2015 was a season for the Detroit Tigers (and their fans…present company included), to forget. Some had predicted that the Tigers could make another run at a World Series. Some had predicted a slight fall off and had them missing the playoffs. Not many however, predicted that they would finish dead last in the American League Central with only the Oakland A’s owning a worse record in the American League.
There is some reason for optimism in Detroit this season though. Miguel Cabrera is now healthy and is ready to once again become one of the best players in baseball. They have made some key free agent additions this off season to solidify their roster and although the Tigers don’t have a plethora of talent coming up through their farm system, players like J.D. Martinez and Daniel Norris will add a nice balance of youth to go with the veterans on this squad. They may not be quite ready for another title run, but I don’t predict anywhere near as bad of a season for the Tigers as they did last year.
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First Base – Miguel Cabrera: Miguel Cabrera had a tough year as injuries limited the talented first baseman to only 119 games in 2015. When he did play he was very good though, as he still hit for .338, had 18 home runs and 76 RBIs. Cabrera is still only 32 years old and since last season was the first time in his 12 years in the majors that he played less than 148 games, I am going to chalk up his injury as a fluke. He may not be the guy who hits you 40+ home runs like he did in 2012-13, but a .315 or better batting average with 30 homers and 100+ RBIs are very attainable and should keep him as one of the top first baseman off the board this year.
Second Base – Ian Kinsler: Ian Kinsler is locked in at second base for the Tigers and is a very reliable guy to have on your fantasy team. He may not be great at any one particular thing, but he’s good at a lot of things, making him a valuable addition to your squad. He hasn’t hit below .275 in last three seasons, consistently hits between 10-20 homers and 70+ RBIs, and can steal you over 10 bags as well. These numbers may not sound glamourous, but considering only two second basemen hit over 20 home runs last year, and that Kinsler finished second in runs, third in RBIs and tenth in stolen bases among second basemen in 2015, he is still a top 5-10 target at the position. Throw in the fact he bats in front of the now healthy Miguel Cabrera, and I love Kinsler as a second tier option at the position this season.
Third Base – Nick Castellanos: Before I talk about Nick Castellanos, I would like to first thank him. I have attended quite a few MLB games throughout my life, but until last season, I had never seen a grand slam in person until Castellanos belted one for me (yes, just for me) last year. For that, I would like to say thank you! Anyways, I digress. Unfortunately, Castellanos is an average, to below average bat at the position. He hasn’t hit above .260, had more than 15 home runs and isn’t a threat to steal many bases based on his first two years in the majors. However, he is still young and was a highly touted prospect. I wouldn’t recommend drafting him in anything but the deepest of mixed leagues, but since he was a top prospect for the Tigers, put him on your watch list in case he starts to heat up.
Shortstop – Jose Iglesias: I will be brief…Jose Iglesias is a great glove and fantastic fielder, but he is not going to help you in fantasy baseball. Look elsewhere to fill out the position.
Catcher – James McCann: The days of Alex Avila are over and last year began the tenure of James McCann. Unfortunately, I’m not sure McCann will be much better of a hitter than Avila. In the minors he was a .266 hitter, and he only hit 18 home runs in over 1,400 total at bats. Last year in over 400 plate appearances, he hit .264 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs. You can do better than McCann on draft day.
DH – Victor Martinez: Victor Martinez is 37 years old and been dealing with an array of nagging injuries which led to a poor season in 2015. There is a chance the veteran bounces back, but I see him as nothing more than a waiver wire add when you need a bat at this stage of his career.
When it comes to fantasy production in the outfield for the Tigers, last year it pretty much began and ended with J.D. Martinez. Martinez burst on to the scene in his second year with the Tigers and isn’t looking to slow down anytime soon. He was 12th among outfielders in runs, sixth in home runs, third in RBIs, fifth in total bases and seventh in weighted on base percentage. His batting average dropped from .315 in 2014 to .282 in 2015, so if he can bounce back in that category, the 28 year old can even have a better season. Martinez will make you a very nice second outfielder this season. The rest of the outfield will look different this year as Detroit brought in Justin Upton and Cameron Maybin in free agency this off season. Justin Upton was brought in to replace Anthony Gose in left field and is a solid second outfielder to place on your roster. He can net you 25+ homers, 80+ RBIs and runs as well as 15-20 stolen bases. Some thought he may have taken the “next step” by now, but even with those numbers, he is a very nice fantasy player. Cameron Maybin will be returning to the Tigers this season and looks to hold court in center field. Maybin has only had more than 300 plate appearances three times in his nine years in the pros, but is coming off his best season. His .267 average, ten home runs and 59 RBIs were all career highs and he also snagged 23 bases. Those numbers are “fine” and he can be a decent fifth outfielder for you as well as a decent source of steals.
Starters: Number one pitching duties looks to be a competition between Justin Verlander and newly acquired Jordan Zimmerman. Verlander had a rough campaign in 2014 and followed it up dealing with a triceps injury during the beginning of last year. Once healthy however, he lit things up. He had three year highs in ERA, WHIP as well as other categories such as ground ball percentage. During the first half of the season, he had an 5.34 ERA, gave up six home runs (30 innings) and had an opponent’s batting average of .258. Once healthy during the second half of the season, he had an ERA of 2.80, gave up seven home runs (103 innings) and had an opponent’s batting average of .216. He has fallen down draft boards due to recent injuries and poor performance (see 2014), but if you believe he’s still capable of being a top twenty starter (I do), then make sure to take advantage of his low draft position. Jordan Zimmerman was brought in from Washington and looks to help solidify the Tigers rotation. He had a rough 2015, but can very easily bounce back and get you an ERA in the 3’s and a WHIP that won’t kill you. He’s not an elite strikeout pitcher but he’s very crafty and will be a nice second or third starting pitcher for your roster. Anibal Sanchez will likely be third in the rotation for the Tigers. After throwing over 200 strikeouts in 2013, Sanchez has struggled with injuries (shoulder) and control issues and had just under a .500 ERA last season. If healthy, can he return to 2013 form? I’m not saying he will, but I feel like he’s worth a late round flier in case a healthy Sanchez (not dirty, ya perverts) returns. Daniel Norris and Mike Pelfrey will likely round out the Tigers’ rotation. Norris is one of the better young pitching prospects in baseball. He has battled thyroid cancer this offseason, but looks to be healthy and cancer free by the beginning of the season. He’s still young and not draft worthy in mixed leagues, but being such a highly touted prospect, I would definitely keep him on your watch list. Pelfrey is a streaming option when he’s a two start pitcher in weekly leagues.
Reliever: The Tigers have a reputation for having a shit-storm of a bull pen, so this year Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez was brought in to handle closing duties. K-Rod is still a serviceable closer, but is losing velocity on his fastball and no reliever has surrendered more home runs than him over the last two seasons and that scares the hell out of me as a Tigers fan. I see K-Rod as a second source of saves for your fantasy team, but he does have the upside to out-produce his draft position.
Potential Sleeper: Justin Verlander
Potential Bust: Francisco Rodriguez