March 2013

Tigers send down Castellanos, seven others

No matter how well Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos hit in camp, he was headed to Triple-A Toledo. The way he hit, though, he shouldn’t be there for long.

The expected move came Tuesday, with Castellanos as one of eight cuts from the Tigers’ spring roster. As a non-roster invitee, he was sent to minor-league camp along with reliever Trevor Bell, infielder Argenis Diaz and outfielder Tyler Collins.

Among those on the 40-man roster, second base prospect Hernan Perez was optioned to Double-A Erie. Catcher Bryan Holaday, right-hander Jose Ortega and left-hander Duane Below were optioned to Toledo. The moves trim the Tigers camp roster to 37 players with 13 days left until they open the season at Minnesota.

None of the moves was a surprise — not even Castellanos, despite his spring tear. The 21-year-old went 9-for-25 with two doubles, a home run and six RBIs this spring, his first with the big-league club. However, it would’ve taken an incredible set of circumstance to turn that into a spot on Opening Day roster.

“I did well, and they told me I made a good impression,” Castellanos said Tuesday morning on his way out.

Though Castellanos came in with an opportunity to compete for a Major League job, Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski made it clear before camp that they wouldn’t take Castellanos or fellow outfield prospect Avisail Garcia north with them just to serve as a bench player. They’d have to get enough playing time to justify the move and not hinder their development.

That was a particular concern for Castellanos, who converted from third base to right field last summer and then shifted over to left in the fall. With Andy Dirks ticketed for the bulk of the playing time in left, and the Tigers’ need becoming more clear as a right-handed hitter to mix in with Dirks rather than platoon, the numbers didn’t fit.

“I was realistic about it, just knowing this is an incredibly difficult team to make, just because the amount of good players on it,” Castellanos said. “Sure, just with me performing well and everything, maybe they would reconsider. But still, I thought it was a long shot regardless.”

One of the instructions the Tigers gave Castellanos, he said, was that they want him to feel as comfortable in the outfield as he does in the batters box. He’ll serve as the regular left fielder with the Mud Hens as he begins his third professional season at age 21.

The Tigers have turned to Toledo early in the season for outfield help in three of the past five seasons. Matt Joyce got the call just a month into the 2008 season, while Brennan Boesch turned a torrid spring into a shot at the Majors by the end of April in 2010 as an injury replacement. Castellanos has put himself in a position to do the same.

One level below him will be Collins, who made a similarly strong impression in his first Major League camp. The 22-year-old went 10-for-29 with two doubles, two triples, a home run and five RBIs.

Of the pitchers, Below came to camp with the best chance at making the 25-man roster, having opened last season in Detroit. The Tigers have a need for both a long reliever and a second left-hander, and Below fits the profile for both.

However, the 27-year-old had by far his worst spring of his three seasons in Major League camp, allowing 11 runs on 14 hits in just eight innings. He’ll most likely rejoin the rotation at Toledo for a third season.

How Berry’s injury, Kelly’s opt-out might help shape Tigers roster

The note was so minute when Don Kelly signed his minor-league contract with a camp invite, it might have gotten overlooked. Indeed, Kelly came back to his old club to compete for his old job, but he also made sure to get an opt-out clause that would allow him to ask for his release if he doesn’t make the team at the end of camp, just in case there was another opportunity out there for him.

There wasn’t much made of it at the time because you had to consider what the chances were of a positional roster spot coming down to the final days of camp, especially with Kelly. It’s looking like a real chance now, and as the Tigers contemplate how they’re going to shape their Opening Day roster, Kelly’s opt-out clause and Quintin Berry’s lingering knee soreness might get some decisions made on the positional side before the final few games of camp.

Kelly’s opt-out means the Tigers have to let him know of their plans for him next week ahead of the end of camp, if he’s indeed going to be added to the 25-man roster or if they want him to consider a minor league assignment. That way, Kelly can check the landscape and decide whether to opt out with enough time to have a chance to land with another team before Opening Day rosters have to be set. Essentially, that means the Tigers also have to make a decision or two on guys with whom Kelly is competing for a spot on the bench — such as Berry. They’re both left-handed hitters competing for the roster spot not taken up by the right-handed hitting outfielder Jim Leyland wants to carry. Another player in that category could be utility infielder Danny Worth.

