By: Kurt Snyder & Holly Horning
Rookies. They get plenty of attention during spring training, because everyone is waiting for that next Joel Zumaya, that next Justin Verlander. Who can help the team right away and who needs more time? Our writers spend this Tuesday looking at the rooks.
1. Which rookies best serve the Tigers by making the team out of spring training?
There is really only one rookie to consider. And Michael Fulmer is probably the most popular choice even though we have hardly seen him pitch. But he comes with great advanced billing. The team wants what fans want, to see him emerge from spring training as someone ready to make a huge impact.
But it’s a lot to ask of someone who has barely sniffed Triple A ball, to come in, set the world on fire and dominate in the bullpen or in the rotation. I am ready to love Michael Fulmer. But I haven’t seen him pitch. However, if there is going to be a rookie to emerge, you have to figure it would be him wouldn’t you?
Actually, it would be of the Tigers’ benefit that Fulmer begin the season in Toledo. It would mean they are strong without him to start the season, with another serious gun waiting in the holster if they need him; a luxury of which they haven’t been familiar.
I need to preface my comments and include players who have had a taste of playing at the MLB-level.
I’m not a fan of taking, what appears to be, solid starters and turning them into relievers, especially if they are young and promising. We saw what happened when the Tigers did that to Porcello and Smyly – setting them back in their development and altering their approach to the game.
But I would do that with Shane Greene and only because he is recovering from his aneurysm and surgery. He doesn’t need the immediate pressure of making the starting rotation right out of spring training, especially given his train wreck of a season last year.
Let him ease back in and regain his strength and confidence. He’ll be the first choice for those spot starts and potentially may even take over a starting role later in the season. We saw what he was capable of doing before injury took its toll so Toledo would not offer much of a challenge.
Daniel Norris, I believe, is a solid bet for the starting rotation with his full arsenal, confidence and major-league attitude. The Tigers need him and Greene to solidify as starters given that the rest of the rotation is 30 years or older.
2. Which rookies are better off being sent down to AAA?
It sounds like Fulmer is the closest to breaking the ice on the “tall buildings” but still should start the season in the Toledo. Matt Boyd, in his short stint with the Tigers last fall, showed he’s got talent and has a big future with this team. But you can see he needs more development.
If you consider Rondon a rookie, I believe, unfortunately that what ails him will not be solved overnight and he needs another Toledo stint. Speaking of controversy, the last thing the Tigers are going to do with JaCoby Jones is promote him after a 50-game suspension.
Unfortunately, Stephen Moya is again Toledo-bound as well as Tyler Collins. Moya’s stock is falling and I believe he should be dealt. Collins has that lefty bat, but just isn’t athletic enough, which may be holding him back.
Lastly, Dixon Machado, who someday will be roaming Comerica, will definitely head back down. There are too many guys ahead of him at this point.
Analysts say the mark of a good team is not rushing players to the majors. The Tigers did it at an alarming rate with their pitchers last year and now they have to deal with repairing the mental damage inflicted upon some very young and inexperienced guys. Players like Nesbitt and Rondon who need to get their confidence back and regain perspective.
JaCoby Jones, primarily for his suspension, needs to return to Toledo, but Machado needs to join him. Both will progress more quickly with regular playing time, important because they will probably be needed sometime this season in Detroit.
Tyler Collins, who looks almost ready and Stephen Moya, who still needs to address the high strikeouts, are victims of the overpopulated outfield, so back they go.
But it’s the pitchers who come under greatest scrutiny. Boyd, however promising, did not have a good record or ERA last year and Fulmer is also seen as a top-tier starter but he’s never pitched beyond AA.
Both need to be expanding and refining their pitch arsenals which can only be done with regular mound work. Sitting in a bullpen and getting an inning here or there is not the way to develop valuable assets.