By: Trent Pruitt
It’s been five long seasons since the Detroit Tigers last reached the playoffs and to be honest, it doesn’t look that streak will be broken any time soon. After a 47-114 2019, the Tigers are in limbo as they’re heavily weighed down by the contracts of Miguel Cabrera and Jordan Zimmerman. We’ll get more into that later on, but hey, at least baseball is back in MoTown!
Record: 47-114, 5th in the A.L. Central
2019 Team MVP: Matthew Boyd
2019 Most Improved: Victor Reyes
2019 Team Cy Young: Matthew Boyd
2019 was a dumpster fire for the Tigers. Their 47-114 record was the worst season they’ve incurred since the 2003 season when they won just 45 games. From Norris, Turnbell, and Zimmerman’s 7-43 combined pitching record to the team’s 1-18 record against the Indians.. It was a year to forget. Luckily for them, they made a couple of moves this off-season so I think they’ll see a vast improvement in 2020. Sure, they still have a ways to go until their big arms in the farm develop and they compete for the division, but Detroit should have some respectable baseball to look forward to.
B+. There’s zero debate that this season’s roster is better than the 2019 team. I think that the Tigers are in a transitional period focused on developing young talent while slowly passing off the guys weighing them down (Miggy, Zimmerman). Look, I know that Miggy probably put together the best 10-year stretch of hitting of all time but it’s obvious that he’s in a downfall. With all of the being prefaced, the goal of the Ilitch family this season is to put out a modest product. I think they achieved that. In fact, if I was grading this off-season on a relative scale vs absolute scale, I would actually give the Tigers organization an A. For starters (pun intended), they grabbed Ivan Nova in free agency. Nova played 2019 with the Chicago White Sox and although he wasn’t fantastic, he showed that he can eat a bunch of innings and still occasionally perform at a high level.
Detroit also acquired several respectable hitters in the off-season. They grabbed C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop in free agency. Cron and Schoop are coming off of big seasons with Minnesota, contributing to the record for most homeruns by a team in a single season (307). Al Avila also brought back outfielder Cameron Maybin. Detroit fans know Maybin well as he spent time with the Tigers in 2007 and 2016. The speedy veteran played 82 games with the Yankees in 2019, slashing .285/.364/.494 while hitting 11 bombs. And finally, the Tigers brought in Austin Romine, who also played with the Yankees in 2019. Romine is coming off a career season where he hit .281 with 8 homeruns. From what I’ve seen of Romine over the years is that he is a very reliable catcher.
Projected Lineup, Rotation, & Bullpen
C- Austin Romine
1st- C.J. Cron
2nd- Jonathan Schoop
3rd- Jeimer Candelario
SS- Niko Goodrum
LF- Christin Stewert
CF- JaCoby Jones
RF- Cameron Maybin
DH- Miguel Cabrera
Grayson Greiner (C)
Dawel Lugo (INF)
Jordy Mercer (INF)
Victor Reyes (OF)
1- Matthew Boyd (LHP)
2- Jordan Zimmerman (RHP)
3- Ivan Nova (RHP)
4- Daniel Norris (LHP)
5- Spencer Turnbull (RHP)
Joe Jimenez (Closer, RHP)
Buck Farmer (RHP)
Jose Cisnero (RHP)
Bryan Garcia (RHP)
David McKay (RHP)
John Scheiber (RHP)
Gregory Soto (LHP)
Rony Garcia (RHP)
Roster Analysis & Key Players to Watch
As I started to get into earlier, this Tigers team has vastly improved from last season. I really like the free agent moves that they made over the off-season. Are any of those guys long term solutions for Detroit’s organization? Most likely not. But they will be able to hold down the fort until the Tigers are ready to compete in a few years.
