By: Kurt Snyder
The month of February starts it all for our game of baseball. A new season kicks off with pitchers and catchers reporting to camp and we start thinking about our team.
The rest of the players begin to show up and they are all in the best shape of their lives. The weather is perfect and the sound of the turtle is heard in our land.
Ok, well enough of all that. Gives us 20, Kurt!
Let’s take a hard look at February and wrap it up before we step into what should be a fun-filled March. Topics will be random and all over the map, the way we like them, and holdovers remain important for thoughts that need more time to simmer.
Let’s get rolling! Please enjoy another monthly compilation of 20 Thoughts – for February.
1. The month got interesting really quickly when pitchers arrived and started praising the communication skills of the new staff, especially pitching coach Chris Fetter. Daniel Norris started with a vocal endorsement for Fetter and Matthew Boyd professed that he would run through a wall for A.J. Hinch. Not bad for initial impressions.
2. February was a strange mix when it came to free agent signings. It’s fair to say that we have never seen so many players signed to 1-year major league deals and 1-year minor league deals with invites to spring training. There were so many just here in Detroit that fans became irritated. Imagine that.
3. When I think free agency and the month of February, I think of Trevor Bauer and the deal he struck with the Dodgers. I will never warm up to monster deals for less than the best players in the game. The staggering dollars handed out to one player was unnecessary for a team fresh off a title. Don’t ask why I care; it just bothers me.
4. Julio Teheran was one of my favorite pitchers while he was with the Braves. So I know how good he was back in his early National League days. But it’s been awhile since he has had success. A one-year minor league deal is about right because it’s a shot in the dark.
5. Is anyone surprised that the training staff has yet to realize any changes? Do you see it being addressed before spring training? Do you see it being addressed at all? (Holdover – we have made it to spring training and nothing. And I’m pretty surprised.)
6. Jake Rogers had better be the backup catcher this season. I understand how 2020 impacted the development of minor league systems league-wide. But if Jake emerges from Spring Training holding only a bus ticket to Toledo, the skepticism will reach a new high. (Holdover: Or maybe worse.)
7. Speaking of ‘returns’ on the Justin Verlander trade, I found it interesting that A.J. Hinch mentioned the possibility that Franklin Perez may be a candidate for the bullpen (when ready, of course). The bottom line is that he needs to pitch. A lot. And he hasn’t, so one step at a time.
8. I feel like we spent an agonizing amount of time in February complaining about the rebuild and professing how nothing is going to improve. And we do it without believing in any possibility that the trajectory could change. We cannot discount the impact the new staff may have on this team and our young talent. There are signs that the culture has already changed.
9. The Central Division is about to be taken over by the Chicago White Sox and maybe for several years. Their rebuild has been impressive and the Sox are now beginning to reap the benefits. (Holdover: There are polls out there projecting otherwise which I don’t understand. The White Sox, from what I have seen, are clearly on the rise and ready to begin a run. Their success in 2020 was just a small taste of what is to come.)
10. Here is a thought. We have criticized the Tigers for not tearing down their organization from the top down. They have skipped important steps in the interests of rebuilding their team. And now they have a manager who knows how to win. In listening to Hinch, I have no doubt he made some demands when it comes to his coaching staff and some of the infrastructure that needs some sprucing. Is it possible to rebuild this organization from the manager up instead of from the top down to the manager? (Holdover: This one is going to stay for a while, at least heading into spring training when we will have more of an idea on how Hinch has influenced things. Update: It’s March 1st and AJ and staff have already made good first impressions in camp).
11. Nomar Mazara. I am going to make a prediction about a player whom I consider to be the sleeper of this team when it comes to his potential offensive impact. No, I don’t mean his production is going to put us to sleep. I just feel that at age 25, he hasn’t seen his best days yet. The Rangers invested so much time in him prior to him even stepping foot in the state of Texas. And in just 4 seasons, they said that’s enough. Not buying it.
12. A.J. Hinch is already making us question the kind of camp that Ron Gardenhire used to run. Or even Brad Ausmus before him. Because we are finding out from the players themselves that they have been introduced to drills they haven’t been exposed to before. It is really pretty sad the kind of big league operation the Tigers have been running around here. March is going to be more noteworthy than we realize when it comes to preparedness and structure in Lakeland.
13. Miggy answers emails. Miggy sends video of workouts. Miggy arrives at camp early. Miggy gets a tailored plan for the spring. Miggy has goals for 2021. Does this sound like Miggy and how the Tigers have been treating him? Under Ron Gardenhire, Cabrera had his own workout regimen. Under Hinch, they have a plan for him every day and every week.
14. The Tigers have been close to the top of the league in strikeouts over the last few years. And we aren’t talking about their pitchers. It’s been frustrating as fans to watch and realize how poorly coached our hitters have been when it comes to their approach at the plate. So much of what AJ Hinch has had to say about his managing philosophy has been impressive. And what stands out is what he believes the Tigers need to develop offensively. He said we need a “team-based identity.” Music to our ears for sure. (Holdover: I believe we should see a tangible difference when the season rolls around, especially if the Tigers are able to bring in more disciplined hitters. Robbie Grossman checks the boxes when it comes to Hinch’s hitting philosophy and will no doubt hit leadoff when April arrives.)
15. The first pitch of the first game of the spring? A 450-foot home run by Willi Castro. That’s one way to shake off the cobwebs!
16. Matt Manning says he is going to hear his name announced at Comerica Park on Opening Day. That would really say a lot about the kind of spring training that Matt thinks he is going to have. He may be someone who will benefit from an expected 6-man rotation. But which starting pitcher will be left out?
17. I am sure by now that Chris Fetter has had a conversation with each and every one of this pitchers. And I would bet that outside of the opportunity to coach under AJ Hinch, that Chris has been champing at the bit to begin working with the young arms the Tigers have been grooming. Yes, we know the names, but getting Michael Fulmer over that last TJS hurdle has to be viewed as a great opportunity for Fetter. It’s an opportunity to get Fulmer competing for a return to being the ace of the staff. Ideally though, raising Fulmer’s stock and trade value is probably the most important thing. (Holdover – looking forward to seeing the influence that Fetter will have in helping Michael to begin to emerge again and just help his team win baseball games.)
18. If you have missed Jeimer Candelario and the time he has spent with the media on Zoom calls, here are the CliffsNotes. He is excited and we will go from there. Look it up and you will see what I mean.
19. Hinch seems intrigued by Niko Goodrum. Until now, I thought he was overvalued. So many of our players could be viewed as utility guys and Goodrum, because of his inconsistencies at the plate, could not be trusted with an everyday position. But he thrived most when he was playing all over the field. And I see him as a Marwin Gonzalez-type player, someone you see in the lineup almost every day, but used all over. I think Hinch will go back to using him in that Swiss Army knife role, while working on his offensive woes and capitalizing on his Gold Glove defense. (Holdover: here is something to consider. If Niko still doesn’t hit in 2021, is he really that valuable?)
20. We haven’t experienced the annual canned interview from Chris Ilitch yet. I am hoping I miss it so it doesn’t ruin my positive attitude about the return of baseball and my hope that springs eternal.
Yuck, sorry about that.
What did you miss on the Totally Tigers Twitter feed yesterday?
– What did A.J. Hinch bring with him to spring training?
– Who is speaking out about the integrity of the game? You will be surprised!
– What is A. J. Hinch not afraid to face head on?
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