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.
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.
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
The Tigers helped get Freddy Garcia back on the mound a few years ago after shoulder surgery, then watched him help thwart their division hopes with the White Sox the following season. Now that Garcia is a free agent again and the Tigers need some starting competition, would a reunion in Detroit be possible, or has he burned his bridges here?
It’s possible, though unlikely at this point. Tigers officials at least pondered the idea this offseason, and Garcia is believed to be open to it. But all indications point towards Brad Penny and Jeremy Bonderman getting more consideration from the Tigers right now as they look for a veteran starter to push Armando Galarraga for the fifth starter spot.
On the list of back-end starting options, the Tigers certainly could do worse.
Garcia went 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA in three starts down the stretch for Detroit in 2008 after missing more than a year rehabbing from labrum surgery. More shoulder trouble in winter ball helped keep the Tigers off him that offseason. He rejoined the White Sox, where he helped win a World Series in 2005, and went 15-10 in Chicago over the last two seasons, but with a 4.56 ERA and 27 home runs allowed over 213 combined innings.
Garcia throws with even less velocity now than he had a few years ago, but he gets more results out of less pure stuff than a lot of pitchers in his situation. As one scout put it, he pitches like he can throw 95 mph. He also has as much experience with AL Central hitters as anyone on the market — 36 plate appearances against Justin Morneau (6-for-29), 35 PAs versus Joe Mauer (13-for-31), 36 with Travis Hafner (15-for-33) and 34 against Jim Thome (5-for-23).
There’s also the 18-7 record he sports against the Tigers, including 2-1 with a 4.39 ERA in five meetings with Detroit last year. His seven innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts at Detroit on the final Saturday of the 2009 season was a major blow in the Tigers’ division collapse, dropping them into a tie with the Twins.
Tigers decision makers were back in the office and back at work Monday following the holiday break. That includes president/general manager Dave Dombrowski, who has been pretty busy the last couple years coming out of the holidays (Jose Valverde and Johnny Damon last year, Brandon Lyon the year before).