Jones doing best to make Tigers rethink Triple-A start

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Halfway through camp and the Tigers are still waiting for somebody to take charge of center field.

“We certainly haven’t made any decisions out there,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “And quite frankly, I haven’t even narrowed it down at this point. Just letting it play out, letting the guys get their at-bats.

“Unfortunately, you can’t control how much action they get in center field. You hope they get tested from time to time, but we’re not close to making any decisions.”

Tyler Collins, who initially was viewed as the left-handed hitting side of a potential platoon, has yet to play center field because of an early lat strain. He could be ready to play in the field this weekend.

Mikie Mahtook, expected to be the right-handed hitting side of the platoon, has started slowly at the plate and hasn’t gotten many chances to make plays in the field.

Rookie JaCoby Jones, though, has had chances and he’s looked comfortable. He made a difficult running catch in the game Monday, racing from left-center into right-center and catching the ball at his ankles.

“I’ve been impressed with JaCoby defensively,” Ausmus said. “He seems to have every good instincts out there. There’s not a lot of panic.”

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General manager Al Avila and Ausmus both believe Jones would be best served by some additional seasoning at Triple A Toledo. But they both said they were keeping their minds open. The opportunity was there for him to earn a roster spot this spring.

“In a perfect world, JJ gets a little more time,” Ausmus said. “He doesn’t want to hear that, I’m sure. But he could use more time.”

Jones has five hits in 15 at-bats thus far, so he’s out-hitting the other candidates, as well. Mahtook is 1 for 16, Collins 2 for 14 and Anthony Gose 3 for 12.

But the club has to consider Jones’ long-term development, as well as their immediate needs in center field.

“The other concern is, if you brought him up and there was a platoon situation and if he’s only going to play against left-handed pitching, are you stunting his growth even more,” Ausmus said. “We haven’t discussed it internally. Right now we’re just evaluating.”

Ausmus was asked if the club was still looking outside the organization for center-field help.

“I don’t know anything about looking outside the organization,” he said. “We’re basically concerned with what we have in-house. That doesn’t mean something couldn’t change. But right now, there is no impetus to go elsewhere.”