Results tagged ‘ Robinzon Diaz ’

Tigers down to 27, Avila makes team

LAKELAND, Fla. — The Tigers’ catcher of the future will be their backup catcher of the present. Alex Avila will open the season in the big leagues, the Tigers decided Tuesday morning.

The move became official Tuesday morning once the team assigned veteran backup catcher Robinzon Diaz to minor league camp. Avila received the call from his father, Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila, Monday night over dinner.

The Tigers also optioned shortstop Brent Dlugach to Triple-A Toledo. Infielder/outfielder Jeff Larish and relievers Josh Rainwater and Robbie Weinhardt were assigned to minor league camp. The moves reduce the Tigers’ roster to 27 players; they have until Sunday to finalize their 25-man roster, but are expected to do that within the next day or two.

The moves with Dlugach and Larish leave the battle for the final positional roster spot down to utilityman Don Kelly and outfielder Clete Thomas. That decision could come in the next 24 hours. The one decision left after that is the pitching staff, where Dontrelle Willis, Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson are battling for the final two spots in the rotation.

For the backup catching spot, the choice was essentially a decision on Avila, who has had only one full season as a pro after converting to catcher a few years ago at the University of Alabama. Avila started at DH Monday against the Blue Jays and went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk in what should be his final action before he finds out where he’ll open the season. The Tigers know he can hit in the big leagues, and his .394 average this spring hasn’t disappointed.

The Tigers had to make their best judgment whether he was better off catching a couple days per week in Detroit behind starter Gerald Laird or catching every day at Toledo.
Diaz was essentially the backup option if the Tigers chose the latter.

Avila spent the final two months last season with the Tigers and provided an offensive boost with his left-handed power bat. However, he caught only sparingly in September behind Laird, whose defense and game-calling skills made him a regular option despite his offensive struggles last year.

Laird has shown strong signs of being a better hitter this spring, but the Tigers still value Avila for his bat. He’ll also likely work on his catching on the side in Detroit.

Two of the three rotation candidates start Tuesday. While Jeremy Bonderman starts in a Triple-A game at Tigertown, Dontrelle Willis will be with the big club facing the Orioles Tuesday afternoon in Sarasota, Fla. It’ll be his first road start this spring, and it’ll be a good test if the Tigers needed it in their decisions.

Nate Robertson is scheduled to make his final spring tuneup Thursday against the Braves at Joker Marchant Stadium. By then, the decision will most likely have been made. What happens with the guy who doesn’t make the rotation, whoever that is, is another matter.

Roster decisions imminent

By this time Wednesday, the Tigers’ 25-man roster should be known. Manager Jim Leyland said Monday afternoon that roster moves Tuesday to whittle the roster down to about 26, including a decision on the final position player and the backup catcher.

“By this time tomorrow, we’ll be down to probably one guy [over the limit],” Leyland said. “I think the picture will be almost totally clear for everybody by tomorrow.”

The one decision that will be left will be in the rotation. That, Leyland said, should be decided Wednesday, or Thursday at the latest. Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman both start Tuesday — Willis against the Orioles in Sarasota, Bonderman in a minor league game. Nate Robertson is scheduled to start Thursday against the Braves. You can read into that, I suppose, what that means for Robertson’s chances.

Leyland said Sunday he has in his mind what his roster would be, but that it wouldn’t necessarily be the final roster. Dave Dombrowski has the final say on that. So what follows now is a discussion with Dombrowski, Leyland, the coaching staff and other members of the front office on the baseball side.

The final roster spot is essentially down to Don Kelly or Clete Thomas. The backup catching decision essentially comes down to whether the Tigers want Alex Avila catching a couple times a week in Detroit or every day in Toledo for development’s sake, which would most likely put Robinzon Diaz on the team. The fact that roster decisions are coming Tuesday seemingly indicates the Tigers don’t expect to grab another backup catcher on the waiver wire or in a trade.

Slew of minor league contracts

The Tigers officially announced 17 players signed to minor league contracts so far this offseason. Several of them had already been known. Some have been signed for more than a month. Still, it’s worth some interest to take a look at some of the names.

One we didn’t know until now was catcher Mike Rabelo, who returns to his original organization two years after going to Florida with five prospects in the trade for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Though the Tigers haven’t announced spring training invites for these guys yet, one would expect Rabelo to be in camp as one of the extra catchers the Tigers always need for the first few weeks when lots of pitchers are in camp throwing their side sessions. On a similar note, Max St. Pierre also returns.

Macay McBride resigned with the Tigers earlier in the offseason. He hasn’t pitched competitively since opening day of the 2008 season, but while it’s hard to see a whole lot of opportunity for lefties to advance to Detroit these days, the deal allows McBride to continue his rehab process with the same medical staff who have handled it the last couple years.

Here’s the list of the guys announced:

RHPs: Enrique Gonzalez (confirmed — he’ll get camp invite), Ruddy Lugo, Josh Rainwater
LHPs: Phil Dumatrait, Ryan Ketchner, Macay McBride, Sam Narron, Jason Waddell
Cs: Andy Bouchie, Robinzon Diaz, Mike Rabelo, Max St. Pierre
IFs: Kory Casto, Santo De Leon, Cesar Nicolas, Jason Stokes
OF: Ryan Patterson

Tigers sign Diaz, could be backup over Avila

While the Tigers still aren’t commenting on their blockbuster deal, they did announce a smaller signing Tuesday that should help their depth. They agreed to terms on a Minor League contract with catcher Robinzon Diaz, who is expected to serve as either insurance at Triple-A Toledo or potentially a backup in Detroit out of Spring Training.

Essentially, the Tigers suggested, Diaz will serve as a catching option if team officials decide catching prospect Alex Avila needs more time in the Minor Leagues. To that end, he received an invitation to Major League camp.

“We like him,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Some of people really like him, a couple of our guys, and think he’s a guy that could possibly compete for a job as a backup catcher in Spring Training. We’re still in the mode where, I’m sure in Spring Training, we’re going to have to sit back and decide which way we want to go with our backup catcher.

“We know who our No. 1 guy is, but does [manager Jim Leyland] want to keep Alex Avila? Has he progressed enough? Will he get enough at-bats? Should we send him out to Triple-A to play? Does this guy fit the hole? But we do feel like he’s got the capabilities to do that.”

Diaz profiles as a catcher with respectable offense for a reserve role, though not the same kind of offense as Avila. The 26-year-old hit .279 in 41 games with the Pirates last season, adding seven doubles to go with a home run and 19 RBIs. He backed that up with a .262 average over 44 games at Triple-A Indianapolis with three homers and 15 RBIs.

Diaz carries a .301 average over eight Minor League seasons.

His credentials, however, will probably be secondary to the question of Avila’s readiness. The 22-year-old closed out his first full professional season by batting .279 (17-for-61) with four doubles, five home runs, 14 RBIs, 10 walks and 18 strikeouts in 29 games as a Tiger, making an immediate impression on club officials. However, Dombrowski cautioned Monday that he couldn’t be expected to hit that well over a full season, that he’ll go through the typical struggles of youth and have to make adjustments.

There’s also the question of how much more work Avila needs behind the plate. He didn’t begin catching until his junior year at the University of Alabama, a couple years before he went to the Tigers in the 2008 Draft.

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