The Detroit Tigers Infield: Sure Bets and Gambles by David Wiers February 23, 2015 With a bonafide superstar manning first base — and third base eligible in some leagues — the Detroit Tigers infield offers a first round pick. The club also sports an upper echelon talent at second base, however shortstop, third base and catcher all have offensive question marks. Still, with Miguel Cabrera and Ian Kinsler anchoring the infield, no one is questioning the talent. First Base Miguel Cabrera Victor Martinez Second Base Ian Kinsler Hernan Perez Shortstop Jose Iglesias Andrew Romine Hernan Perez Third Base Nick Castellanos Andrew Romine Catcher Alex Avila Bryan Holaday James McCann First Base Locking down first is one of the best hitters in the game. Miguel Cabrera’s ability at the plate is impressive, though you’ll pay quite the price for his talent. Despite limping — sometimes more literally than figuratively — to the finish line the past few seasons with various of hip, ankle and other injuries, Cabrera has proven himself quite durable. He’s posted over 650 plate appearances for four consecutive years and had 648 PA’s five years ago, the lowest of his career. His home run, walk rate and strikeout rates all went in the wrong directions though, and the soon to be age 32-year-old’s 147 wRC+ was the lowest since 2009. Cabrera’s dip in home run rate last year, almost 10% lower than his previous two, isn’t terribly concerning, as his batted ball rates haven’t significantly changed. Instead of posting a 40-home run season, last year Cabrera cranked a career high 52 doubles, twice as many as in 2013. While doubles certainly aren’t as appealing as home runs, Cabrera’s counting stats should be just fine. Victor Martinez will DH most of the time, but should the occasion call for it, expect some time at first base. As mentioned, Cabrera doesn’t usually miss time, just 19 games in four years, but Martinez should get enough time to maintain his first base eligibility. Martinez may miss some time following knee surgery earlier this month, though the Tigers expect him to be able to be back sometime near Opening Day. Assuming he won’t miss many — if any —games, Martinez and his impressive switch-hitting should prove to be very valuable as about a fourth/fifth round pick. Second Base Ian Kinsler posted a 15-15 season last year, along with 100 runs scored and 92 RBIs. Despite hitting .275, Kinsler’s on-base percentage was just .307. Kinsler’s 4.0% BB% was the lowest single season of his career (and less than half of his career average), likely due to how often he got behind early and often in the count. Opposing pitchers got ahead of Kinsler 0-1 64.1% of the time, the worst rate of his career and tied for the 11th highest mark out of 146 qualified hitters in baseball last year. Playing Kinsler in an OBP format hurts his value a touch, but hitting leadoff in front of Cabrera and Martinez, either full time or when facing a right-handed pitcher, should bring about of runs. Penciling in another 15-15 year with 80+ runs for Kinsler make him a solid fifth round type. Hernan Perez figures to get playing time all around the diamond, possibly enough to gain outfield eligibility. While Kinsler has mostly shed his injury-prone tag, counting on him for another 161 games seems like a stretch. As such, Perez offers some speed, having nabbed at least 20 bags in four different seasons spread across four different minor league levels, though his bat doesn’t offer much. Shortstop After missing the entire 2014 season, Jose Iglesias is back and almost 100% ready. He’s still just 25 and after hitting for a .303 average in 382 PA’s in 2013, some were hopeful of the shortstop’s upside. Unfortunately his 2013 was largely fueled by a .356 BABIP and while Iglesias posted a strong contact rate, his low walk rates and poor ISO hamper his fantasy value. Iglesias never hit for a league average mark in Triple-A so it hard to imagine him posting a fantasy relevant season again. He is still a starting shortstop on a good offensive team, but is almost a lock to hit ninth. With an ADP near 500, it is best to leave him to the waiver wire, AL-only leagues being an exception of course. In a similar vein as Perez, Andrew Romine may get starts at a variety of defensive positions this season. Unfortunately, again like Perez, Romine’s value isn’t particularly high. He does offer a similar speed option as a pinch runner — Romine once stole 62 bases in A-Ball back in 2008 — but is more likely a 10-15 steal type in the majors given his limited role. Another run of the mill utility infielder, Romine doesn’t belong on your fantasy team. Third Base Nick Castellanos has been given the keys to third base, what he does with the spot is to be determined. Last year he posted a below average offensive season in 579 PA’s and struck out in nearly one quarter of them. His 24.2% strikeout rate hampers his rate stats and his 13.7% swinging strike rate tied for 13th worst among qualified batters last season. Third base has enough other options where Castellanos should be a speculative late-round pick at best, or more likely a waiver wire candidate. Catcher If Alex Avila does in fact become the #2 hitter in the lineup, his stock rises considerably. A career .345 OBP helps Avila’s case, however in neither of his previous two seasons did he eclipse the .330 mark. As strong as his career 12.8% BB%, Avila’s 26.4% strikeout rate is tough to stomach with his low power. His strikeouts have risen for three consecutive seasons and last year sat at a brutal 33%. If Avila can manage to even get back into the high-20’s while hitting second, he goes from being a just another guy in two-catcher leagues to someone with real value. Neither Bryan Holaday or James McCann figure to appear on many draft boards, though McCann is younger and hit for a rate 12% better than average in Triple-A last season. Count on McCann winning the backup over last year’s backup in Holaday, or at least displacing him at some point this season. After Cabrera and Kinsler, the Tigers infield drops off. Hard to fault left side of the infield for not keeping up with those types of hitters as not many other bats can. Both Igelsias and Castellanos make better AL-only types than mixed league players and while they have locks on their playing time, both should be left alone on draft day in most leagues. Romine and Perez have the potential to gain position eligibility in different infield (and outfield) slots, however no one is expecting them to become the next Zobrist. With two excellent fantasy options, a catcher with some upside and young players at both shortstop and the hot corner, Detroit has a range of excellent to mildly interesting players all over the infield.