Tiger Talk: Iglesias' defense more important than batting average

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jose Iglesias' biggest contributions for the Tigers will be in the field, not in the batter's box.

Here's the 2015 debut installment Tigers Talk. Good questions today; keep 'em coming!

Question: Should Jose Iglesias' poor spring worry us? -- Hermy (twitter.com/Hermaphro)

Answer: In a word, OK two words, heck no.

Yes, Iglesias has scuffled this spring, with just two hits in 27 at-bats. But still, he's only struck out one time.

Iglesias, 25, never was projected to be an offensive star anyway. His rookie year of 2013, split between Boston and Detroit, he hit above his head, most analysts would agree.

But he still puts the ball in play, he can bunt, he can leg out singles and turn singles into doubles. Occasionally, he'll flash some pop.

Iglesias' value, though, is so much more on defense. I love Alan Trammell, I strongly believe he wasn't much worse than Ozzie Smith on defense, and it's a crime he's not getting any Hall of Fame support.

But Iglesias is the best defensive shortstop I've seen in a Tigers uniform. The things he can do with the glove and his arm, that's just not normal. He's a human highlight reel, with his range and his acrobatics.

That's why the Tigers acquired Iglesias. What he does with the bat is all a bonus, provided he does the basics, like, you know, hit above .200 and post an on-base percentage above .300.

But don't sweat the spring stats.

The most important statistic this spring for Iglesias is 10 -- the number of games he's played in. That number was one last spring, and he never played in the regular season. His shins are healthy, and that's by far the most important news for a Tigers team that took a big risk in shipping out his potential fill-in, Eugenio Suarez, in the trade with the Reds for Alfredo Simon in December.

Question: Will Anthony Gose have an on-base percentage of .300? Is he an upgrade, in your opinion, over Austin Jackson? -- Robert Eddy (twitter.com/robeddy24)

Answer: Like with Iglesias, let's start with defense. Jackson was a good defender, who made highlight plays -- none bigger than the ball he tracked down to preserve Armando Galarraga's perfect game. Few center fielders make that play.

Anthony Gose

That said, yes, Gose is superior on defense -- potentially, much so. For starters, Gose is faster. He'll cover more ground than Jackson, who wasn't a blazer, but made up for that with his long strides. Second, Gose has a phenomenal arm, which is rare for a center fielder. The better arms usually are on the corners, especially in right field. Jackson doesn't have that kind of arm.

Gose is so special on defense, folks in Toronto have told me, with a straight face, he is comparable or potentially even better in center than Devon White. Now, that's some mighty high praise -- kind of like saying Iglesias is better than Trammell (see what I did there?).

Unlike Iglesias, however, Gose has to do some hitting, because the Tigers have another guy, in Rajai Davis, who can hit, steal bases and play a decent center field. And Davis proved last year, after Andy Dirks went down with injury, that he could, indeed, be a full-time player.

That's not saying Gose has to hit like Mike Trout. Good, cuz he won't. Really, all Gose needs to do is get on base more than 30 percent of the time -- even 32 percent would suffice. He hasn't proven he has that capability yet, at least not in the majors.

But working with Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner appears to be helping a little bit; in 14 games this spring, Gose has hit .341 with a .400 OBP. Of course, had had good springs at the plate in Toronto, too, then couldn't match it in the regular season.

So the jury remains well out here. But the verdict is in on defense.

Question: I'm convinced Don Kelly somehow ends up on this team. Am I insane? -- Bobby Codd (twitter.com/bcodd85)

Answer: I'm not qualified to judge your sanity. Despite my mom's constant pleas growing up, I passed on medical school.

That said, you are wrong, Bobby.

For starters, Kelly signed with the Marlins, a good fit for him since they're a National League team. His ability to play just about everywhere on the diamond always made him a better fit in the NL, which is regularly shuffling pieces via the double-shifts.

I bet Kelly makes the Marlins' roster pretty quickly, and stays there most of the year.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, the Tigers have no shortage of potential replacements -- so much so that manager Brad Ausmus is actually considering keeping two of them, both Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez.

At first, I didn't understand this. Tyler Collins has a good left-handed bat, with some power, and the bench has been an issue with the Tigers for a long time.

But I've come around on the issue, for the main reason Ausmus spelled out: Given the makeup of the Tigers' roster, they're not likely to need too many pinch-hitters late in ballgames. Think about it. You're not going to pinch-hit for Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, Ian Kinsler or Nick Castellanos, and if it's a right-handed closer, as most closers are, Alex Avila isn't going to be lifted, either.

