Tigers spring training primer

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers' pitcher Justin Verlander believes last year’s struggles were the result of a lack of training because of core-muscle surgery.

The Tigers have their fair share of uncertainty.

That can be unnerving for the fan base that's become used to great expectations, but it's not the end of the world, either.

Last spring, the Tigers arrived in sunny Florida with what they thought was a set-in-stone roster, only to see Jose Iglesias and Andy Dirks go down with what eventually were season-ending injuries, leaving general manager Dave Dombrowski only days to scramble for replacements.

So this season's Tigers have some things to figure out. At least this year, they know this from Day 1.

What happens if Miguel Cabrera and/or Victor Martinez aren't ready for Opening Day?

What will the bullpen look like?

Who fills out the bench?

Time will tell on all fronts, and the good news is there's plenty of time, with Opening Day set for April 6 against the Twins at Comerica Park.

That leaves the Tigers, starting today, 45 days of workouts and exhibitions before they make the trek north.


Miguel Cabrera (ankle surgery) and Victor Martinez (knee surgery): There's no guarantee either will be far enough along in his recovery by Opening Day. Odds are, they'll be playing by late April, but with a division expected to be so competitive, the Tigers might not be able to afford treading water until they're back.

Price is right: The Tigers like to get their big business done during the spring. In March 2013, they signed Justin Verlander to a record $180 million extension, which kicks in this year. Last spring, it was Miguel Cabrera who got the big payday ($292 million). This spring, all eyes are on free-agent-to-be David Price, who might not yet be sold on Detroit.

Jose Iglesias' health: He missed all of last season with shin fractures, and he's said to be doing well. But that was the case last spring, too, until he got running around on the hard clay at Joker Marchant Stadium. If he's a no-go again, the Tigers don't have great options at shortstop, especially now that Eugenio Suarez is with the Reds.

Finishing the job: Joe Nathan was a big hit among the fans last offseason after he signed a two-year deal with the Tigers. It didn't take long for him to be labeled a bust. Now, at 40, he's trying to bounce back and become the closer the Tigers thought they bought for $20 million. The leash this year, however, will be far shorter with the Tigers convinced Joakim Soria could do the job.

Let's make a deal: Are the Tigers done? It's tough to say, but Dave Dombrowski always is willing to listen on trade and free-agent scenarios. Cuban star Yoan Moncada isn't coming to Detroit, but keep an eye on three unsigned relievers: Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez and Joba Chamberlain.

Headlines, Part II

Justin Verlander: He's been talking a good game. He believes last year's struggles were the result of a lack of training because of core-muscle surgery. He says he's healthy, and that he sees no reason to change his pitching philosophy. That's interesting, given Tigers brass want him to rely more on the secondary stuff, and less on the fastball.

Remember me? With all the coming and going in the rotation — goodbye Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, hello Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon — Anibal Sanchez gets overlooked. He had a tough 2014, never really getting on track after a spring shoulder issue. But in 2013, he was effective.

Hello, "Crash": Called the "Real-life Crash Davis" because of his legendary minor league career, Mike Hessman actually has an outside shot to make the roster rather than start at Toledo. If Miguel Cabrera isn't ready, Hessman, 36, could see the majors for the first time since 2010.

New year, same goal: Excited to arrive in camp and show off his new swing last spring with the Astros, J.D. Martinez barely got any at-bats before he was released. And he didn't get many with the Tigers, either, since they picked him up late. He'll get a full, uninterrupted session this spring, and that's good, since for the first time in his career, so much is expected of him after his breakout 2014.

The 'pen is mightier

A look at the Tigers bullpen:

Joakim Soria, RH: Struggled after coming over from the Rangers last July, but most chalk that up to transition issues. He'll likely close many games.

Joe Nathan, RH: This is a big year for him. If he's a star closer again, the Tigers bullpen is better. If he's a dud, his career is likely to be over.

Al Alburquerque, RH: A guy that gets little credit, but he's Mr. Steady and should've been pitching last postseason.

Bruce Rondon, RH: Can the flame-throwing prospect finally stay healthy? He's coming off Tommy John surgery last spring.

Alex Wilson, RH: Yoenis Cespedes was the headliner of the trade with Boston, but Wilson could be just as pivotal if his 2014 cup of coffee is any indicator.

Tom Gorzelanny, LH: An under-the-radar signing, but a solid investment for $1 million. He doesn't wow you, but he's solid — and can start in a pinch.

Kyle Lobstein, LH: Out of nowhere, he made some huge starts for the Tigers late last season. If Alfredo Simon struggles, he'll be the first replacement.

Angel Nesbitt, RH: An unfamiliar name, he's rising up the ranks in a hurry. He was electric closing at Single A and Double A in 2014.

Joel Hanrahan, RH: Low-risk signing, he hasn't pitched since early 2013 (Tommy John surgery). But if he can get healthy, he could be a sleeper.

Josh Zeid, RH: Claimed off waivers from the Astros, he's pitched the last two years with broken bones in his feet. He's healthy now.

Blaine Hardy, LH: In a bullpen of woes in 2014, he was a surprise. But he walks too many, something he'll have to fix.

