As more Tiger players begin to descend on Lakeland for Saturday’s first full squad workout, we begin to take a closer look at the usual suspects. Players will be scrutinized for a number of reasons.
Kurt and Holly have a question to answer regarding which players will garner most of their attention. They haven’t shared their stories until today, assuring a nice wide range of perspectives.
Which 3 players’ development will you be watching closely during spring training and why?
Quite frankly, I’ve got about 8 or 9 players on my watch list with the majority of them pitchers. So narrowing it down to a mere 3 is a real “Sophie’s Choice.”
I’ll start at the end of the alphabet and put Jordan Zimmermann near the top for many reasons. First, his initial injury that seemed to spiral out of control and spread to other parts of his body before being officially labeled a “pinched nerve”. Then, the reports that had him still in physical therapy just recently with the acknowledgment that he’s had 2 nerve-blocking shots. Uncharacteristically, the Tigers have not yet offered the expected “sunshine and lollipops” prognosis on him, which worries me to no end. The guy who was supposed to be the #1 or #2 starter at the beginning of last year.
JZ is still owed $92 million with a contract that goes through 2020. Not having him as a starter will mean that we’ll be seeing either Sanchez or Pelfrey starting games. And that probably won’t bode well.
But my other 2 choices are rookies and billed as the future stars of the team.
First, JaCoby Jones, who will tell us how close he is to reaching the MLB level after being switched to his third position in as many years. We all know how long it took Nick Castellanos to adjust to playing third base. It’s not an easy task and does a disfavor to the player and his development to keep switching from one position to another – and yet another. We have to hope that he can make some sense out of that mess created in CF.
And finally, another JJ. Joe Jimenez. Trying to ignore the same hype that the Tigers laid upon Bruce Rondon several years ago and hoping that this guy is the real deal, is hungry and has the emotional chops required of a closer. Because what truly worries me is KRod’s expiration date, which is closer (pun not intended) than we want to realize.
Even though he was mostly effective last year, the signs of age and diminishing velocity have started to peek through. And the last thing I want to see again is Nathan, Part Deux.
Well, there certainly are plenty of players to watch closely this spring for a number of reasons. And emerging from the spring in a happy place would be an important step for these 3 Tigers:
Jordan Zimmermann was the first player to come to mind after reading this week’s question. In order for the Tigers to have a formidable starting staff, Zimmermann’s health is critical in making it a reality. I’ve been concerned about how his neck injury has been treated and I fear the shots are band-aids versus a long-term solution.
The signing of Zimmermann has yet to bear fruit. And his season-long battle with injuries last year cost the Tigers a playoff spot. So this is a critical spring for Jordan. Good velocity and command of his pitches would go a long way in relieving fans of a season’s worth of anxiety, all of which they suffered last season.
The bullpen will need as many consistent and reliable late inning horses as we can find this season. And we will feel good heading to Opening Day if Bruce Rondon can have one very boring spring, where he gets his work in, stays healthy and very professionally gets himself ready to be that very important piece the Tigers so desperately need in their pen.
Rondon took a big step forward towards the end of last season. So this is an important spring for him in his development. What I am not interested in seeing is Bruce powering 100 mph fastballs by hitters in February and March. Control, command and mastering that breaking ball will be important in taking that next step.
Finally, with the centerfielder job up for grabs, the competition will be fierce and spring training performances will more than likely sort out who emerges on Opening Day having bagged the position. JaCoby Jones has a big opportunity in front of him. We will see how he handles the competition. Is he ready or is the moment still too big for him? He will need a big spring with the bat to win the job; until then, he will probably not be the favorite when camp opens.
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