Tigers have power, but still a few questions
LAKELAND, Fla. (AP)
In terms of star power, the Detroit Tigers can match any team in baseball.
That doesn't mean their lineup is totally settled heading into spring training.
The Tigers won the AL Central last season by 15 games and added slugger Prince Fielder in the offseason. With Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the batting order, Detroit can expect to score its share of runs, but the team still faces some uncertainty. It's not clear who the No. 5 starter will be, and manager Jim Leyland will have an interesting task each game when he decides how to align his defense.
''We do have the capabilities to mix and match from a defensive perspective, but our club is meant to thump,'' general manager Dave Dombrowski said recently. ''We're meant to hit. That's how we're going to win or lose.''
Pitchers and catchers report to Tigers camp Sunday and the first workout is Monday, but a number of players have already been at the team's spring training complex in Lakeland. Relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit said he arrived Tuesday.
With Cabrera, Fielder and Justin Verlander, Detroit has three of the game's biggest stars, all in their primes. Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award and MVP last year, and Cabrera was the AL batting champion.
One of the biggest questions facing the Tigers in spring training is who will replace Brad Penny in the starting rotation. Dombrowski has mentioned several in-house candidates, including Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly, Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, Duane Below and Adam Wilk.
''I feel comfortable that, let's just say a Below or a Wilk, if they were the No. 5 starter, that they would do a job for us out there,'' Dombrowski said. ''They, however, unless something really surprises me, don't have the overall upside of a guy like a Jacob Turner.''
To make room for Fielder at first base, the Tigers are moving Cabrera to third. For a team that didn't always excel defensively last year, there's some risk with that move - although Detroit believes it's obviously offset by the reward of having those two big bats in the lineup. With designated hitter Victor Martinez expected to miss the season with a knee injury, Leyland will have some flexibility based on how he uses the DH spot.
For example, if Cabrera is the DH for a day, either Brandon Inge or Don Kelly could play third base. Detroit can also play Ramon Santiago at second base instead of Ryan Raburn if defense there is a major concern.
''We could play a very good defensive club up the middle if you play Santiago at second base,'' Dombrowski said. ''If we choose, we could play a very good defensive club.''
For players such as Inge, Kelly, Santiago and outfielder Andy Dirks, spring training is the first chance this year to try to show they deserve playing time alongside Detroit's front-line talent.