National Harbor, Md. — It’s not exactly a clean slate.
Anthony Gose, who began the last two seasons as the Tigers’ starting center fielder but finished last year banished to Double A Erie, will be welcomed back this spring and given a chance to fight for his roster spot.
But, just as reliever Bruce Rondon had to do before last season, Gose will have to mend some fences and rebuild trust with the coaching staff and teammates.
“I've always liked Anthony,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He works his tail off, he really does — almost to a fault at times. I think if he can learn to back off and let the game come to him a little bit with his athleticism, he can be a big league everyday center fielder.
“Last year, it's over. It's water under the bridge.”
Adding intrigue to the situation, though, is the presence of Lloyd McClendon as the new Tigers’ hitting coach. McClendon managed Triple A Toledo last season and he and Gose engaged in a very public shouting match during a game.
Gose was immediately suspended and demoted to Double A Erie.
“Those kind of things happen in baseball where there are certain disagreements or certain people don't even get along,” Ausmus said. “Most of the time, media doesn't know about it. Guys just don't get along and they don't talk to each other. So that does happen.
“I don't think that would be the case here. I think Mac and Gose will be fine together. I think they will work together fine. I don't think there will be any issues. I know Mac will do everything he can to try to get the most out of him.”
Gose hit .254 with the Tigers in 2015, but fell into a horrible slump early last season and never recovered. He hit .209 in 30 games before being sent to Toledo – striking out 38 times in 101 plate appearances.
He hit .185 in Toledo and .209 in Erie. Combined in those stops, he fanned one out of every three at-bats (129 strikeouts in 379 plate appearances).
He, along with Tyler Collins and JaCoby Jones are the in-house candidates for the center field job. But one of general manager Al Avila top goals during the Winter Meetings is to find a affordable veteran.
“I think the smart thing for JaCoby (is to start the season at Toledo),” Ausmus said. “I think he could use a little more polishing... I think, in a perfect world, he could use a little more time. And really, at this point, (center field) is wide open. We have some candidates in-house, but it wouldn't shock me if they somehow go out of house.”
Anamoly or reality?
The metrics say J.D. Martinez was the worst fielding outfielder in the American League last season. According to FanGraphs, his defensive runs earned went from plus-4 to minus-22 and his zone rating went from plus-7 to minus-21.
Alarming. Martinez broke his right elbow crashing into the wall in Kansas City, but Ausmus doesn’t believe that was a factor.
“I don't think it was the injury,” he said. “I remember on a flight back towards the end of the season. J.D. and I were talking about that a little bit, and he knows. Quite frankly, I just think it was an off year for him defensively. I don't want to chalk it up to any more than that.
“It certainly wasn't lack of effort. He's always out there taking fly balls in batting practice and he cares about his defense ... I just think it was a down year. I expect him to return to the 2015 J.D. Martinez.
Eliminate the K
One point of emphasis going into spring training, Ausmus said, was for the hitters to have a better two-strike approach at the plate, especially those who aren’t going to slug 20-plus home runs.
“Honestly, the one thing I would like to see, I would like to see us strike out less,” Ausmus said. “I think certain guys that produce runs, drive in runs, you live with strikeouts. But I think we've got some other guys that can cut down on the strikeouts, and that will be a topic of discussion early on in camp.”
The Tigers struck out 1,303 times last season, sixth most in the American League.
“I've already talked to Mac (hitting coach Lloyd McClendon) about it, and he's on board,” Ausmus said. “We'll talk about it early on, probably the first day or two of spring training. Miguel Cabrera doesn't strike out that much. He has the ability to shorten up and go the other way with two strikes, especially with runners in scoring position.
“For me, other guys should be looking at that. Here is a guy that hits 35 homers, drives in a hundred and he still has the ability to shorten up.”
Ausmus understands the increased value placed on power these days and the impact it has on young players.
“Analytics helps the game tremendously,” he said. “It gives you insight and makes the team better. But now you're getting that trickle-up effect. Kids that have been reading about power and how important doubles and homers are analytically, well, they swing for the fences, and I think that's why there are more strikeouts.
“There is something to be said at times, especially for specific types of players, to putting the ball in play and put pressure on the defense.”
Rule 5 alive
The Tigers have the 20th pick in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday morning, and the Tigers have left an open spot on their 40-man roster in hopes a player they like is available.
“We are looking at it as, we will possibly be involved,” Avila said. “We don’t pick very high, so maybe a guy we target won’t get to us. If that’s the case, we don’t pick.”
The Tigers passed on their Rule 5 pick last year. If the Tigers do select a player, they would have to keep him on the active 25-man roster all season, or else send him back to his original team.
Ausmus said he expects either Anibal Sanchez or Mike Pelfrey, though perhaps not both, to begin spring training as a starter.
“I think initially, at least one of them would certainly be preparing as a starter,” he said. “Possibly both, depending on how things shake down. But to be honest with you, I called (pitching coach Rich) Dubee the other day on that particular topic, and we discussed it but we didn't make a final decision.”