Lynn Henning’s best and worst from the 2017 Tigers

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Ian Kinsler

Lynn Henning of The Detroit News breaks down the best, worst and more from the Detroit Tigers during the 2017 season:

Player of the year: Ian Kinsler. No one played his position with steadier fire, no one performed more persistently, no Tigers player in 2017 more personified the professional baseball player than Kinsler. His batting average (.236) was a quarter-mile beneath his career number (.273), but he hit 22 home runs and ran the bases, if sometimes overly boldly, with the same raging fire he daily brings to a big-league baseball game. He never lets up. He never lets down. An easy pick for the Tigers’ top honor.

Pitcher of the year: Michael Fulmer. He lost September to nerve-transfer surgery but still ranked as the Tigers’ best and most consistent pitcher once Justin Verlander was shipped to the Astros. Next year he’ll become the Tigers’ ace and near-certain Opening Day pitcher. At age 24, Fulmer already sits as one of baseball’s best right-handed masters. It’s debatable that he’ll stick in Detroit for the long term when his trade value will be tough for a rebuilding team to ignore. But he sits today as a cornerstone starter whose skill-set could someday win a Cy Young Award.

Reliever of the year: Shane Greene. This would have been Justin Wilson’s prize had he not been so alluring at midseason that the Cubs paid a steep price to pry him from Detroit. Greene moved into the closer’s slot and showed it fits a man with the blood and psyche to handle ninth innings. He wasn’t as automatic as Wilson had been, but the ferocity of his pitches tends to shut down good hitters. The Tigers went, seemingly, for years without a put-away closer. This year they had two.

Jeimer Candelario

Rookie of the year: Jeimer Candelario. He was one of the prizes, along with 18-year-old Isaac Paredes, in July’s trade that sent Wilson and Alex Avila to the Cubs. The Tigers got in Candelario a switch-hitter with power who swings as naturally from one side of the plate as the other. Defensively, the Tigers have an adequate third baseman whose September throwing issues figure to fade as a 23-year-old man settles into regular work next season. How he’ll fare in 2018 is pure guesswork. But his pedigree and early displays in Detroit should make him one of next season’s more intriguing Tigers players.

Biggest surprise, position player: Mikie Mahtook. Good scouting by the Tigers, who gambled they could find a center fielder more cost friendly and with better all-around pluses than they had with Cameron Maybin. Mahtook was a one-time first-round pick by the Rays and had shown early in his time with Tampa Bay that he could rip a pitch and hunt down much of which was hit to center field and surrounding alleys. He was hurt in 2016 (fractured hand) and was headed for 2017 with nowhere to play on a team that featured Kevin Kiermaier in center. The Tigers brought him aboard and watched Mahtook develop into one of their safer lineup standbys.

Biggest surprise, pitcher: Anibal Sanchez. A winner here by default on a staff that had no real breakthroughs. Sanchez was such a mess early this spring it looked as if the Tigers would hand him a $21-million severance check and bid him farewell. He instead decided a man who had just turned 33 still had pitching life that might be resurrected by a stint at Triple A Toledo. Sanchez was right. His numbers were hardly great, but he finished the year strong and became, on a ravaged staff, a starter who could, in context, be trusted.

Best job relocation: Nick Castellanos. It’s still unclear why, at age 25, Castellanos’ defense – and arm – at third base regressed in 2017. But it no longer matters. Once the Tigers latched onto Candelario as a stand-in at third, Castellanos was free for a tryout in right field, which he had played for a while during his minor-league days. From his first game in Toronto in early September the move worked. Castellanos was noticeably relaxed in right field. He handled everything pretty much in optimum fashion for a player who was readjusting to a new/old position. Moreover, his bat turned into a September lightning show. One of the true pluses from a somber season. Castellanos’ hitting skills are such that he should have his best-ever year in 2018 as he becomes even more stable in right.

Biggest disappointment, position player: Jose Iglesias. There are no obvious candidates here, although Iglesias comes closest to qualifying. He hit .255, which wasn’t by itself an indictment. The problem has been that on-base average: .289 in 2017. It’s one of the reasons why the Tigers, if they can’t deal him before December, are almost certain to not offer him a contract in 2018. Iglesias’ salary in 2017 was $4.1 million. Given that he’ll get an arbitration-level raise, the Tigers, who are still way past any sensible payroll numbers, almost surely will take their chances next year with Dixon Machado.

Daniel Norris

Biggest disappointment, starting pitcher: Daniel Norris. The caveat here is Norris could be, alongside Fulmer, next year’s rotation star. He looked last week as if a process that for Norris has been protracted, to say the least, is moving closer to making sense. Remember that he is all of 24. He gets all the time necessary. But his talent and pitches are of significant height. And that usually wins out over the long haul.

Biggest disappointment, relief pitcher: Alex Wilson. This probably was a simple case of being worn out. Wilson was saddled up so often (66 games) in 2017 he must have longed for a corral with green grass and nobody bothering him for at least two consecutive days. But his ERA and WHIP took a bashing this season, coming home at 4.50 and 1.37. Next season doesn’t figure to be easy on anyone, particularly a reliever. If the Tigers can crank back his outings even a tad, he, and they, should benefit.

JaCoby Jones

Talent that most tantalizes: JaCoby Jones. Oh, if this lad can hit even .200, the Tigers have a plus player in center field. His range is awesome. He could finish with an all-time Tigers high in defensive runs saved if he can somehow get that bat to cooperate and play a full season in center. But that’s wishing for a lot. He simply must make more contact. If he can, with that ability to romp across Comerica Park’s savannahs, he could be worth gold. Especially when he also has power.

Most likely comeback player in 2018: Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers’ medical masters believe an offseason plan designed to realign his back issues will make all the difference. Long-observed commandment in following these matters: Listen to the doctors. Cabrera is only 34. Forget not that a man named David Ortiz retired a year ago at 40 and was still slashing. Cabrera has the capacity to do the same. His fire and pride are immense. Expect him to make a Cabrera-grade recovery.