Position Battle Thoughts as February Ends

Today is Leap Day, I don’t really know if that means anything other than a meme people in social media can exploit on and endless loop throughout the day and thoroughly annoy us all. I do wonder if people who are born on these rare February 29th’s celebrate their birthday’s on the 28th or 1st the other three years, but I don’t really care enough to ask. Maybe one of you is a lucky person who technically ages only once every four years and will explain in the comments below.

On Friday the Tigers will play their first “official” spring training against Florida Southern which is an annual event that neither you or I care about but gives those college kids a kick.

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Andy Oliver is slated to “start” i.e. pitch the first inning. I bring his name up for two reasons. The first is that he’s really is pitching and I should probably mention that, the second is a comment on his ability to snag the 5th starter position to start the year. In a rotation full of right handed arms one would imagine that Dombrowski and Leyland will give a special look at the left handed ones for the fifth spot.

Oliver fits the mold, and as the sole lefty with major league experience he may have an edge over Adam Wilk, Duane Below, Casey Crosby, and Drew Smyly. All LHP. Of course, his really bad stint in the major’s probably doesn’t help at all so that sentence is merely included for dramatic flare.

Jacob Turner is the obvious favorite, and only pure “prospect” according to national rankings, but I wonder how much the lack of a LHP in the rotation will effect management’s decision? The fact that Turner is a RHP and the other five candidates are southpaw’s is interesting.

I leave this topic with two thoughts: How much did Phil Coke being a LHP factor in the decision last year, and if Turner was a LHP himself would there even be a competition right now?

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Chris Iott profiled Clete Thomas on MLive Wednesday morning and emphasized Jim Leyland’s praise of the 28 year old. I find this interesting, not because of what Leyland said (if you take anything he says without a grain of salt you need to pay closer attention) but because there actually is competition for a few of the backup position player role on the 25 man roster.

An infield of Avila, Fielder, Peralta, Cabrera, Santiago, and Laird is all but guaranteed as Santiago is a versatile and proven backup even if he doesn’t win the starting second base job. That’s six roster spots. Young, Jackson, Raburn, and Boesch make ten total. If the Tigers head north with 12 pitchers, which they probably will to start the year, then that means there are three position spots to fill with Inge, Worth, Kelly, Dirks, Thomas.

I really am not a betting man, but I’d take Inge and Kelly north in a heartbeat. Inge because of his contract, and Kelly because of his ability to literally play any position (seriously).

So that leaves one spot left for Danny Worth, Andy Dirks, and Clete Thomas.

Worth really doesn’t bring anything unique to the table. Kelly is already the super-utility guy and Dirks and Thomas have power. I’m betting he goes north, to Toledo.

This leaves Dirks and Thomas for the final position spot. Dirks is two years younger, just finished a successful Dominican league stint, and is fresh in the minds of the Tiger brass. Thomas is a year removed from playing for the Tigers as he spent all but 21 games in AAA last year injured. One would assume that Dirks has the advantage, but Thomas is out of minor league options and Dirks isn’t. This means that if the Tigers want to send him down, he must be exposed to 29 other teams who can pick him up if they want.

Personally, and I apparently have a friendly bet on this (even though I’m not a betting man), I don’t think Thomas would claimed if placed on waivers. There isn’t a shortage of fourth outfielders in the major leagues. Every team has their own version of Clete Thomas and Andy Dirks.

It’s going to come down to who plays best this spring. While I wish the Tigers brass would let the five fight it out “Joker with the Pool Stick” style, that would be a bit violent for poor Leyland’s aging eyes to handle.

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