Ian Krol, LH: The last guy remaining with the Tigers from the Doug Fister trade, and he was awful in 2014. He's pledged to turn it around.

Buck Farmer, RH: He got called up too early last year. With good secondary stuff, he could relieve for a while.

Joe Mantiply, LH: Doesn't throw hard, but he's got deceptive stuff that was so good, the Tigers nearly called him up all the way from West Michigan.

Omar Duran, LH: Signed to a minor league deal, the Tigers are intrigued. But he's been in pro ball since 2008, and only last year played above Single A.

Kyle Ryan, LH: Another guy who saw limited action in Detroit last season and impressed. Not a hard thrower.

Chad Smith, RH: Former USC closer, so he's got credentials. But his cup of coffee in 2014, and his time in Toledo, was poor.

Drew VerHagen, RH: Starting is his future, but the Tigers will consider him anywhere he can help. Back fractures slowed him last season.

David Price throws Thursday as Tigers pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Position battles

Rajai Davis vs. Anthony Gose, starting CF: The Tigers believe Gose, acquired in November from the Blue Jays, will be the starter. And he certainly has the defensive skill set to do it. But he's going to have to hit to play every day, and there's been no indication he can do that. Davis, the inferior defender, has proved to be an offensive force. Winner: Davis

Bryan Holaday vs. James McCann, backup C: Holaday was the backup almost all of 2014. He's an OK player, but doesn't do anything above average — except maybe bunt — and never has projected as a starter. McCann is better offensively and defensively, and can tee off on left-handers, making him the seemingly perfect platoon partner for Alex Avila. Winner: McCann

Hernan Perez vs. Andrew Romine, UTL: With Don Kelly gone, the Tigers have an opening for a Mr. Everything. Romine played a lot in 2014, mostly at shortstop, but didn't hit much. Perez still is playing with the "potential" label. Both players are out of options, meaning whoever loses the battle likely will be moved to another team. Winner: Romine

Tyler Collins vs. Steven Moya, fifth OF: Both got brief shots last year, and both had their moments. Collins had a big, clutch hit in a big game against the Royals, and Moya showed promise, too. Collins is viewed as most ready to fill his ideal role in the majors, and that's as a bench guy. He has a short, compact stroke, can run, and has pop. Moya is an intriguing prospect, but his swing still is too long and could get exposed. Winner: Collins

Kyle Lobstein vs. Alfredo Simon, starting P: The Tigers traded for Simon to be the No. 5 starter, but the fact is, he struggled the second half last season, and has mostly never been a very good starter in the majors. He has been a good reliever, though, and that could be his job if Lobstein has a good spring. Winner: Simon

Around the league

Yoan Moncada: The 19-year-old Cuban infielder apparently is close to signing a contract. Where will he land? More than a dozen teams have held private workouts. The Dodgers, Red Sox and Yankees have extreme interest, and given the dollars, they're likely the favorites.

Waiting game: There are a number of other free agents still remaining, including starting pitcher Chris Young and relievers Francisco Rodriguez and Rafael Soriano. It'll just take one spring injury to get the buzz going on Young. Rodriguez could head back to the Brewers, and Soriano would seem to be a fit with the Dodgers, now that closer Kenley Jansen will miss camp after foot surgery.

Hello, A-Rod: Alex Rodriguez is back after being suspended all of 2014 because of PED use. He's issued a hand-written apology to Yankees fans, but is skipping a spill-it-all news conference to focus on baseball. That's a good move, since there's no guarantee the Yankees will keep him, with Chase Headley at third. They could eat $63 million and say goodbye.

Staying game? Cole Hamels remains with the Phillies, despite extensive trade talks last summer and this winter. Will he remain with them through camp? Possibly. The Phillies refuse to let him go for less than a premier package in return. A desperate suitor is likely to emerge over the next six weeks.

Back in the game: This is a big spring for the Rangers, who averaged 92.5 wins a season from 2010-13, but fell hard last year to 67-95 (last AL West). Nearly every key player had serious or nagging injuries, including Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish and Shin-Soo Choo. If the Rangers — who lost manager Ron Washington to personal issues — can get through camp healthy, that'll be a big morale boost.

Power rankings

1. Nationals

2. Dodgers

3. Angels

4. Giants

5. Tigers

6. Padres

7. White Sox

8. Red Sox

9. Cardinals

10. Indians

11. Mariners

12. Marlins

13. Braves

14. Royals

15. Pirates

16. Cubs

17. Blue Jays

18. Brewers

19. Mets

20. A's

21. Yankees

22. Astros

23. Orioles

24. Diamondbacks

25. Rays

26. Twins

27. Reds

28. Rangers

29. Rockies

30. Phillies

Tigers on the air

■March 10: at Phillies, 1 p.m. MLB

■March 16: at Cardinals, 1 p.m. MLB

■March 22: at Braves, 1 p.m. FSD

■March 24: at Yankees, 7 p.m. MLB

■March 25: vs. Marlins, 1 p.m. FSD

■March 26: vs. Orioles, 1 p.m. FSD

■March 30: vs. Braves, 1 p.m. FSD

■April 2: vs. Yankees, 1 p.m. ESPN

■April 3: vs. Rays, 1 p.m. FSD

■April 4: at Rays, 12:30, FSD