Henning: Greene will surprise, and other bold Tiger forecasts

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Tigers pitchers, including Justin Verlander, throw their bullpens on Saturday.

Lakeland, Fla. -- Phone calls have been steady. Questions have been torrential.

Everyone wants to know what’s up with the Tigers at spring camp.

So, it was decided that rather than expend an over-abundance of Verizon’s time and my money, perhaps a first-week compilation of queries, with answers flavored by a dose of soothsaying, might be in order. Here goes:

Who will be spring camp’s big surprise?

Answer: Shane Greene. When you listen to Greene talk about his shoulder artery and the blood clots that last season moved from the shoulder to his right (throwing) hand, you wonder how he survived, let alone threw a baseball.

He had numbness. He had black-and-blue fingers. He was a mess. Detroit News colleague Chris McCosky watched his bullpen session Saturday, alongside Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd, and both were awed by the difference in Greene’s pitches. Stay tuned.

Pitchers Shane Greene, right, and Daniel Norris walk off the practice fields Saturday in Lakeland.

Did last year’s embarrassing early ticket home inject maturity into Bruce Rondon and his approach to pitching?

Answer: We’ll see. He looks good. He spoke with media Friday and was courteous. If there were any troubling signs, it was Rondon’s refusal to discuss 2015 and the Tigers’ decision to send him back to Venezuela ahead of the season’s completion. He said he didn’t care to talk about last year. Well, OK. But a young man (25) who seems unwilling to confront some past slovenliness and discuss it candidly leaves one fairly wondering if lasting lessons have been learned.

He has youth and a powerful arm on his side. If he brings an equal amount of resolve to his pitching portfolio, Rondon could yet become an important reliever.

What are the chances Bobby Parnell becomes part of Detroit’s bullpen mix?

Answer: Not a great bet Parnell will contend for a job during spring camp, and that’s where things could get sticky. But this was an example of a low-cost, no-downside signing that could pay off for Parnell and for the Tigers. It has to do with Tommy John recovery. It can take a couple of years. Parnell’s only 31 and is 22 months from elbow surgery.

It was a wise investment by general manager Al Avila, with only one glitch: Parnell, if he doesn’t make the club during spring camp, could opt out of his contract and sign elsewhere. The likelihood is he would stick with the Tigers and with a meaningful minor-league deal, assuming he agrees with them that a bit of work at Triple A is in everyone’s interest.

What will the Tigers do with their best young pitcher, Michael Fulmer?

Answer: It surprises to hear the Tigers talk about Fulmer as a bullpen option. They have a brilliant right-handed pitcher here, one who has started and who figures to start in the big leagues if he heads, as planned, for Triple-A Toledo in April.

The Tigers are open to making Fulmer a temporary back-end reliever. It wouldn’t be the blueprint here, all because Fulmer has immense potential as a starter. A guy begins working in the bullpen and suddenly he’s not throwing that third pitch that otherwise would be stuck in his quiver. They know what they’re doing, but they’re better in the long term if Fulmer stays with his starter’s script.

Any trades coming up?

Answer: Not immediately. But there will be dealing, almost certainly, at the end of spring camp. The Tigers signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia as a left-handed bat (he switch-hits) they needed, which makes it all but impossible for Bryan Holaday to make the team. He’s out of options, so a trade would be in the picture, given the market for legitimate backup catchers.

The Tigers might also pare down their sudden surplus of outfielders. Justin Upton’s signing means Tyler Collins will have a tough time making the club. He’s marketable, also, because of his left-handed bat. If the Tigers could count on Steven Moya advancing at Triple-A Toledo in 2016, trading Collins for the right brand of return would be an option.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia catches a bullpen session during the Tigers' spring training workout Saturday.

If the Tigers deal, Holaday, who’s the team’s third catcher?

Answer: You had to ask. Well, that would be, uh, er, um, Miguel Gonzalez. You know all about him, of course: 25 years old, bats right-handed, 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, former White Sox prospect from Venezuela. Signed with the Tigers in 2014 as a minor-league free agent. Played last year at Toledo and at Double-A Erie and had these combined numbers:  .242 batting average, with a .638 OPS. Hey, you asked.

Who is the first position player headed to Detroit from the minors in 2016?

Answer: Probably the most interesting position prospect in the system, Dixon Machado. The Tigers will do one of three things with Machado in 2016: (a) keep him at Toledo and use him as alluring trade bait at July’s deadline should they find themselves in the playoff hunt; (b) bring him to Detroit immediately should Jose Iglesias or Ian Kinsler get hurt; (c) begin working him at shortstop and Iglesias at second base should Kinsler either get hurt or be dealt or whatever.

The Tigers would view Machado as having greater range at short and Iglesias as being capable of bringing his flash and fast hands to second base.

Who starts in center field?

Answer: Anthony Gose. He’s a more natural center fielder than is Cameron Maybin, who can swing easily from left to center depending upon matchups, injuries, players needing rest, etc. Gose also bats left-handed and that’s an important option to present against teams that have a majority of right-handed pitchers.

It isn’t clear that Maybin will get as many at-bats as the Tigers had envisioned. But that isn’t as important, at least to the Tigers, as having an excess of legitimate starters at Brad Ausmus’ disposal.