There are two positions clearly occupied in the Detroit Tiger outfield but there’s one very much up for grabs. The clear starter in center is Austin Jackson and the obvious starter in right is Torii Hunter. Neither will be subject to platoons and you should expect to see both of them in the lineup just about every day, given good health. Left field however has some fairly interesting possibilities relative to your fantasy squad.
First of all, let’s tackle what’s certain. In Austin Jackson, you have an almost guaranteed 100 runs as he hits atop a particularly potent offense. He cut his strikeouts in 2012, walked at almost an 11% rate and seemed to really mature as a hitter. If he can carry that forward into 2013, his .300/.377/.479 slash line ought to be repeatable (although that’s probably a teensy optimistic). He has 20/20 potential in the HR/SB department, but you’d probably be better off expecting something closer to 15/15 and just cross your fingers for more.
In right, the Tigers went out and purchased a shiny new 37 year old. Torii Hunter had a terrific 2012 with a .313/.365/.451 line, adding 16 home runs, 92 RBI, and 81 runs. But temper your expectations in 2013 due to what would appear to be an unsustainably high BABIP of .389 when his career rate sits at .307. We’ve got 14 years of information on Hunter, and knowing that he’s on the wrong end of the aging curve, you can probably take his career average of .277/.335/.466 and feel pretty confident in it. It’s not likely that he cracks 20 home runs and he’s not running much anymore, but he’s likely to give you a decent number of runs and something in the arena of 70-75 RBI if he’s hitting out of the 2 hole. If he’s your third outfielder, you’re doing alright.
Left field is likely going to be some combination of Andy Dirks, Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch and/or Avisail Garcia. Dirks would seem to have the advantage to occupy the left handed platoon role, which ought to give him 400+ plate appearances. If he does, he could be useful in daily transaction leagues as he’s likely to hit for good average and provide double digit home runs and steals. But he’s been bothered by a left intercostal strain which has left the proverbial door open.
The first in line would be Quintin Berry, but he’s been sidelined with patellar tendinitis. Given that Berry’s major weapon is his speed, injuries to his knee isn’t good news. If Berry could somehow fall into another 300 plate appearances, he’s likely to steal 20+ but his poor contact issues will make his batting average a drain and there’s little else in counting stats that make him attractive in most fantasy formats. That would seem to provide an opportunity to Brennan Boesch to wriggle his way back into the good graces of Jim Leyland, but he too has been bothered by an oblique strain and has yet to appear in a Spring Training game. If Boesch somehow managed 400 plate appearances, he’d likely be good for about a .260 batting average and 12 home runs with a handful of steals. He’d be a guy to stash on your bench for emergencies, but not particularly useful.
Assuming some left hander grabs the job in left, the right handed compliment could be Avisail Garcia. If he’s in a strict platoon situation, his value is probably nil. Should he magically come up with an everyday gig, he’s going to be a fringe fantasy player. He almost never walks and is likely to hit something in the .250 range. He has double digit power and speed potential, but if he’s used mainly versus left handed pitchers, he won’t see enough at bats to realize it.
The uncertainty in left field has left some wondering if there’s any chance we’ll see Nick Castellanos break camp with the big club. That’s probably a long shot. Castellanos didn’t have a great campaign at AA last year, hitting just .264/.296/.382 and followed that up with a stinker in the Arizona Fall League. But in four games so far, he’s got himself six hits in nine AB’s including one home run off some guy named Papelbon. Yeah, it’s an itty-bitty sample size, but Leyland strikes me as the whites-of-your-eyes kind of manager. If everyone else is laying on the trainers table and Castellanos continues to rake through March, well, who knows.
Also-rans include Tyler Collins, Daniel Fields, and Don Kelly — all non-roster invitees to Spring Training. Collins is intriguing, but he’s destined for AA, as is Daniel Fields. Don Kelly might very well make the team if they don’t start getting healthy, but you just don’t want him on your fantasy team. Lastly, they have rule-5 pick Jeff Kobernus, taken from the Washington Nationals. He’s been a second baseman but the Tigers are giving him a ton of playing time early on in the outfield. His major weapon is speed, and he has a pile of it — Kobernus stole 53 bags in 124 games in 2011 and 41 last season in just 82 games. Because of his versatility (he’s leading off and playing second today), I could see a scenario where he makes the club, and if he manages to get at-bats, he’s certainly interesting.
Early Season Depth Chart:
Left: Andy Dirks, Avisail Garcia, Brennan Boesch, Jeff Kobernus?
Cewnter: Austin Jackson, Quintin Berry, Andy Dirks
Right: Torii Hunter, Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch