Detroit Tigers: Five Breakout Candidates to Watch in 2017

Detroit Tigers

Aug 30, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman JaCoby Jones (40) runs to second against the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Tigers fans will see largely the same team next season. While the likes of Michael Fulmer and James McCann put themselves on the map last year, these five players could break out in 2017.

Detroit Tigers players wrapped up the 2016 season with an 86-75 record. Much of that was due to standout seasons from star veterans like Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and Miguel Cabrera.

However, the Tigers also found success thanks to the contributions of young players like Michael Fulmer, James McCann and Matt Boyd.

Fulmer would win American League Rookie of the Year thanks to a debut season that saw him notch a 3.0 WAR, a 3.06 ERA and 7.47 strikeouts per nine innings over 159 frames.

Meanwhile, McCann established himself as one of the elite defensive backstops in the league.

The 26-year-old finished as a Gold Glove finalist while throwing out 45% of would-be base thieves. Additionally, the catcher turned in a DRS of nine in 2016.

Boyd bounced back from a 2015 season that saw him post a 7.53 ERA. The Washington native did struggle in a handful of starts, but was largely solid last season.

His 2016 campaign included a 56.1 inning stretch form early July to early September that saw the 25-year-old pitch to a 2.56 ERA while holding batters to a .294 on-base percentage. The pitcher also struck out 52 hitters over that span.

Detroit Tigers

Aug 24, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Bruce Rondon (43) celebrates the win with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (39) against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Detroit Tigers beat the Minnesota Twins 9-4. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Bruce Rondon

Age: 26

Position: Relief Pitcher

Joe Jimenez will rightly get significant attention, but it’s easy to forget just how good Bruce Rondon was last season.

The flame-throwing reliever led Detroit relievers in strikeouts per nine innings with 11.15 punch outs for every nine frames.

Rondon also led the way in WHIP (1.06), batting average against (.178) and SIERA (2.10). He finished second to Alex Wilson in ERA.

Normally, a player who paces a team in these stats has already broken out as it were. However, Rondon only appeared in 37 games, totaling 36.1 innings pitched.

It isn’t hard to imagine the right-hander thriving with a heavier work load in 2017.

Considering the struggles of Justin Wilson and Shane Greene last season, Rondon could step in as Francisco Rodriguez’ prominent setup reliever next year.

Given the 26-year-old’s power fastball and potentially wipe-out slider, there’s reason to believe he can thrive in the eighth inning.

In 12 appearances in the eighth last season, Rondon logged a minuscule 0.84 ERA while striking out more than a third (13) of the 38 batters he faced.

Long term, the Detroit Tigers will be spoiled for choice with Rondon and Jimenez as potential closing options. However, for 2017, Bruce Rondon seems like an excellent bet to thrive as a setup reliever.

Detroit Tigers

Sep 20, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman JaCoby Jones (40) and first baseman Miguel Cabrera (24) celebrate after defeating the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Tigers won 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

JaCoby Jones

Age: 24

Position: Center Field

After Cameron Maybin was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Detroit Tigers center field situation became a lot less of a sure thing.

It was probably still the right move to deal the veteran, who was a regression candidate (.383 BABIP in 2016) and expensive. According to Spotrac, Maybin will earn $9 million next season.

JaCoby Jones’ breakout prospects obviously depend on him being able to beat out the likes of Anthony Gose and Tyler Collins for the starting gig.

However, if the former Pirates prospect can earn consistent playing time next season, he could be an intriguing rookie performer for Detroit.

The outfielder brings a rare mix of speed and power and can fill up the stat sheet given close to a full season’s worth of at-bats.

In just 99 minor league games last season, the 24-year-old contributed 44 runs scored, 43 RBI, 20 doubles, 13 stolen baes, seven triples and seven home runs.

In 133 games split between Single-A and Double-A in 2015, the prospect collected 80 RBI, 76 runs scored, 25 doubles, 25 stolen bases, 16 home runs and five triples.

Over the long haul, it isn’t hard to imagine Jones posting a similar stat line in the Majors given his considerable potential.

It is entirely possible that Jones starts making good on that potential next season.

