Tigers manager Jim Leyland, a Perrysburg native, apologized
tongue-in-cheek to the fans gathered for Detroit’s poor showing
in the World Series. The Tigers were swept by the San Francisco
Giants in four games that Leyland stated “only lasted six hours
and seven minutes.”
But Leyland also struck a hopeful chord for the upcoming season,
because the Tigers boast a Latino-laced lineup of veterans,
All-Stars, and budding talent. Hope springs eternal as a new
season and a fresh start approaches.
“We should give you a good season,” he told the crowded room on the
fourth floor of the Mud Hens team offices. “We’re good. I won’t
hesitate to tell you that.”
The Tigers skipper was asked to assess how Miguel Cabrera
can hit for power and a high batting average.
Cabrera in 2012 became just the 15th player and the first since
1967 to win baseball's Triple Crown, with a .330 batting
average, 44 homers and 139 RBIs. Even
a manager with 50 years of professional baseball experience was
at a loss for words to describe how the Venezuelan-born third
baseman-designated hitter does what he does.
“What am I gonna tell Cabrera? Just to be ready to play and he’ll
be ready,” said Leyland. “I don’t know the answer to him. All I
can say is people see him as a big guy who muscles the ball. But
that’s not really true. He has a lot of elasticity for a big
guy. He’s really, actually a good hitter with a short stroke and
a powerful stroke. He’s just one of those guys who picks up the
ball, like all good hitters.”
One potential concern for the Tigers is the off-season recovery of
veteran designated hitter and catcher Victor Martínez,
who missed the entire 2012 baseball season after injuring his left knee in
offseason workouts last January. He had microfracture surgery on
the knee that month, though he avoided a planned follow-up
surgery on his ACL when doctors discovered it wasn’t damaged as
badly as first believed.
Leyland told local reporters he expects Martínez to be at full
strength during spring training, already swinging a bat with
plans to resume a running program this month.
But the key will be to properly handle his comeback, ensuring he
doesn’t try to do too much too soon.
“The medical staff has told me he’s doing really, really well,”
said Leyland. “The only thing I’m concerned about is he did miss
a year. He hasn’t seen a live baseball in a year. How long is it
going to take him? I think he’ll be fine. Not right off the bat,
but who knows? I think he’s stronger than ever. He’s relentless.
He just can’t wait. The key with Victor is to know what tempo to
go with him, make sure we pace ourselves with him to make sure
we don’t do anything stupid.”
Martínez is one former Cleveland Indian on the Tigers roster.
Another former Indian has been the subject of some off-season
speculation as a question mark and some trade rumors, but
Leyland quickly came to the defense of shortstop Jhonny
“Jhonny Peralta is one of those players who people don’t look at
all of the good things he does,” said Leyland. “They look at the
fact that somebody told somebody next to them in the stands that
this guy doesn’t have much range. It just spreads out and
spreads out more. I want to know what he can do. I don’t want to
know what he can’t do. Peralta catches it every day, throws it
accurately every day, and he gets big hits. He’s a good
Another question mark is the development of 21-year old outfield
who played in 23 regular-season games for the Tigers last
season, batting .319. But the Venezuelan-born leffielder, who
stands 6’4” and weighs 240 lbs., only hit .261 during a dozen
playoff and World Series games. The power-hitting prospect had
no home runs and only seven RBI’s during that 35-game span for
the Tigers after skipping two levels of the minor leagues when
he was called up in August.
“I’ll put that one as an ‘I don’t know.’ He hasn’t done very
well in winter ball,” Leyland said. “I think he’s a terrific
prospect with potential maybe to be a star player.”
The offseason signing of veteran outfielder Torii Hunter
may have pushed García further down the 40-man roster, which may
force Leyland to decide whether to keep him at the major-league
level with limited playing time, or send him to AAA Toledo where
the young player could get more seasoning.
The Tigers suffered one offseason departure: 31-year old utility
player Ryan Raburn, who recently signed a minor-league
deal with the rival Cleveland Indians. Raburn played second base
and outfield for Detroit last season, but was phased out after
batting just .171. Leyland openly admitted he “mishandled”
Raburn in 2012.
“I think everybody on our staff wants Ryan Raburn to get an
opportunity,” Leyland said. “Hopefully he’ll relax a little bit.
I probably screwed that up last season. When I made him an
everyday player, he just wasn’t ready for it. It backfired.”
Other well-known Latino players on the 40-man Tigers roster
include infielders Omar Infante, Hernán Pérez, and
Ramón Santiago; catchers Alex Avila, Ramón Cabrera,
and Brayan Peña; and pitchers Octavio Dotel, Anibal
Sánchez, Luis Marte, Melvin Mercedes, José Ortega, and
However, the Fandemonium event didn’t feature any Latino
players. Four former Mud Hens answered fan questions alongside
Leyland, including pitchers Casey Crosby and Darin
Downs, outfielder Danny Worth, and catcher Bryan
Holaday. All four players spent some time on the Tigers
roster last season. Only spring training will prove whether they
stay at the major-league level or get sent down to the Mud Hens.
“They got their feet wet last year and got some innings under
their belt,” said the Tigers skipper. “They’re good prospects
and how soon they’re ready to take the next step, I don’t know
that yet. I think it’s good to insert some young blood like
that. I like young guys to come up and join a veteran team, even
though the veterans aren’t that old. It brings something to the
Leyland indicated the American League Central Division will be
another dogfight during the upcoming season, citing improvements
made in the offseason by all of Detroit’s division rivals.
“You just can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “The
division has spruced up.”
Opening Day for the Tigers will be an April 5, 2013 home game
against the New York Yankees, a rematch of the American League