Miguel Cabrera's bat, Michael Fulmer's arm among 10 storylines to follow in Tigers camp 2.0
As the Detroit Tigers begin daily workouts for pitchers and catchers on Friday, and with the full squad hitting the field for the first time on Monday, there will be some sense of relief that baseball is back.
Well, sort of.
It’ll be BDP — no, that’s not a new advanced statistical metric — it’s baseball during a pandemic. As the world adjusts to a new normal amid COVID-19, pro sports are finding their way. For baseball, it’s a 60-game schedule starting July 23-24, with the season finishing as it normally would in late September.
That may be one of the few normal things in this shortened season.
Regular COVID testing. Temperature checks. No fans in the stands. Designated hitters in the National League. Automatic runners on second base to start extra innings.
It will all take some getting used to, and the journey begins with the Tigers making the first strides in the sprint of a season later this month. The Tigers will start with a 60-man player pool and whittle down to a 30-man squad when the season starts.
Here are 10 storylines to watch as Summer Camp begins at Comerica Park this weekend:
►COVID-era baseball: Players and staff will be tested every other day — and no one with a temperature above 100.4 degrees will be allowed into the ballpark. It’s a necessary precaution, and the Tigers will have an additional 30 players available on the taxi squad in Toledo in case there are positive tests or injuries once the season gets underway. How does baseball look and feel with no fans in the stands? If initial signs from the Korean league are any indication, it’ll take some getting used to. Instead of the dugouts, players will be in the stands, physically distanced, as will media.
►60-game schedule: It’ll be like a half-marathon when the season begins later this month, with 40 games against divisional rivals and the other 20 versus teams in the National League Central Division. It means starting pitchers will get 10-12 outings each, and they don't have much time to prepare them for an increase in innings and extended starts — and that puts more emphasis on the bullpens to pick up the slack.
►Taxi squad: With 30 players on the main squad, the other 30 will be on the taxi squad in Toledo, ready to join the main roster if there is an injury or a positive test. Many of the Tigers’ top prospects, including their cadre of young pitchers, likely will be on the taxi squad and could be summoned to play in Detroit, depending on how the season progresses. The taxi squad will play intrasquad games in Toledo, which will help the young players’ development.
►Young guns: The names are familiar: Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal. The young prized pitchers were slated to be at Triple-A Toledo this season, but if they end up on the taxi squad, the call could come at any time. They’ll be a central focus of the Summer Camp, and if any make the main squad, they could begin in relief roles. Even if they don’t, the intrasquad games will be a prime opportunity for them to gauge whether they’re ready to make the jump.
►Another starting option: Michael Fulmer, who has had surgery on his right knee and Tommy John surgery since he last pitched in 2018, has been medically cleared to resume full activity, including simulated games. He wasn’t initially slated to be ready for the start of the season, but with the delay due to the pandemic, he could be primed for a debut near the new opening day. With a shortened season, Fulmer could slide in nicely near the top of the starting rotation with Matthew Boyd and provide a needed boost, or be another bullpen arm.
►Bouncing back: Miguel Cabrera is 37 but he turned back the clock in the early part of spring training in Lakeland. In 32 at-bats he had three home runs and seven RBI, with a .345 batting average. Those are encouraging numbers, especially after posting just 12 home runs and 59 RBI last season. If Cabrera can stay healthy in the shortened season, his power and spark in the middle of the lineup will be a welcome return, as well.
►Spencer Torkelson: The No. 1 pick in this year’s draft signed his deal this week, and the Tigers placed him in the 60-man player pool. Although Torkelson is unlikely to make the main 30-man roster, getting some work with the taxi squad will be beneficial for him to see how things work in the big leagues. Getting some initial work at third base — his projected spot in the majors — will be fresh for him, as well.
►Closing questions: It seems clear that Joe Jimenez will be the closer, but beyond that, the spots in the bullpen could be a jumble. If Buck Farmer is the setup man, where do the other relievers slot in? There’s plenty of opportunity in Summer Camp for others to step into bigger roles, but given the shortened season and the three-batter rule, many relief situations will be handled differently than normal.
►Who’s on third? It would seem that the clubhouse leader in the race for the starting nod at third base is Jeimer Candelario, with Dawel Lugo not far behind. In 30 plate appearances in spring training, Candelario had two home runs and eight strikeouts; Lugo hit .238 in 21 plate appearances. On the fringes is 21-year-old Isaac Paredes, who played last season at Double-A Erie.
►Greene acres: Outfielder Riley Greene, the first-round pick in 2019, also made the 60-man roster. He won’t crack the outfield rotation, but much like Torkelson, he’ll get some good experience in dealing with the veterans.