That leaves just Gose and Iglesias as guys you might pinch-hit for, and even then, the Tigers can go to Davis or James McCann, or Avila if McCann started.

The Tigers are far more likely to need pinch-runners and defensive replacements this season, and Romine and Perez are decent options there. They provide flexibility.

I like Collins. I think on many teams, he'd make the club -- but as a fifth outfielder, his starts would be sparse and, thus, his impact would be, too.

Question: Thoughts on the final bullpen look? Projections? -- Rhett Kukulski (twitter.com/Rhett_Kukulski)

Answer: This is the question on so many minds this time of year, seemingly for the last seven or eight years. At least, in Detroit.

No final decisions have been made, and no final decisions are likely to be made until a few days before the Tigers pack up the trucks and head for Detroit.

Kyle Ryan

But let's start here: The locks to start the season in the bullpen are Joakim Soria, Bruce Rondon and Al Alburquerque. Joe Nathan and Joba Chamberlain are extremely likely to make it, too, because of their long-term track records, and their salaries. That leaves the two lefty spots, for which there are four candidates -- Ian Krol, Blaine Hardy, Kyle Ryan and Tom Gorzelanny.

Ryan seems almost a shoo-in, given the way he looked in Detroit last season, the way he's pitched in the spring, and his ability to throw multiple innings. If a Tigers starter gets knocked out early, the Tigers lack a guy who can pitch two or three innings in relief, and Ryan is the best candidate there. Kyle Lobstein would be a better candidate, but he's a starter, and could be starting in Detroit by May 1 should Simon falter, as many expect.

That leaves one spot, and three candidates. Krol might be the guy, barring a disaster. With a renewed focus and some growing up, he's come to came in great spirits, healthy and throwing as hard as ever.

Gorzelanny hasn't looked good at all this spring, and despite a $1-million contract, the Tigers aren't anywhere close to locked in on him, and Hardy, while good in Detroit last season, could benefit from some more seasoning in Toledo.

Now, I'm sure you were getting to the real popular question, Rhett: Will the Tigers cut Nathan? The answer: No, or at least not yet. He'll get his cracks in April, but because the Tigers have Soria waiting in the wings, the leash for Nathan will be short, maybe as short as one or two blown saves. And if or when Soria takes over, that'll likely be it in Detroit for Nathan, who has no real value if he's not closing.

Question: Over/under 84.5 wins? -- Kiefer Carson (twitter.com/Kief_Carson)

Answer: Every March Madness, my Uncle Pat heads to Vegas, where he makes a slew of baseball prop bets. But before he does, he usually rings me up and asks for my opinion -- not that he always takes my advice. (I said Astros were an easy "over" in 2014, but he didn't bite.)

Well, we talked earlier this month about the 84.5 number, and my gut says it's an easy "over."

I'm not saying the Tigers are going to win 100 games, or even 90. But they're too good to not be at least eight games over .500.

I know fans are worried, and rightfully so, about losing Max Scherzer. I know fans are worried about the bullpen. I know fans are worried about the health of Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Iglesias.

But let me try to easy your worries.

Let's start with where the Tigers are better in 2015: They're better defensively. That's a no-brainer. With Gose in center, Iglesias at short, Cespedes in left and J.D. Martinez in right, plus another season at third under Castellanos' belt, these are upgrades, ranging from modest to severe. They're also a faster team. They're a more athletic team. Their bench is going to be better, yes, even if they keep both Romine and Perez. The bullpen is better, because Soria is insurance for a wobbly Nathan, and the minor-league depth is impressive. And the offense, which good a year ago, should be even better.

The only question, and it's a fair one, is the rotation. Scherzer is gone, Rick Porcello is gone. Price is here for a full season, Shane Greene is here, and Simon is here. Was the 2014 rotation better? Assessing that today, probably. But it won't take much for that answer to change. If Anibal Sanchez is healthy (likely), if Lobstein replaces Simon sooner rather than later (likely), and if Justin Verlander is good again (we'll see), the potential will be there.

Plus, don't forget: If the Tigers' rotation has issues come June or July, you know Dombrowski will pull the trigger on another big trade, like he did with Price last season, Sanchez a few years ago, and Doug Fister before that.

Today, though, the rotation is probably worse -- but all the other areas are better. Eighty-eight wins should be no problem.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984