By George Eichorn
It’s easily one of the most fun times of the year. Spring training brings with it unbridled optimism about a particular team’s chances for the post season. It’s no different here than in Boston, Anaheim, Miami or Seattle. Every club is perfect so far as they prepare for the longest marathon in sports: the Major League Baseball season.
A number of us reporters sat down for lunch at Sinbad’s on the riverfront to hear General Manager Al Avila discuss the 2017 Detroit Tigers before the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association. The obvious battle to watch in Lakeland is who gets the starting nod (or shares it) in center field.
Anthony Gose is one the guys battling for center field and a roster spot. “Gose is a very talented young man and he’s only 26 years old,” said Avila. “The reason we are bringing him back to spring training is we feel like, at his age, he still has the ability to reach his potential.”
Gose in 2016 only hit .185 at AAA Toledo and was demoted to AA Erie (.224) after a much-publicized with Mud Hens skipper Lloyd McClendon, now Brad Ausmus’ hitting coach in Detroit.
“Sometimes players beat themselves up so much that they’re their own worst enemy,” Avila said. “That happened to Gose. His tools are as good as anybody’s in the big leagues. He’s got the speed. He’s got a cannon for an arm. If he makes a mistake on a route in center field, he can outrun the mistake and still the catch the ball.”
“He strikes out too many times. We believe he tries to be a power hitter. He’s not a power hitter. He should be more of a contact hitter; more of a patient hitter. That’s what we are going to try and emphasize with him this year.
“He just needs to make contact and run like the wind. Hopefully he takes that to heart.”
Others in the centerfield mix: rookie JaCoby Jones who had a cup of coffee last September with the Tigers, veteran Tyler Collins who proved he has a good glove and a decent bat, and newcomer Mikie Mahtook who has a checkered MLB career but could surprise this spring.
Key departures are centerfielder Cameron Maybin (mainly due to salary demands) and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Tigers didn’t add much this off-season. Catcher Alex Avila (White Sox) is back and pitcher Daniel Stumpf (Phillies) as insurance yet the Tigers return basically the same cast that missed the post-season on the final weekend of the regular season last fall.
Lakeland battles to watch are the spare infielder and outfielder positions, and the last couple of bullpen spots. Otherwise, Tiger brass hopes to avoid Florida injuries and set a roster that can contend with 2016 AL champion Cleveland and 2015 World Champion Kansas City for first place in the AL Central. This won’t be easy.
Reach George Eichorn at email@example.com.