Miguel Cabrera: Miguel Cabrera is a household name for anyone that has watched baseball over the last 20 years. The 2012 Triple Crown Winner is getting up there in age but he will look to have another productive season. Cabrera is the rock of this franchise and despite what I said earlier about his contract eating up a lot of their budget, he’s earned it. Miggy has a career slash line of .315/.392/.398 with 477 homeruns. As a White Sox fan myself, I’ve seen the damage he can do. And although he might not be able to crush the ball like he used to, he’s still one of those guys who can be productive by keeping the ball inside of the park. No one in the MLB knows how to shorten up their swing in RBI opportunities like Cabrera. I’ve seen it time and time again where he goes with the pitch and flairs a ball into the outfield to bring home RISP. Look for him to have a little bit of a bounce-back year in 2020.
Niko Goodrum: I believe that Goodrum will hold it down at shortstop coming into the 2020 season. In 2019, he batted .248 with 45 RBI’s and added 12 longballs. I think he has a lot of potential to be a solid player in this league. Goodrum was originally drafted to the Twins in 2010 and was picked up in free agency after the 2017 campaign. If Goodrum can produce over the next couple of seasons, I believe that he’ll find himself a spot on this roster when the Tigers are ready to compete again.
The Farm System
Before we get into my final analysis on the Tigers, I always want to look at the farm system. For Detroit fans, this is probably the most important part of this whole season preview. The Tigers have four prospects inside the top 50 MLB Prospect List. Let’s take a look into the future, starting with a name you most likely already know- Casey Mize.
Casey Mize: Mize ranks 7th on the Prospect List, and for great reason. The righty was the number 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, coming out of Auburn. Fun fact, he was the first #1 overall pick to not even be drafted out of high school since Strasburg in 2009- good company. He has a nice arsenal of pitches, including a 4-seamer that touched low to mid 90’s, a cutter, split finger, and slider. It’s hard to do him justice while typing an article so do yourself a favor and give this guy a Google search. The righty is going to be a force in the A.L. Central over the next decade. He’s expected to get called up during the 2020 season.
Riley Greene: The outfielder was taken 5th overall in the 2019 draft. He’s a left-handed bat who is a natural hitter. From what I’ve read and watched, he’s a very disciplined hitter which is awesome to see as a 19 year old. The 31st ranked prospect in Major League Baseball is going to rise quickly through the ranks and is projected to make it to the show in 2022. In 2019 he slashed .271/.347/.403 with three different minor league teams. I believe that he’ll start in High-A ball for 2020.
Matt Manning (24th) and Tarik Skubal (46th) were also on the MLB Top Prospects list. Both are pitchers expected to be called up over the next 1-2 seasons. Additionally, Tigers fans have Tyler Alexander to look forward to. He made his debut in 2019 as a starting pitcher. I believe that the lefty will be bouncing back and forth between the MLB and Triple A. It won’t be this year Detroit fanatics, but the future’s looking bright.
Season Projection & Prediction
Projected Wins: 55.5
My Prediction: 61-101
I believe that 55.5 wins is on the low side for the Tigers in 2020. I don’t see them shattering that number, but I see them coasting by the benchmark with about 59-63 wins. 2019 was absolutely terrible in terms of pitching for Detroit. The only bright spot was Matthew Boyd. The lefty will hold down the top spot in the rotation again this season and hopefully others will bounce back. That includes Jordan Zimmerman, who was atrocious for what he’s being paid. Honestly, I think Detroit will have issues with their pitching again in 2020, but not nearly as much as they did in 2019. Bringing in Romine should help these guys as well. He’s an experienced catcher who knows how to put his guys in a position to succeed.
Their hitting has improved greatly. Those free agents that I mentioned should give this roster a huge boost. Additionally, Miguel Cabrera is pretty healthy entering the year so expect him to perform. All in all, I think the Tigers will put out a decent team in 2020. Are we talking playoffs? Absolutely not. But I think they’ll make a little bit of a jump in the win column.
My advice to Detroit fans- embrace the rebuild and focus on the future. It’s all about developing the young guys at this point.