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Ex- Rookie of the Year candidate Lough in near no-win spot

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
David Lough

Port St. Lucie, Fla. – He sat in the Detroit Tigers dugout before batting practice, wearing his cap low and his eyes shielded by sunglasses. You would’ve been hard-pressed to recognize him as the guy who got Rookie of the Year votes back in 2013 when he broke in with the Kansas City Royals.

“The number 70 on my back didn’t give it away?” said David Lough, with a smile.

There has been a lot written this offseason about the difficulty older players, particularly older center fielders, have had finding jobs. Michael Bourn didn’t get a big-league contract. Coco Crisp didn’t get a big-league contract. Austin Jackson, Peter Bourjos and Gregor Blanco signed minor-league deals.

Lough, 31, was caught in the trickle-down of that dried up free-agent market for outfielders.

“Yeah, the market was a little different than it’s been in the past,” he said. “You saw a lot of guys waiting until the very end to sign, hoping something would open up. It’s why I signed late and came here – even if it was on a minor-league deal.”

Lough, who has played parts of five seasons with the Royals, Orioles and Phillies, has a 4.2 career WAR and is considered a plus defender in center field, didn’t get an invite to big league camp.

He was among the seven players the Tigers brought over from their minor-league mini-camp Sunday to serve as extra bench players for the game here against the Mets. It’s a long way from where he was just a couple of years ago, when he hit .286 with a .724 OPS for the Royals in 2013.

“It’s a frustrating situation.” Lough said. “Ever since I left Kansas City (he was traded to the Orioles for Danny Valencia in 2014), I’ve always been profiled as being a fourth outfielder, and not being a regular, everyday player.

“And I want to prove to people I can be a regular, everyday guy. I want that opportunity. That’s what I am looking for.”

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He knew the Tigers had an opening in center field. He knew they liked the speed and energy Cameron Maybin provided last year and thought he could bring that, as well as a defensive upgrade in center.

But, he also knew he was coming in after they traded for Mikie Mahtook, and that Tyler Collins, rookie JaCoby Jones, Anthony Gose and non-roster invitees Alex Presley and Juan Perez were all fighting for the same job – and they are all in big-league camp.

So why did he elect to sign the minor-league deal? It was a Catch-22 situation, for sure.

“You kind of have to pick your poison at this point,” Lough said. “You can go to a young team, like I did last year with the Phillies. I did get up for a month and a half, but when I went back to Triple-A, I didn’t play very much. They wanted to let the younger guys play.

“And if you sign with a competing team, there’s no room at the big-league level. But if an injury happens, you can be the next guy called up. You just have to pick where you want to go.”

It can be a suffering business. If he starts the season at Toledo, most likely Jones, if he doesn’t win a spot, will get the majority of playing time in center.

“I still think this is a good opportunity,” Lough said. “There’s a battle for center field. I just want to come in and compete and try to turn some heads. It’s a new organization, but I think they know what type of player I am and what I bring to the table.

“I’m not in big-league camp, obviously, so making the team out of camp probably isn’t going to happen.”

What galls, though, is that in his heart, he believes he has the skills the Tigers are looking for in center field.

“Hopefully, at Triple-A I can prove that I can provide whatever they need – defense, speed on the base paths, get on base,” he said. “Those are the things they could use at the big-league level. I just want the chance to show what I can do and try to get back to the big leagues.

“It’s all about proving your worth at this point and knowing you can still play at the big-league level.”

Twitter @cmccosky