Notebook: Leyland embraces expectations

LAKELAND, Fla. — Tigers manager Jim Leyland isn’t worried about the high expectations for his team this season.

Of course, it’s a team that features Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder in the lineup and reigning AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander anchoring the starting rotation.

“We’re pretty talked about right now,” Leyland said before Thursday’s morning workout. “There’s nothing wrong with that. To me, you embrace that. I hate to keep repeating myself, but I love expectations. That means you have a good team.”

Thursday is the official reporting day for position players, most of whom had already checked in well in advance of Thursday. It’s another sign of the expectations the players have for themselves.

“I think the guys are excited,” Leyland said. “We had 16-17 guys here earlier. They’re pretty locked in to what they want to get done. We have a responsibility to Mr. Ilitch. Not only to the fans, but to Mr. Ilitch. Let’s face it, he puts it up and expects results. And that’s a good thing – he should.”

Leyland said he planned to speak to the outfielders and the infielders separately, but delivering the same message he gave to the pitchers and catchers when they arrived in camp.

“It’s a simple message. Don’t lose sight of anything but what we’re trying to accomplish,” Leyland said. “Be respectful. Don’t get caught up in that stuff. You’re going to hear everything and listen to everything. You answer those questions, but in reality, you keep your tunnel vision.”

We’re not old

For the second time in two days, Leyland made a point about his team not being an older one.

“We’re young, a lot of people don’t realize that,” Leyland said. “We’re not some old, veteran team. (Brennan) Boesch is young, (Austin) Jackson’s young, (Alex) Avila’s young, Delmon Young’s young. (Miguel) Cabrera’s young, (Prince) Fielder’s young. Our pitching staff is young. We’re not some old, crusty veteran team. The manager might be a little crusty, according to you guys.”

At 38, Octavio Dotel is the oldest player on the team.

Nick Castellanos is the youngest player in camp at 19, half Dotel’s age. But he will not be on the major-league team this season.

The question of defense

With a few exceptions, the Tigers are not expected to field a team of Gold Glovers this season.

But the Tigers were only 17th last season in team defense and had a lot of success so they’d probably be happy with a similar mark.

“I like our defense,” Leyland said. “I think Jhonny Peralta is one of the most underrated shortstops in the big leagues. They can say what they want. They can take them all. Is he going to make an acrobatic play like an (Elvis) Andrus or someone? Probably not. But I know one thing: In the ninth inning with the bases loaded and two outs and we’ve got a one-run lead, I like it when it’s hit to him. I’ll take that every time.

“I think we’ll catch what we’re supposed to and we’ll throw it accurately. And I think there’s a lot to be said for that. I think we’re better defensively than people think.”

While Leyland emphasized that he was not in any way making a prediction, he did have a story that helped illustrate what he was talking about.

“In 1997, we won the World Series with Bobby Bonilla playing third base and everybody said that would never happen,” Leyland said. “I had Bobby Bonilla at Pittsburgh. He played third for me. He was fine. He played outfield, he played third, he had good hands and a good arm. It’s like I said: Everybody’s always looking for perfect players. There’s not very many. They want a Gold Glover at third, they want a Gold Glover at short. They want a guy who hits 25 home runs and knocks in 120 runs. If everybody had those it’d be boring.”

Bonilla made 22 errors in 149 games at third base in 1997. The Tigers would welcome that from Cabrera at third this season.

“If you guys are sitting in here and think – or if I sit here and think, more importantly – that there’s not going to be a ball go by once in a while, that’s not going to happen,” Leyland said. “We’re all crazy. I’m not going to make a big deal out of it. Some of you will, some of you won’t. But the fact of the matter is, as a manager when you put people there you accept you believe you might get.”