Berry left Sunday’s game and missed Monday’s trip with a recurrence of the patellar tendintis that sidelined him for two weeks earlier in camp before he returned to game action about a week ago. If that injury lingers a few days, it’s going to be very difficult to determine with much confidence by early next week whether Berry’s ready to go for the start of the season. Berry, for what it’s worth, has minor-league options left.

Kelly already seems like he has an inside track for a roster spot before the opt-out leverage. The Tigers could keep both Rule 5 pick Jeff Kobernus and utilityman Matt Tuiasosopo, but they both bat right-handed, which would leave switch-hitting infielder Ramon Santiago and switch-hitting backup catcher Brayan Pena as the only left-handed bats available off the bench. And Leyland isn’t going to pinch-hit with Pena unless he’s coming in to catch, because Leyland dreads being caught having to move Victor Martinez behind the plate and sacrifice his designated hitter if somebody gets injured (yes, Kelly could fill that emergency catcher role, too).

In any case, Kelly finds himself in pretty good position for somebody who came to camp looking like a longer shot to make the team. If camp broke today, he’d have a pretty good shot to make the team. The Tigers don’t have to decide that today, or tomorrow, or this week, but they still have to decide his fate a little sooner than normal.

Other notes from Monday’s win over the Nationals:

  • A tweet from somebody Monday afternoon made a very good point: Those who cried panic at closer for the Tigers after three outings from Bruce Rondon and asked whether Detroit could make a move in time for the trip to Port St. Lucie the following week can’t easily dismiss what he has done since. In five outings since pitching coach Jeff Jones’ side session with Rondon to look over his mechanics, Rondon has five scoreless innings on four hits with two walks and nine strikeouts. He didn’t chew up the middle of the Nationals order Monday, but the fact that he maneuvered through it without solid contact from Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman or Adam LaRoche, and with strikeouts for his last two outs, is a pretty significant addition to his body of work this spring. I’m not going to say just yet that he’s going to get the full-time closer’s job out of camp, but if you’re saying he’s not ready for the big leagues at all, your argument is become more detached from the actual pitching.
  • Somebody in the comments section on the notebook on the site today hung onto Leyland’s remark that a versatile long reliever is worth his weight in gold, and asked if that was literally possible. That got me thinking about Joaquin Benoit, currently Detroit’s highest-paid reliever at $5.5 million this year. Take his listed weight of 220 pounds and factor in the price of gold at around $1600 per ounce after today’s economic news out of Europe, and Benoit’s weight in gold would be worth $5,632,000. That is amazingly close. And no, I won’t calculate Rondon’s weight in gold.
  • The sight of Prince Fielder in an all-out dive through the air to try to tag Jayson Werth before he could scramble back to first base has to terrify some baseball people in spring training. It’s still a tremendous hustle play from one of the highest-paid players in the game.
  • The Tigers are on Fox Sports Detroit on Tuesday, but Leyland said he’ll watch his regulars’ innings for that game heading into the off-day. The next FSD broadcast Thursday night, after the off-day Wednesday, is when you’ll see the regulars start playing full games.

Monday: Tigers at Nationals (updated with Berry injury)

It’s a hazy morning here in Viera, but that’s expected to let go for a sun-drenched afternoon. It should be a good test for Max Scherzer to stretch out his pitch count. Most of the regulars made the trip.

UPDATE: Quintin Berry was on the travel roster for this game and figured to get the start in center field, but he’s back in Lakeland getting treatment on his left knee for patellar tendinitis. Don Kelly is starting in center field. No, it’s not a sign for Quintin Berry’s health status after he left yesterday’s game with left knee soreness. On the flip side, if they’re willing to give Kelly a start in center field rather than simply start Andy Dirks there and play another guy in left, that isn’t bad for Kelly’s status heading into these final couple weeks.

