Lakeland, Fla. Walking about the Tigers clubhouse has become easier this week.
Belongings in a row or two of lockers have been removed. And so have some players.
But they will be back. A few of them, anyway.
Nick Castellanos will be playing in Detroit at some point this season — and what a hitter the Tigers are about to introduce to Comerica Park's customers.
But he turned 21 two weeks ago. He needs dedicated time at Triple A Toledo, specifically to work on his new position, left field, which is why he was dispatched Tuesday to the minor league camp along with a handful of others who fans might as well get to know.
Hernan Perez, for example.
Perez was with the team for a few hours last season on one of those roster-problem days when the Tigers needed a quick fill-in player. Keep an eye on Perez as he apprentices this season at Double A Erie.
The Tigers have Omar Infante under contract through this year, which means they could be breaking in a new second baseman when spring camp convenes next February. It would be no surprise if Perez, who turns 22 next week, is announced this autumn as second base's heir.
"One of my and the coaches' favorites," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said as he talked about Perez and others who were transferred to the minor-league clubhouse.
"We think he's gonna be a good big-league player."
High on Holaday
They have the same take on a young catcher who had a nice spring camp.
Bryan Holaday might as well have been under a microscope as intently as the Tigers staff was studying him this spring. They loved what they saw. The Tigers believe they have a potentially important catcher evolving.
In fact, he was on his way to becoming the team's backup until the front office decided during the offseason to opt for experience when the Tigers signed Brayan Pena.
No one is sorry Pena is on hand. But they wouldn't have gone wrong with Holaday, 25, who was a sixth-round pick in 2010 out of TCU. He does everything right behind the plate. And during the past month he showed he can drive the ball.
"He's a regular if he hits," Leyland said. "He's a perfect example of a guy who needs to catch five times a week."
That's what he'll do at Toledo. The Tigers won't mind having Holaday an hour from Detroit. Throw in Curt Casali, last year's pick from Vanderbilt, and a right-handed hitter with power, and the Tigers are building depth at a position of value.
Look out for Luke
Yes, value. It's always handy to have in the cupboard a 6-foot-6 right-hander who throws a 95-mph fastball mixed with a big-league curveball and change-up.
Luke Putkonen is dissed by fans who weren't wild about his 12 games with the Tigers in 2012. That's understandable. They saw a power pitcher with little command.
Command is still his issue. But if I had to name one pitcher who could pull a summer surprise in Detroit, it would be Putkonen. He seems to have figured out how much repertoire he owns and how rough it can be on batters.
During Tuesday afternoon's garish game at Joker Marchant Stadium, which saw the Rays clobber the Tigers, 11-5, Putkonen was one of the few untarnished Tigers pitchers, throwing a scoreless inning and striking out a batter.
I asked Leyland afterward how close Putkonen was to being a reliable pitcher.
"I think he's in the mix right now," Leyland said.
The manager didn't elaborate.
The dead air means Putkonen remains an option as the Tigers work on their current headache, which is how to configure their bullpen and settle the matter of Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly as the team's fifth starter.
See you, soon!
Meanwhile, Castellanos is handling his Toledo assignment brilliantly. He knows he must sharpen his defense. He needs also to bone up on big-league baserunning.
Leyland told him to become as comfortable in left field and on the basepaths as he is in the batter's box. Imagine that: The guy is at ease performing the most difficult task in sports.
Get ready for Castellanos. Folks back home should enjoy the show, and soon.
Nick Castellanos needs to play full-time in left field, which is why he was sent to the minors. / Robin Buckson / Detroit News
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