will mostly likely need his workload managed carefully.
The two free-agent additions to the rotation are former Tiger Matthew Boyd and Michael Lorenzen. Both dealt with injuries in 2022 and are on one-year deals to establish themselves.
The last spot in the rotation, at least to start the season, will belong to Matt Manning, who had his own injury issues in 2022.
All three of these pitchers will most likely need to have their workloads managed and will need to skip starts throughout the year. Because of that, the next group will be one of the most interesting groups to watch this spring because there will be a lot of starts and innings that will need to be filled.
That group is going to include Joey Wentz, Alex Faedo, Beau Brieske, Rony Garcia, Garrett Hill, Reese Olson, Zach Logue and Rule 5 pick Mason Englert. The group is young and looking to prove, with members seeking to establish themselves as major-league players. Several are likely to find themselves seeing time in the bullpen.
The sophomore success (or failure) of Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene will probably have the greatest impact on the success of the Tigers’ 2023 season. The continued development of Torkelson and Greene, along with Akil Baddoo and Kerry Carpenter, is critical to the Tiger’s batting order finding success.
Torkelson struggled through much of the 2022 season, batting .203 with a SLG of just .319 and a wRC+ of 76, which is after a mid-season demotion to AAA to iron out his mechanics. Throughout his minor-league career, Torkelson has taken time to adapt to the league before putting up strong numbers. The Tigers need Tork to be able to put up a .260-.270 average with 20+ home runs, numbers that he has the talent to meet and surpass.
Riley Greene was slowed by a foot injury at the end of spring training in 2022 and spent very little time on rehab before making his major-league debut. Greene will play the majority of the innings in center field, where he posted a positive DRS while making a number of highlight reel catches. Offensively, Greene was solid slashing .253/.321/.362, but the ceiling for Greene is that of a .290+ average with 20+ home runs.
Baddoo and Carpenter will be part of the outfield competition with newcomers Matt Vierling, Nick Maton, Justyn Henry-Malloy and Jonathan Davis.
Baddoo had an excellent rookie season in 2021, but struggled in 2022 and is looking to establish as more than a fourth or fifth outfielder. Carpenter had a breakout in 2021 that led him from AA to the majors, combining to hit 36 home runs, including six in the majors in only 113 plate appearances. The challenge for Carpenter is his defense, but with power being a major need for the Tigers, he will get the opportunity to show that he belongs.
The Tigers have assembled a significant number of players who are capable of playing multiple positions, giving manager AJ Hinch the ability to mix and match to take advantage of any weakness in opposing pitching staffs. How the bench shakes out will be interesting to watch as there a number of young players like Vierling, Maton, Kriedler, Zack Short, and Tyler Nevin, who need playing time to prove whether they are ready for the majors or not.
Spring Training is always one of the most exciting times of the year. In just a few short weeks, teams will pack up and begin the marathon that is a major-league season. Who will be starting the marathon with the Tigers is just one reason to tune into spring training baseball.
Joe Underhill is a high school administrator and diehard baseball fan and fan of the city of Detroit. Joe currently writes for www.tigstown.com. You can follow Joe on Twitter@TransplantedDet or by emailing email@example.com
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