Will the Detroit Tigers Compete in 2021?
When I started writing for Legends on Deck, back in 2017, I almost exclusively covered the Detroit Tigers. They were my hometown team growing up in the suburbs of Detroit. I attended countless games as Tiger Stadium throughout my childhood. I was in attendance for nearly every Opening Day at Comerica Park from 2001-2015, not to mention all those Summer nights at the ballpark. When I moved to the Orlando area, I was relived to know I was just 40 miles from Lakeland. Each year, I began increasing the number of Tigers Spring Training games I attended. Check out my Reflections on Spring Training 2018 and 2019 for details. I was even able to get a game in before the 2020 shutdown.
For the first time since I’ve moved to Florida, I did not attend a Tigers Spring Training game. It wasn’t for a lack of interest. Yes, my schedule is very busy, but I went on multiple times looking for tickets. I got on a little late on the day tickets went on sale and tickets were very limited. Due to COVID restrictions (imposed by MLB), the capacity for their games sit around 2,500 and ticket prices for the games I wanted seemed too much. I opted against it, as much as I love all that Spring Training has to offer. Next year will be different. I plan to return to my regular Spring Training schedule. Regardless, I still have a strong interest in the Tigers season. For Detroit, this will likely be the year before the year they really begin to see the results of the rebuild.
The first major difference in the 2021 season is the presence of the new manager, AJ Hinch. Bringing in Hitch is in many ways a controversial move. He was prohibited from managing in 2020, due to involvement in the Astros sign stealing scandal. Whatever you think of the Astros scandal, there’s no denying he was able to lead the franchise through the rebuild to become one of the premiere teams in the American League. When Hinch took over in 2015, the Astros went 86-76 and earned a Wild Card berth. They never endured a losing season under his leadership and won over 100 games in three consecutive seasons (2017-2019), including a World Series win.
The new manager brought about major changes in the coaching staff. Pitching Coach, Chris Fetter, comes over from the Michigan Wolverines staff. New Hitting Coach, Scott Coolbaugh, is a former MLB third baseman. He coached with the Chicago White Sox last season and served as the Baltimore Orioles hitting coach from 2015-2018. The only holdovers from Ron Gardenhire’s staff are Ramon Santiago (First Base Coach) and Josh Paul (Quality Control Coach).
If there’s one thing that Tigers fans are counting on throughout the rebuild is the development of a strong, future pitching staff. Tigers fans are greatly anticipating seeing the work of top prospects Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning in Detroit. There’s good news this Spring, as both Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize have earned a place in the Tigers starting rotation. Skubal was expected to make the staff, but Mize was a late decision. After his 4 inning, 9 strikeout performance on March 25, Mize secured a spot. He and Skubal will join Matthew Boyd and recently acquired Jose Urena and Julio Teheran to round out the rotation.
One major change that may occur this season is shifting Michael Fulmer to the bullpen. Yes, Fulmer was considered the Tigers Ace just a few years back, but injuries have disrupted his career. Daniel Norris will also join him in a bullpen role. Given the importance of a strong bullpen in today’s game, these two could make a real impact on the outcome of many games. They’ll join Buck Farmer, Gregory Soto, Tyler Alexander, Jose Ciserno and off-season acquisition, Derek Holland. Bryan Garcia is expected to be the Closer, but some believe Gregory Soto will eventually step into that role. Fan Graphs ranks them the worst bullpen in the league, but let’s hope for a surprising outcome.
The Tigers greatly await the development of top prospects Spencer Torkelson (#3 MLB Pipeline) and Riley Greene (#21 MLB Pipeline), but they are unlikely to have a major impact this season. Instead, the Tigers will field a teams with some familiar faces and some off-season additions. Jeimer Candelario returns at Third Base. Some combination of Jonathan Schoop, Harold and Willie Castro and Niko Goodrum will fill out the remainder of the infield. And then there’s the legendary slugger, Miguel Cabrera.
Cabrera is zeroing in on the record books this season. He currently sits at 487 HRs, just thirteen shy of the five hundred mark. He also sits just 134 hits short of 3,000 hits. Both accomplishments would place him among of the greatest hitters of all time. Miggy will likely split time between First Base and DH. Should Miguel Cabrera stay healthy and remain semi-productive, he could be poised for a very memorable season.
In the outfield, we will see a few new faces. In the off-season, the Tigers picked up Robbie Grossman and Nomar Mazara. Neither acquisition is dazzling, but they could prove to be solid everyday players. The Tigers also picked up Akil Baddoo in the Rule 5 Draft, who’s hit his ways onto the roster this spring. In 40 at-bats in the Grapefruit League, Baddoo has his .325 with 5 HRs, 11 RBIs, 4 SBs and posted a 1.210 OPS. Victor Reyes and JaCoby Jones will round out the outfield again this season.
The greatest benefit to the 2021 Tigers team is that there are no expectations placed on them. Nearly every predication has them finishing last in the AL Central and among the bottom five records in all of MLB. So what do they have to lose? AJ Hinch’s wide open approach to Spring Training allowed for some surprises on the Opening Day roster. Whether or not the Tigers finish 3, 4 or 5 in the AL Central seems like a minor point this season.
What should matter most to fans is the development and success of the future stars of the franchise. Watch the outings of Skubal and Mize. Check the farm system to see what Matt Manning, Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson are doing. Take an interest in the guys on the current roster who have something to prove. The rebuilding process in Detroit is in year four. By next season, the Tigers should be fielding a competitive team on Opening Day. The 2021 season is about taking a big step in that direction.