January 16th, 2013

Wait, the Tigers have a baserunning consultant? (update)

fielderIt was easy to overlook with Don Kelly’s return and the full slate of non-roster Spring Training invites, but thanks to those who pointed it out from the press release: The Tigers also announced the hiring of a new baserunning guru, bringing former Major League coach Jeff Cox to camp as a consultant. He’ll spend Spring Training in big-league camp and pop in on the club during homestands over the course of the regular season, according to the press release.

UPDATE: Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Wednesday afternoon that Cox will focus on individual instruction. They’re bringing him in to work with Austin Jackson, Andy Dirks and others on basestealing. Third-base coach Tom Brookens will continue to handle the team baserunning drills.

“He’s going to work with Jackson and some of the guys that have the potential to steal bases, Dirks, guys like that,” Leyland said of Cox. “Really, Jackson’s the primary guy obviously. We want him to get a little better at that. That’s always been one of [Cox’s] strong suits.”

Cox spent four years as the White Sox third-base coach under manager Ozzie Guillen before he took last season off and spent time with family. He was a coach with the Pirates and Marlins in previous stops, including the 2003 World Series championship team in Florida.

cabreraIt doesn’t forbode any change on the Tigers coaching staff, but it seemingly signifies an emphasis on baserunning for this club going forward. Leyland has mentioned several times over the years that he’d like the Tigers to become a better team on the basepaths, smarter and more aggressive if not actually faster. Prince Fielder’s out at the plate in Game 2 of the World Series might well be the lingering memory from the Tigers’ sweep out of the Fall Classic. Third-base coach Gene Lamont took much of the blame for it and accepted it after the game, but others suggested a better slide from Fielder would’ve gotten him around the tag.

Presumably, Cox won’t work with guys like Fielder, and he definitely won’t be working on base-to-base stuff. Still, it reflects the general emphasis. If they’re looking to turn basestealing into more of an asset for Jackson, it’s just as big.

“We just think that’s a real nice fit,” Leyland said. “That’s always been his expertise. It’s always been. We just hope he can get some of that across to some of our guys.”

Tigers announce spring roster, confirm Kelly deal

The Tigers announced their spring training invites on Wednesday, and it’s a very familiar list of names. Most of them are prospects within the organization. Most of the minor-league deals and camp invites had already been announced or otherwise confirmed. It was such a familar list that it was easy to look past Don Kelly’s name.

Yes, Don Kelly is back. The well-liked utilityman and left-handed hitter has agreed to a minor-league deal with a non-roster invite to camp.

When last we saw Kelly, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski was pulling him aside after the World Series and letting him know that they wouldn’t have a spot on the 4o-man roster for him. The Tigers never closed the door on bringing him back, but Kelly was free to look for a big-league deal somewhere else.

Three months later, he’s back. Kelly said he was in talks with another club he was seriously considering, also a potential contender, but couldn’t pass up the chance to return.

“At the end of the day, when you look at it, Detroit, we have a chance to go back to the World Series and win it,” Kelly said. “And to have the chance to be a part of it is huge. … When you play in the role that I’m going to be in, you want to be on a team that wins. You want to play in the big leagues, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately you want to win.”

The deal includes an opt-out clause that allows Kelly to ask for his release if he’s not on the 25-man roster out of spring training. It doesn’t mean the big leagues or bust, but it gives him options if there’s no fit in Detroit but an opportunity opens up somewhere else.

His fit on the 25-man roster in Detroit could be iffy; the Tigers are still looking at a right-handed bat to mix into left field with Andy Dirks. Still, having somebody in the organization who can play just about every position can’t be a bad thing. With Miguel Cabrera set to miss time in March to play for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic, Kelly could get some spring starts at third base along with fellow invite Matt Tuiasosopo.

Here’s the full list of non-roster invites:

  • Right-handed pitchers: Trevor Bell, Shawn Hill, Michael Morrison
  • Left-handed pitchers: Jose Alvarez, Kenny Faulk, Ryan Robowski
  • Catchers: Curt Casali, Brad Davis, James McCann
  • Infielders: Argenis Diaz, Eugenio Suarez
  • Outfielders: Tyler Collins, Daniel Fields
  • Infielder/outfielders: Nick Castellanos, Don Kelly, Kevin Russo, Matt Tuiasosopo

The inclusion of Fields and Collins is kind of interesting. Both made an impression in some at-bats last spring when the Tigers needed extra players. Fields made it to Double-A Erie last summer and could benefit from a camp with the big leaguers. Collins’ season at Class A Lakeland caught the eye of Tigers officials, batting .290 with 35 doubles, seven homers and 66 RBIs along with 20 steals out of 23 attempts.