Detroit Tigers

Aug 16, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Dixon Machado (49) makes a throw to first to get Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar (not pictured) out in the fifth inning at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Dixon Machado

Age: 24

Position: Shortstop

Dixon Machado’s potential to break out next season solely depends on where Jose Iglesias plays next season.

Should Iglesias stay, Machado would likely be confined to backup duties. However, if the former Red Sox infielder is dealt, Dixon Machado has a chance to shine with the Tigers.

Similar to Iglesias, the 24-year-old is an excellent fielder, with similar defensive upside.

While Machado hasn’t shown the offensive acumen that his fellow shortstop, the prospect has shown upside at the plate at the minors’ highest level.

In 131 games for Triple-A Toledo last season, the player hit .266 with a .349 on-base percentage. What’s more, Detroit potential shortstop of the future also added 59 runs scored, 48 RBI, 28 doubles, 17 stolen bases, four home runs and two triples.

The 2016 season also saw Machado cut his strikeout rate while also improving on his walk percentage.

Iglesias’ Best Replacement

Should Iglesias be dealt, the shortstop position would be Dixon Machado’s to lose.

Prospect-wise, Daniel Pinero and A.J. Simcox may be Detroit’s next-best prospects at the position. However, Pinero recently wrapped up his first professional while Simcox logged just a .298 on-base percentage for Lakeland in 2016.

In terms of options capable of contributing at the Major League level, the Tigers other options include Andrew Romine, Omar Infante and Brendan Ryan.

Romine’s defensive versatility is likely better suited for bench duties, while Ryan’s bat could limit him.

Another strong defender, Ryan hasn’t posted a wRC+ over 65 since the 2011 season. Since then, he’s notably turned in a -70 number (in 17 games with Anaheim last season) and a 14 number (in 49 contests with the Yankees in 2014). Rounding out the list is Infante, who last played the position in 2010.

Detroit Tigers

Aug 15, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Daniel Norris (44) pitches in the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Norris

Age: 23

Position: Starting Pitcher

Despite being limited to just 106 innings (22 appearances, including 21 starts) with the Detroit Tigers, Daniel Norris has showcased the ability that made him the center piece of the David Price deal.

Since joining the Tigers, the starter has logged a 3.48 ERA with 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Purely based on his numbers so far in the Major Leagues so far, Norris is a candidate to break out next season. However, Norris’ improved strikeout rate from 2015 to 2016 suggests he’s continuing to grow as a pitcher.

The former top prospect fanned 6.8 batters per nine innings in 60 innings during the 2015 season. In just 9.1 more innings, Norris improved significantly upon the number. All told, he struck out 9.2 batters per nine frames last year.

If he can continue to post high strikeout rates, the ex-Blue Jay will be well on his way in establishing himself as a frontline starting pitcher.

What’s more, Norris also managed to keep his walk down. The starter lowered his walks per nine innings from 4.6 in 2015 to 2.9 in 2016.

Last season saw Michael Fulmer dominate the headlines, but come 2017, it could be Daniel Norris receiving attention.

Detroit Tigers

Jul 29, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers left fielder Tyler Collins (18) hits a three run home run in the second inning against the Houston Astros at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Collins

Age: 26

Position: Outfielder

Similar to Dixon Machado, Tyler Collins could produce solid numbers should Detroit trade a veteran starter. If J.D. Martinez is dealt, Collins seems the best all-around option to take over in right field.

The corner outfielder is a better fielder and base-running option than Steven Moya. The 26-year-old also provides significantly more pop than Anthony Gose. To top it all off, Collins may be the best contact hitter of the bunch.

In limited playing time last season, the former sixth-round pick logged a .147 ISO and an 84 wRC+.

Collins could also see some time in center field depending how things play out in Spring Training. If that is the case, the outfielder will have an even greater chance of making an impact during the 2017 campaign.

In addition to potentially providing value at multiple positions, the left-handed swinging batter will also provide length to Detroit’s lineup.

With Cameron Maybin now in Anaheim, Collins will be one of the players counted on to help make up for the veteran’s production.

Given something close to a full season’s worth of at-bats, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the outfielder produce 20 home runs and 10 stolen bases.

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