January 10th, 2011

Pickles, pizza, fries, dancing: Welcome to the caravan

The Tigers winter caravan has gotten creative in recent years, from Magglio Ordonez checking in passengers at Detroit Metro Airport last winter to training exercises at the Detroit Fire Department’s academy a couple years ago. This year, the Tigers have some other diversions in store.

Ordonez, who served coffee at a local Starbucks to raise money for charity a couple years ago, will be serving french fries at a local McDonald’s with Jose Valverde. A dance-off at the Compas Artistic Center in Southwest Detroit will pit Valverde (presumably not doing his closer dance) against Tigers broadcaster Rod Allen and others (Magglio, perhaps?). Other players will be serving pizza to the homeless as part of the 25th anniversary of the Little Caesars Love Kitchen. Another bus will take players to the Hausbeck Pickle and Peppers plant in Saginaw.
This year’s caravan runs Thursday and Friday, Jan. 20-21, ahead of TigerFest on Jan. 22. With TigerFest sold out, the caravan might be the one way left for local fans without TigerFest tickets to run into their favorite players. Look for more details in a few days. 
There’s also a non-caravan event with Mud Hens Fandemonium on Wednesday, Jan. 19, which will include Jim Leyland and Rick Porcello. Tickets for that event are still on sale at mudhens.com.

Young Leyland among Tigers spring training invites

(UPDATED below)

Patrick Leyland used to spend a few days every year hanging out at Spring Training with the Tigers during spring break from his high school. I still remember his dad, Tigers manager Jim Leyland, working him out after a long March afternoon and working with him on his throws from behind the plate.

Patrick Leyland will be back again next month, but he’ll be in uniform this time. The catching prospect was one of 18 players officially announced as minor-league invites to Spring Training, and he’ll be quite possibly the youngest player in camp.

It’s not an extensive list of invites at this point, and it could soon expand by a name if the Tigers add a starting pitcher. Lefty John Bale and righty Chris Oxspring were confirmed last month, as were Max St. Pierre and Enrique Gonzalez before that. Lefty Adam Wilk goes to camp with the big club after a very good 2010 season at Lakeland and Erie, while Aussie right-hander Brendan Wise gets a long-awaited chance in Major League camp.

Also interesting is that three encouraging outfield prospects will get their taste of Major League camp, including Andy Dirks and 19-year-old Avisail Garcia.

The Tigers always invite a bunch of catchers to camp so that they have enough to catch all the pitchers in camp early on. It’s much more time efficient to do that and run six or seven bullpen sessions at once than to do three or four bullpen sessions at a time and have pitchers waiting around into the early afternoon to throw. Once the first round of camp cuts arrive in mid-March, at least a few catchers usually are re-assigned to minor-league camp, with others joining them soon.

That said, for Leyland to be in camp a year out of high school is pretty nice. And keep in mind, Jim Leyland usually tries to get everybody in camp into a game before they’re sent down, so there’s a very good chance we’ll see Jim Leyland managing his son in a game, possibly for the first time in his life.

Also coming to camp is highly-regarded former college catcher Bryan Holaday.

So is this it for the invites, or are there more to come? The Tigers aren’t ruling out another deal, for what it’s worth. 
They could still sign Brad Penny or somebody else to a guaranteed contract, put that player on the 40-man roster and then add a non-roster invite to whoever they take off the 40-man. But it sure seems to indicate they aren’t going to do something with what’s left on the market just to do something. Not quite sure what it means for Jeremy Bonderman, who would seem ticketed for a non-roster invite than a guaranteed contract at this point in the offseason.

Here’s the full list by position:

Pitchers — John Bale, Enrique Gonzalez, Fu-Te Ni, Chris Oxspring, Adam Wilk, Brendan Wise
Catchers — Rob Brantly, Bryan Holaday, Patrick Leyland, John Murrian, Omir Santos, Max St. Pierre
Infielders — Argenis Diaz, Brandon Douglas, Scott Thorman
Outfielders — Andy Dirks, Avisail Garcia, Ben Guez