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.”