Boesch, Jackson could make Tigers complete
By STEVE KORNACKI
Special to FOXSportsDetroit.com
LAKELAND, Fla. — This very likely will be a defining season for Detroit Tigers outfielders Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson.
Both have accomplished plenty in two seasons but still have much to prove. Whether they play great, very good or just mediocre could go a long way toward determining which of those categories the Tigers fall into.
You know what to expect from most of this veteran club, but these two talents at the top of the batting order could be the keys to success.
Jackson, runner-up for American League Rookie of the Year in 2010 before dropping to .249 with a strikeout total approaching 200 last season, was asked about this being a defining year for him.
“Not in my opinion,” he said, “but I do not know how anybody else feels. I’m not looking at it as a defining season, though.
"I hope to play a long time, and one season is not going to define my career.”
Jackson's ability to patrol center with the best in the game will allow him time to develop offensively. But how much time? Jackson, 25, can't stay atop the order forever without increased productivity, and this year could be his last chance to hold onto that pivotal spot.
Boesch drew strong All-Star selection consideration as a rookie in 2010, but a dreadful slump that began in July dropped him to .256 with 14 homers and 67 RBI. He was en route to posting impressive numbers last year when a thumb injury Aug. 10 limited him to eight games the rest of the way and required surgery.
“My rookie year was not an indication of the kind of player I am going to be,” Boesch said. “I had an off year, took it personally and got better.
"The first year, I had to figure things out and get through that slump. The second year, I had the injury.
“I’ve had two incomplete years. And now I want to concentrate on playing from April to, hopefully, well into October with good at-bats. I want to drive in and score a lot of runs. And I’m not looking to change anything to do that. I just want to go from start to finish.”
Boesch, who turns 27 on April 12, has one sweet swing. And he knows when to let it rip and when to just go with the pitch. He laced an RBI-single and hit a homer off the scoreboard at Joker Marchant Stadium on Sunday in a spring training game against the Washington Nationals.
“Boesch is going to have a big, big year for us,” Tigers third baseman and No. 3 hitter Miguel Cabrera said. “He is healthy and is going to help us win a lot of games — you watch.”
Boesch batted .283 with 25 doubles, 16 homers and 54 RBI in 2011 and has usually batted third or fifth for the Tigers. But he's expected to bat second this season, with first baseman Prince Fielder and designated hitter/left fielder Delmon Young following Cabrera in the lineup.
Jackson needs to become a better rally igniter by cutting down on those 181 strikeouts while adding to the 56 walks to improve a .317 on-base percentage. He struck out 19 times in 41 postseason at-bats, and that just won't cut it.
“He needs to do his job — to get on base,” Cabrera said. “If he is not on base, he will get pressure. But he needs to play his game, too. If he plays his game, the team will be OK.”
Jackson scored 103 runs as a rookie and a respectable 90 last year. But with his speed (22 steals and a league-leading 11 triples) and the people batting behind him, he should be among the league leaders in runs.
Jackson was asked about 100 runs perhaps being the one goal he might have statistically.
“The only thing I want at the end of the season is the ring,” he said. “. . . If I help the team win, the stats will take care of themselves. But if I get caught up on scoring runs and not striking out, I won’t be focusing on the task at hand.”
Making the playoffs for the first time and getting within two victories of the World Series made an impression last year.
“I got that taste of it,” Jackson said, “and that sparked this feeling. My goal is to win the ring.”
Jackson has been the established starter in center, but Boesch bounced between left and right to get into the lineup. With Magglio Ordonez gone, Boesch is the right fielder.
“Magglio was great to me,” Boesch said. “He did not look at me as his successor or competition. He talked hitting with me from day one.
"I miss Maggs. We had a great friendship, and we still talk. He wishes he were still here.
“But I am not looking at it like I have a spot set. I’ve earned what I’ve gotten here, and I remember what it was like on the other side of the door — just trying to get a look. And I continue working just as hard.”
Boesch very likely will have a productive year, but Jackson is more of a question mark. He worked with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon to reduce his leg kick to get more stride. Jackson said it gives him a chance to see the ball a bit longer.
“Cutting down on the movement does that,” Jackson said. “Now I just have to focus on getting on base. I understand what I need to do to be the leadoff hitter. And what I have to do is not worry about the past.
“(Teammate) Brandon Inge helped me so much with that — stressing that whether you had a good day or a bad day, it is over. He stresses not letting anything carry over.”
Verlander can't say
Justin Verlander is the only remaining pitcher on the Tigers who was also a member of Detroit’s 2006 World Series team.
He was asked if this club, whom many are picking to win the Series, is the best he has been on.
“I can’t say that,” Verlander said. “I can’t say one way or the other. It’s spring training.”
The 2008 team also was one tough paper Tiger headed into the season. That team finished 74-88.
Inge is buff. His biceps are big, and his chest pops out. His thighs are thick.
Having an offseason not based on rehabilitation enabled him to focus on weight training and workouts.
“When I had mono early last year,” he said, “I was down to 170 pounds. I’m 200 now and stronger than I’ve ever been. I can trust my hands now during my entire swing.
“The major weight gain came from my legs. I was below average in strength after my knee surgeries (after the 2009 season), and now I have above average strength in both legs.
"It’s not your upper body that gives your power; it’s strong legs.”