Laird will be Tigers' starting catcher

It’s starting to sound more and more like the Tigers’ decision on catching prospect Alex Avila is going to involve how much time he can get as a backup catcher, not how much he could share a starting role with Gerald Laird.

“We know Gerald Laird’s going to be our everyday catcher,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said during his question-and-answer session at TigerFest Saturday at Comerica Park.

So that takes care of that. The main question as far as the starting catching spot, then, is how much more Laird can provide offensively. On that, both Laird and the Tigers are optimistic.

“I think Gerald will hit more than he did last year,” Dombrowski said. “I was surprised that he did not hit as well. Of course, he caught and threw outstanding.”

Laird sounded surprised as well. But he also emphasized that defense and his pitchers were his focus, and they’ll continue to be a priority while he works with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon in Spring Training to hit better.

The difference will be that he already has worked with a lot of his pitchers, and he won’t have to spend as much time learning them.

“I talked with Mac about my offense,” Laird said Saturday. “I want to definitely work in the cages and work a lot in the spring. Because I know I’m capable of having a better year. Obviously, offensively I had a disappointing year, but my biggest thing last year was to come in and get these guys on the same page. With a whole new staff, 13 guys, I wanted them to want to throw to me. That was my biggest thing. And now being familiar with a lot of them, I can put more focus on my offense. I can go to the cage and do that, rather than go to the bullpen all the time and get to know these guys as much as I can.”

Laird said hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has noticed some mechanical tweaks he’d like to make to keep him level in his swing, so that he can get base hits out of some pitches he fouled off last year.

As for Avila, look for him to get a good amount of playing time in Spring Training as the Tigers try to figure out how much more seasoning he needs and whether he’s close enough that he can benefit from staying in the big leagues rather than playing every day at Triple-A Toledo.

“We’re not putting him on [the team yet], and we’re certainly not writing him off,” manager Jim Leyland said. “At the end of Spring Training, we’re going to try to weigh everything out.”

Then Leyland added another factor that probably works in Avila’s favor.

“We know what sometimes would be the best thing for a guy,” Leyland said. “But if he gives us the best chance to win games up here, he’s got to be up here. That’s just the way it is. There’s too much pressure on everybody anymore. You guys, us, Dave, the fans, they want to win. And if we think he’s the best choice to win games, even though his development may not come along as much as you want it to, we have to take him, I think. …

“The best part about it is he’s got a long Spring Training to go with us this year. He needs to catch is all. It’s just a matter of repetition and doing it.”

3 Comments

Well, was there ever a doubt Laird wouldn’t be the starting catcher? We are fortunate to have Gerald and I hope his offense improves this year.

Well, it’s going to be a darned interesting spring training this year, and it’s five weeks away. I’m especially looking forward to getting a good look at Jackson. Like I said the other day, available video on him is spotty. I’ve seen Sizemore, but very little. “To be perfectly honest with you” sometimes we left the game early and probably missed him. Last year the cold drove us out early sometimes. Hope that doesn’t happen again. We’ll also make some stops to see the Astros who will have my wife’s favorite still, Chris Shelton.
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I think Laird’s offensive problems in 2009 stemmed partially from what he himself has said, but also from not getting enough rest. They may want to give Avila more opportunities early in the year which would serve two purposes; to rest Gerald and to see if Alex can do the job behind the plate. He can always be sent back down at some point if necessary.
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Regarding leadoff, I’d like to see Jackson claim the spot too, but when Leyland says it, I’m afraid it will become one of those “forcing the issue” times that Dan talked about earlier today. The kid can probably play CF for us in a positive fashion, and hitting him 9th might be the way to break him in. If he gets on before the lineup turns over, so much the better.
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I’ve never attended a TigerFest, but it sounds like a really good time.
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–Rich

Rich, the more I look at this, the more I think that Raburn should lead off. He has the pop that Granderson did, he stole 5 bases last year, so he’s not a slug on the bases (although his baserunning skills are not superb), takes some walks and he seemed to energize the Tigers last year with some of his offense. He’s not the ideal leadoff hitter, but he might work.
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If not Raburn, what about Guillen? He also has some pop in his bat and takes quite a few walks, works the count well and does not strike out a ton.

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