March 9th, 2016

Today: Tigers Part 2 and Tampa Bay Rays

Yesterday I spent the day in Lakeland watching the Tigers and the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Tigers sent what looked to be close to their everyday lineup against the Rays and starter Erasmo Ramirez. The Rays? Well, they traveled to Lakeland with a very thin group of regular players. But, it gave me another chance to see younger players on their way to figuring things out at the big league level.

First, the Tigers. Wynton Bernard has a chance to help the Tigers in center field as long as Cameron Maybin is sidelined. I’m not convinced he’ll break with the club in April, but he has a chance. It’s pretty clear Anthony Gose will get those at-bats. However, Bernard could come off the bench to pinch-hit or pinch-run. And run he can. He stole 43 bases at Double-A Erie last year. But he still has things to learn about stealing bases and refining his overall technique as a runner. He doesn’t look his listed 6-foot-2, 200 pound size. So keep your eye on the progress (or lack thereof) Bernard makes in the remainder of the month. If nothing else, he will be a good organizational outfielder to have on hand if speed or another outfielder is needed down the road.

Shane Greene took the mound again for his second outing of the spring. Looking to add depth to their rotation, the Tigers may well settle on using Greene in the bullpen as a long man for the time being. If he can locate his pitches, he’s fine. When his sinkers don’t sink and he’s up in the zone he gets hammered. That happened again in his latest outing. There were some very loud balls off the bat from Rays hitters. He didn’t look as sharp as his first outing–one that started well and finished on the iffy side.

I remain convinced Justin Upton is among the most prominent feast or famine players in the game. When he’s hot, he’s very hot. When he’s cold, he’s very cold. And he’s been cold here in Florida. Taking over in left field, Upton is still not an accomplished outfielder. I saw him make one error and misplay another chance, but an error was not given. At the plate, he is being beaten badly once again on the right side of the plate. Sliders away still seem to trouble him. But pitchers will pay a price if they get the ball inside or get too much of the plate. He hammers mistake pitches. I do see him driving in lots of runs in a lineup that has Miguel Cabrera, J D Martinez, Victor Martinez, and Ian Kinsler hitting near him. Being with Detroit now, Upton fell into a great situation for RBIs and runs scored. But he may also leave a number of runners on the bases with undisciplined hacks at pitcher’s pitches.

The Tigers are set behind the plate with three catchers. Either Bryan Holaday or Jarrod Saltalamacchia will back up James McCann. I can’t see all three on the opening day roster. Holaday is having an incredible spring. He’s making great contact at the plate, hitting the ball out of the park and driving in runs. Salty may be the odd man out.

On the Rays side of things, I still can’t help but be impressed with the scrappy play of Nick Franklin. Franklin can play both second and short with sure hands, good footwork and a gritty approach to playing baseball. Just as he did when he was one of my favorite players back then in the Arizona Fall League, Franklin puts a good pass on the ball and hits line drives. A switch-hitter, he uses the entire field and has some pop in his bat. Especially from the left side of the plate. And he has a great attitude.

The Rays have a collection of middle infielders that include Logan Forsythe, Ryan Brett, Tim Beckham, and Brad Miller. They all can’t stick with the club. I would think Forsythe and Miller would be the second base-shortstop combination. The either Beckham, Franklin or Brett would become the utility infielder. We’ll see how that plays out. Daniel Robertson, a non-roster invitee to Spring Training may be a really good offensive player waiting in the wings as a solid shortstop.

The Rays don’t have much pop in their overall lineup. Of course Evan Longoria remains an offensive threat as a solid hitting third baseman. Corey Dickerson will help the offense as a new outfielder with a good hitting tool. Yesterday I was more impressed with the swing mechanics and overall look of Desmond Jennings than I have been in a long time. Maybe he’s just finally healthy. I think he can have a nice year for the Rays.
The team needs some offense from Steven Souza, Jr. He really was a bit of a disappointment in his rookie season. He finished the year with a batting average of .225 with only 40 RBIs. He did, however, hit 18 homers and stole 12 bases. I think there is more in his tank.

Kevin Kiermaier is just a terrific defender in the outfield. He hit a very solid .283 with ten homers and 18 stolen bases. He’s still under the radar as a player, but I think he will build on that good year. He just doesn’t get much buzz.

Taylor Motter is a right handed hitting outfielder with some power. I saw him put a charge in a ball yesterday. There could be lots of swing and miss in him, but he’s an interesting guy to watch.

I’m still not sold on the big league attributes of Mikie Mahtook, but the Rays have some time and money invested in him. I’m sure they’ll give him every chance to prove his high draft choice value.

I’m looking for lefty Blake Snell to steal a slot in the rotation before the season gets too old. He’s the real deal and is another in the line of quality pitchers developed by the organization.

Tomorrow: more on the Braves and Astros.

Thank you for following me on twitter @BerniePleskoff.

That’s it. I’m done. For now.