While Nelson Cruz seems to be fouling up a half dozen of our depth chart discussions, assuming the Detroit Tigers don’t boldly go where everyone says not to, their outfield situation is pretty well sewn up. And although they may lack star power, for fantasy purposes, there are players that just might help you.
Austin Jackson starts his fifth year as the Tigers center fielder, despite some off-season mumbling about moving him in a variety of scenarios. Jackson was once considered a no-power, speedy, defensive-minded outfielder. Over three years from 2009 to 2012, Jackson started to become more patient at the plate, he was striking out less, running a little less, but hitting for respectable power. His career year to date is 2012 where he hit .300/.377/.479 with 16 home runs, 103 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases. He took a step back in 2013, hitting .272/.337/.417 with 12 home runs, 99 runs scored, and just eight stolen bases — and for the first time as a major leaguer, the defensive metrics didn’t care for him either.
That 2013 line appears to be the favorite among projection systems — most falling in the .270/.340/.410-ish range with a dozen home runs and another dozen stolen bases. The big question in my mind is what the club decides to do with newly acquired Ian Kinsler. Right now, I’d have to guess that Kinsler is likely to bat second and Jackson leads off. Which, super — now Jackson should be in line for another 90+ runs scored and hopefully new skipper Brad Ausmus lets him run a little more. But weirder things have happened in Spring Training, and if for some reason, the Tigers brass decides they like the profile of Kinsler and his 10% strikeout rate versus Jackson’s 21% out of that leadoff slot, well… Jackson could well find himself hitting somewhere around 7th or 8th. Just something to tuck away on draft day.
Torii Hunter refuses to accept what his birth certificate says, coming off a quite impressive 2013 campaign that saw him hit .304/.334/.465 with 17 home runs, 90 runs scored, and 84 RBI. Not too shabby for a guy who turns 39 this July. Most projection systems aren’t buying the fountain of youth act, suggesting something a little more akin to his 2011 season where he hit .262/.336/.429. And I think that’s pretty fair all around. His counting stats are likely going to be impacted by how many plate appearances he gets over the course of the season in an effort to keep him healthy. He’s been a real warrior over the last four seasons, but you’d have to bet he doesn’t play in too many more than 130 games or so. But that should sniff 600 plate appearances, which should be more than enough to keep him relevant as a third or fourth outfielder. The presence of Don Kelly and Rajai Davis should mean it’s not too painful to sit Hunter on occasion to keep him fresh.
Left field is shaping up to be a straight platoon between Andy Dirks and Rajai Davis. It’s not that Dirks necessarily mashes right handed pitchers, but he’s not very useful at all versus left handers. Facing RHP, Dirks hit .260/.327/.371 last season, but then again he had a bum knee pretty much all season. There’s no doubt the club is looking for the guy who hit .336/.375/.515 off righties in 2012 to show up this season — and chances are he should be some approximation of the two, although no projection system pegs him for more than .270/.330/.420. Even with over 400 plate appearances, you can probably pass on Dirks.
Davis is likely to be featured when left handers on on the hill, and he’ll likely pinch run quite frequently. It’s probably going to be a season much like 2011 with the Blue Jays where Davis only got 338 plate appearances, but still managed to steal 34 bases. But unless he somehow falls into pretty regular playing time, he would be difficult to burn a roster spot on.
All sorts of things can go sideways during the season, of course, so it’s probably worth mentioning that Don Kelly has a jersey too, and that Nick Castellanos was long thought to be featured in the 2014 outfield until they unloaded a hefty first baseman to the Rangers in order to make room for a hefty third baseman to occupy that vacancy. It’s highly unlikely Castellanos moves off of third base this season, but it’s possible, and since it’s possible, I’m mentioning it just because diligence is virtuous.
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