Tigers 2018 position battles: Part 1

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With Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila having shipped away outfielders Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez, second baseman Ian Kinsler, closer Justin Wilson and starting pitcher Justin Verlander since last season’s trade deadline, there are a number of spots open for the taking on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster.

Second base

Frontrunner: The second base spot seems to be Dixon Machado’s spot to lose this spring. Although Machado didn’t light up the stat sheet in 2017, hitting .259/.302/.319, his abilities on defense make him the clear favorite for the job. Machado played in 73 games last season, 27 of those being at second base. He is the most experienced second baseman on the Tigers’ 25-man roster and shouldn’t have much competition for the job.

Other plausible options: Although JaCoby Jones is listed as an outfielder, he was acquired as a shortstop before making the transition to the outfield in the Tigers’ farm system, so he has the ability to play the infield as well. Although he has never played second base, throughout the minors, Jones has played 228 games at shortstop and 31 games at third base and is athletic enough to make a position change with ease. If he has a strong enough spring, manager Ron Gardenhire may have no choice but to find a spot in the lineup for Jones.

Ronny Rodriguez put up impressive numbers in Class-AAA last season, hitting  .291/.324/.454 along with 17 home runs, 64 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 447 at-bats. His bat could provide some much needed offense at a position where that tends to be hard to find.

Other guys in the mix include Tigers’ farmhand Dawel Lugo and non-roster invitees Pete Kozma and Alexi Amarista.

Center field

Frontrunner: The Tigers have added center fielder Leonys Martin this offseason, who owns a .987 fielding percentage over 556 games in center field. From 2013-2016, Martin owned the seventh best fielding percentage among active center fielders, at .987.  

The Tigers had five different players start at least 17 games in center field in 2017, so having an everyday player in center field is going to be important for the Tigers in 2018. Martin has only been on the disabled list once in parts of seven seasons in the majors. His durability at such a demanding position makes him an extremely valuable piece.

Martin also is a plus base runner, averaging a stolen base every 17.2 at bats in his career. To put that into perspective, the Royals’ second baseman Whit Merrifield, who led the American League in stolen bases in 2017 with 34, averaged a stolen base per every 18.5 at bats last season. Martin has the potential to be one of the top baserunners in the American League in 2018.

Other plausible options: Jones also figures to be in the mix for a spot in the center field job. He played 51 games in center field last season and turned in a .993 fielding percentage at that spot, which would have been tied for sixth best in baseball at center field if he had enough innings to qualify.

Jones also owns a .313/.387/.490 slash line in spring training. If he continues his impressive hitting this spring, Gardenhire may think twice about passing up on Jones.

Also in the mix is Victor Reyes, the Tigers’ pick in the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, and farmhand Michael Gerber.

Fourth outfielder

Frontrunner: Basically, because the Tigers would lose Reyes if they do not keep him in the bigs in 2018 due to the rules behind the Rule 5 Draft, he is likely to be the fourth outfielder for the Tigers in the upcoming season.

Reyes, however, does have the potential to be a productive player in the majors. His glove work was impressive in 2017. Reyes played both right field and center field last season in AA and turned in a .997 fielding percentage along with 11 outfield assists. His glove and arm seem to be major league ready.

Reyes also did plenty offensively in 2017, hitting .292/.332/.399 in AA last season along with stealing 18 bases. However, making a jump from AA to the majors is a difficult jump. His skills at the plate may take some time to translate to the major league level.

Other plausible options: Jones has to be considered here as well. His raw potential and athleticism is too much to ignore.

Gerber is another solid option for the Tigers. The 25-year-old lefty hit .304/.373/.496 along with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs between AA and AAA last season. Gerber also has decent speed, having reached double digits in stolen bases in two of his past three seasons. Gerber is athletic enough to handle all three outfield positions and looks to have the talent to be an impact player in the future.

Other options are Jim Adduci, who played in 29 games for the Tigers in 2017 and got off to a hot start, hitting .318/.388/.500 before a right oblique injury forced him onto the disabled list. Non-roster invitee Jason Krizan is also a viable option.

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