Looks like we’re at the point where NL teams want to get their pitchers at-bats, but they’re willing to give AL teams the luxury of the DH.

TIGERS

  1. Andy Dirks, LF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Don Kelly, CF
  8. Omar Infante, 2B
  9. Ramon Santiago, SS

P: Max Scherzer, Luis Marte, Brayan Villarreal, Bruce Rondon, Jose Ortega, Trevor Bell

NATIONALS

  1. Denard Span, CF
  2. Jayson Werth, RF
  3. Bryce Harper, LF
  4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
  5. Adam LaRoche, 1B
  6. Ian Desmond, SS
  7. Danny Espinosa, 2B
  8. Wilson Ramos, C
  9. Jordan Zimmerman, P

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.”

Garcia out until further notice with right heel contusion

The good news on Avisail Garcia is that x-rays taken Saturday on his right heel came back negative, confirming nothing more than a contusion. The bad news, certainly for his chances of making this team out of camp, is that the right heel contusion will sidelined him until further notice, according to head athletic trainer Kevin Rand.

“He’ll be treatment only until he’s asymptomatic,” Rand said.

Garcia suffered the injury lunging at first base trying to beat out an infield grounder Saturday against the Cardinals and left the game. He was moving around the clubhouse in a walking boot and on crutches Sunday morning and told reporters he couldn’t put weight on his foot.

At this point, Rand said, Garcia is more than day-to-day.

The Tigers open the season in Minnesota in 15 days. Garcia’s chances at making the team already were shaky considering team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski’s quote earlier this spring that Garcia and Nick Castellanos were unlikely to make the team unless they were projected to get enough at-bats to not stunt their growth.

Sunday: Tigers vs. Nationals

Originally, former Tiger Ryan Perry was scheduled to start this game for the Nationals. But with Ross Detwiler back from Team USA, he’ll get the start against something very close to the Tigers’ Opening Day lineup. Danny Worth will start in place of Jhonny Peralta, but that’s about it.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Andy Dirks, LF
  7. Omar Infante, 2B
  8. Alex Avila, C
  9. Danny Worth, SS

P: Drew Smyly

NATIONALS

  1. Danny Espinosa, 2B
  2. Steve Lombardozzi, 3B
  3. Bryce Harper, CF
  4. Tyler Moore, RF
  5. Ian Desmond, SS
  6. Kurt Suzuki, C
  7. Chad Tracy, DH
  8. Chris Marrero, 1B
  9. Micah Owings, LF

P: Ross Detwiler

Saturday: Tigers at Cardinals

Though the original thought was that Prince Fielder might make the trip to Jupiter, having missed Thursday’s trip to Port St. Lucie with a flat tire, the Tigers changed course on that on Friday. Thus, Austin Jackson and Jhonny Peralta are the only regulars in the lineup today. Still, some roster candidates are getting their shots today: Jeff Kobernus in left, Avisail Garcia in right, Quintin Berry in center, Don Kelly at third and the suddenly intriguing Matt Tuiasosopo at first base.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, DH
  2. Ramon Santiago, 2B
  3. Jeff Kobernus, LF
  4. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  5. Avisail Garcia, RF
  6. Brayan Pena, C
  7. Matt Tuiasosopo, 1B
  8. Don Kelly, 3B
  9. Quintin Berry, CF

P: Shawn Hill, Jose Alvarez, Trevor Bell, Luke Putkonen, Bruce Rondon

Friday: Tigers vs. Blue Jays

I’m off again today. The legendary former Tigers beat writer Jim Hawkins will be filling in on the site with your notes today, including Casey Crosby’s option to Triple-A Toledo. In the meantime, here are your lineups for today’s game against the Blue Jays, which include another matchup for Jeff Kobernus against Toronto lefty Ricky Romero.

The Jays lineup, meanwhile, includes Luis Jimenez, who if I remember right was the guy hitting moon shots during batting practice at Joker Marchant Stadium when the Blue Jays were in town a few weeks ago. If he connects today, you’ll probably hear about it.

