Sunday: Expect busy stretch run

Jim Leyland likes to say that you can tell a little about a player and how he’ll react in the big leagues by how he reacts late in Spring Training when the clubhouse gets less crowded and the roster whittles down to a few final decisions. He saw that last year by how their fifth starter candidates reacted in a race that essentially became a matter of attrition.

Leyland also likes to say that a long Spring Training becomes a short Spring Training in a hurry. And make no mistake, this already feels like a long Spring Training. We’re five weeks in already, and there are still 12-13 days left before the Tigers head north.

Now Leyland is sending out the signs that this long Spring Training is about to become short, and it’s about to be busy.

As much as he has enjoyed watching Nick Castellanos and Tyler Collins, he has to sort out his outfield mix while also stretching out his regulars to the point that they’re ready to go nine innings on Opening Day. The latter tends to happen in those final 10 days. The time when the Tigers send out their prospects — yes, even Castellanos to Toledo — is coming shortly.

Leyland has to figure out who his right-handed hitting extra outfielder is going to be, and how that decision impacts the last positional spot (left-handed or right-handed hitter, utilityman or outfielder). He has to decide if one speedy extra outfielder is enough (it probably is).

At the same time, Leyland has to piece together his pitching staff — not just how he’ll handle the ninth inning, not just whether Rick Porcello or Drew Smyly will be in the rotation, but how those decisions impact the rest of the pitching staff. If the Tigers go with a closer by committee, they have to decide whether they have to carry an extra situational reliever or middle man, and whether he can have a long reliever who can fit another role (such as a second lefty).

All the while, Dave Dombrowski has to check the market — not just the potential end-of-spring “big trade”, but the annual glut of out-of-option players and non-roster invites who don’t make their teams. He’s also probably going to have to see if there’s a realistic trade idea with the Rays to keep Rule 5 pick Kyle Lobstein in the organization and send him to the minors. Think what Arizona did to acquire full rights to James Skelton a few years ago by sending Brooks Brown to Detroit. Dombrowski could feasibly try to do the same with Jeff Kobernus, but the way he has played this spring, that would appear tougher.

Keep that Rule 5 status for Kobernus in mind as the positional roster decisions play out. Detroit can option Quintin Berry to Toledo, as it can with Danny Worth. It cannot do the same with Kobernus without offering him back to Washington. All things being equal, Kobernus’ status is a potential tiebreaker. Keep everybody for now and see how Kobernus handles a reserve role with limited at-bats, or lose Kobernus and see how everything fits.

Other notes:

  • Leyland rarely expresses much negative when a spring game becomes a mess like Sunday’s 12-10 loss did, but he was clearly not happy with his relievers. Thing is, the relievers who gave up the damage — Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque and Darin Downs — were all on the team for significant stretches last year. “Nobody’s getting excited,” Leyland said, “but I saw some things today that I did not like. And I’m not talking about the starter. When guys came out of the bullpen today, I saw some things that I didn’t like too well.”
  • Leyland had some of his strongest praise yet for Avisail Garcia, whose bruised heel is likely to cost him any lingering chance to make this team out of camp. “I think he was or is definitely in the mix,” Leyland said. “But it goes back to what we talked about before — what’s going to be the best for him, or what’s going to be the best for the club? I don’t know whether he’s going to be on the club, but I’m crazy about him. He’s got it all. His last hurdle is, like everybody else is normally, how much do you hit? I mean, there’s no question he can play defense, run, do all that stuff in the big leagues right now. I’m thrilled about him. I really like him a lot. … He’s one of the guys I just enjoy watching him play. If I was a fan, I’d enjoy watching him play.”


Yes, with the AB Avisail was getting , he was in the mix. VMart wont play 162 games neither Dirks

Very well done observation on spring training and its myriad inherent decisions by the brass of the Tigers.

must admit to being skeptical of Kobernus. listened to the game Saturday. he almost got picked off by lefty Garcia, was caught stealing, expanded the strike zone when he was ahead in the count, then groundout next pitch. has yet to steal a base this spring.
though I’ve thought one roster spot would come down to Kobernus vs Berry, how important is it for this team to have a speedy guy on the bench?

There’s going to be a drop off with whoever replaces Dirks on any given day. If Jim had begun to consider Garcia, that idea is out the window for the time being. As Jason notes, there’s that Rule 5 issue with Kobernus.
A speedy guy off the bench can also be used to score from first or second in the right situation, not just to steal bases.

Garcia and Berry are now out of the picture. 2E has complicated things. Better get his some time in LF.

Why is Berry out of the picture?

he’s hurt and has options in toledo

I thought Kobernus would make the team anyway, but the Rule 5 basically gives him a spot right away. I’ll miss watching Castellanos play, but Toledo is where he belongs for now. I think he’ll be in left next season, though, after he grows into his body a bit more and cuts down on the strikeouts. He’s done that part well this spring.

i guess we see the impact of Kobernus being a rule 5 pick differently. to me, it gives him a foot in the door, nothing else. he would be only a stopgap in LF until Garcia or Castellanos are ready…unless they see him as the future at 2b (last season of Infante’s contract). if they see him as the potential starting 2b in 2014, then they have strong incentive to keep him at all costs.
i haven’t see the guy play, but from what I’ve heard from radio play by play, he’s a raw talent, with speed as his only plus skill. the radio team still thinks he’s a longshot for the 25 man. maybe those who have seen him play can correct some of my misconceptions.

I think your evaluations of both the LF and Kobernus situations are spot on.

Dirks may, however, not concede the position. So, that would put Hunter’s spot up for grabs by the youngsters, possibly as early as next year, barring injury.

Order restored. PR to the finals. If DR goes too,two teams with MLB players will fight for the tittle. Due to their talent, DR is the team you expect to challenge the USA

Japan winning again may have been the worst possible scenario for the WBC. Anybody but them. As I see it. There at least have to be MLB players in the competition to sustain any interest at all here.

Ten years ago, Kobernus would be on the team. However for a World Series favorite, you cannot Expand your 25 man roster for someone who MIGHT play 2B in a year or two. I don’t see the strong incentive of keeping Kobernus. QB was stealing bases off major league batteries last year when they knew he was going to steal, so if speed on the bench is what you need, QB should take that spot. If you want to OF depth, we have internal OF better that Kobernus, not to mention Tuisassiopo. I bet DD is trying to figure out a trade for Kobernus, but like Beck says, that won’t be easy.

how is 2E’s defense? When I took a look – it looked below average. So like Boesch? How does his ability to play 1st and 3rd impact Don Kelly’s chances of making the team? Or Worth’s chances?

Good questions, but don’t see a kid that hasn’t played above AA as the answer. OF Defense, the answer is Garcia and Kelly. Hitting – 2E, Casellenos, Garcia and Kelly are all better options this year than Kobernus. Speed, that is where he could make the team, and as I said above, QB is a better basestealer, proven in the majors. This year, just don’t see a spot for this kid.

Bruce Rondon’s Spring Training line to date: 7.2 IP, 9 H, 3 ER, 13 K, 8 BB

Well, Kobernus is rated as the 16th best prospect in the Tigers organization. I would imagine it would take a top 20 prospect to land him. The Nats varsity roster seems pretty loaded at the moment wth position players as well as pitchers.

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