TIGERS

  1. Austin Jackson, CF
  2. Torii Hunter, RF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B
  5. Victor Martinez, DH
  6. Jeff Kobernus, LF
  7. Jhonny Peralta, SS
  8. Brayan Pena, C
  9. Omar Infante, 2B

P: Rick Porcello, Al Alburquerque, Joaquin Benoit, Brayan Villarreal, Kyle Lobstein

BLUE JAYS

  1. Anthony Gose, RF
  2. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
  3. Rajai Davis, LF
  4. Colby Rasmus, CF
  5. Andy LaRoche, 3B
  6. Luis Jimenez, 1B
  7. Ryan Schimpf, DH
  8. Mike Nickeas, C
  9. Lance Zawadzki, SS

P: Ricky Romero, David Bush, Ramon Ortiz, Neil Wagner

Thursday: Tigers at Mets

With two long trips to Florida’s Atlantic coast in three days, the Tigers are splitting up their travel squads so that most players only have to make one trip. Most of the regulars are on today’s trek to Port St. Lucie to face the Mets, including Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, Alex Avila and Omar Infante.

I’m off for the next few days rather than driving across the state, but I’ll try to keep the blog updated from time to time, at least with the lineups.

TIGERS

  1. Quintin Berry, CF
  2. Andy Dirks, LF
  3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
  4. Prince Fielder, 1B Victor Martinez, DH
  5. Victor Martinez, DH Matt Tuiasosopo, 1B
  6. Alex Avila, C
  7. Avisail Garcia, RF
  8. Omar Infante, 2B
  9. Danny Worth, SS

P: Doug Fister, Casey Crosby, Darin Downs, Duane Below, Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke

Wednesday: How did we get here with Brennan Boesch???

Did it really all fall apart this quickly?

Brennan Boesch was being pushed for All-Star consideration three years ago. He was a back-to-back AL Rookie of the Month, and a midseason favorite for AL Rookie of the Year by a vote of his fellow Major League players.

“He never, ever looks scared,” Michael Cuddyer said at the time.

He was that combination of power hitter with discipline, so much that was he was in the middle of the AL batting race when he finally had enough plate appearances to qualify.

“It looks like he’s going to be a really great hitter. He already is,” Paul Konerko said amidst that summer of 2010. “We have to try to find a way to hold him down.”

Even with all the cautionary tales of one-year wonders over the years, Boesch looked like the kind of Major League hitter who got it. He wouldn’t keep hitting like he did over the first half of that 2010 season, of course, but he was on his way to being a formidable hitter.

What the heck happened?

First came the skid down the stretch in 2010, when injuries to Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez left Boesch exposed as the guy hitting behind Miguel Cabrera. Rays manager Joe Maddon walked Cabrera intentionally in three straight games to face Boesch and got away with it.

Then came the impossible standards to meet in 2011, and the roller coaster season of his that kept you wondering if he could be that guy again. He hit .319 in the opening month, .186 in May, .380 with six home runs in June, .267 in July, then .208 in August before a season-ending hand injury derailed him.

Whether it was the effect of his damage to his hand or not, he hasn’t been the same since then. Just as important, between the emergence of Andy Dirks, the trade for Delmon Young, the arrival of Avisail Garcia and signing of Torii Hunter, his role hasn’t been the same, either.

His chances of making the team weren’t all that great, no matter what he did, and they relied in part on guys like Dirks struggling. Instead, an oblique strain for Boesch all but ended his chance to compete for the left-field job.

You can chart it and have it make sense, and yet it’s stunning how this all disintegrated so quickly.

Boesch batted .342 with 12 home runs and 49 RBIs in the first half of 2010. Then he hit .306 with 12 home runs and 44 RBIS in 2011. In no other half-season has he hit even .245, and he has just 18 home runs in those other stretches combined.

It’s entirely possible Boesch finds his stroke again, if he is really is healthy. He could hit a ton of home runs in new Yankee Stadium, or he could have the ultimate low-pressure situation to get his game going again in Houston. It won’t be the same as Detroit, though.

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