Despite the lackluster 358 – 507 record since their last playoff appearance in 2014, there are many reasons to be excited about wearing “‘Ole English D” ballcaps in this upcoming 2021 season.
After a sudden retirement from former manager Ron Gardenhire, the Tigers made the decision on Oct. 31 to hire former Astros skipper A.J. Hinch. A 2017, World Series champion for the Houston Astros before serving a one-year ban from baseball due to a “sign-stealing” scandal during his time with the Astros.
YOUNG & UPBEAT TEAM
The Tigers new coaches will be tasked in turning a former 47 – 114 record ball club two years ago into the playoff powerhouse it was from 2011 – 2014. While the team may not have as much start-studded firepower as the previous teams, there is plenty of promising talent to lead this team from “rock bottom.”
Many of the Tigers’ hottest prospects made debuts late in the 2020 season, including MLB.com’s third highest overall pitcher Casey Mize, number two left-handed pitcher Tarik Skubal, and tenth ranked third baseman Isaac Paredes. While the rookies had their share of bumps in the road, the month of action certainly will help them coming into the 2021 campaign.
There are also many other prospects that have not seen the field on the big stage. Outfielder Riley Green, who was drafted fifth overall in 2019, has made noise by climbing up three levels to Class A’s West Michigan Whitecaps in his first season. Starting pitcher Matt Manning has progressed his way farther up the chain to the Double-A level with his improving pitch control. Last year’s number one overall pick Spencer Torkelson has shown his patience and power in instructional league and spring training games over the past six months.
“We’re going to keeping rolling him out there and getting him some experience.” Hinch said to MLB.com on Torkelson attending spring training.
To go along with these young prospects are the seasoned veterans and newly acquired free agents. While the starting rotation lost Jordan Zimmerman, Fetter gained former Marlins opening day starter Jose Urena to join Spencer Turnbull and Matthew Boyd in the starting rotation. Former silver-slugger catcher Wilson Ramos also signed a one year, two-million-dollar contract to rejuvenate his career behind the plate. The Tigers also bolstered their outfield depth by adding eight-year veteran Robbie Grossman from Oakland and former rookie sensation Nomar Mazara from the rival White Sox.
“I’m looking for a fresh start,” Mazara said to the media. “I’ve come to really appreciate coming to Detroit as a visiting player and can’t wait to join their baseball community this season.”
Rounding out the roster are the notable names who have solidified their spots in the starting lineup. This includes versatile upcoming star Niko Goodrum, who batted .321 and fielded perfectly at seven different positions in 2019. Upstart shortstop Willi Castro joins veterans Jeimer Candelario and Jonathan Schoop manning the infield. The outfield will also remain very young, including farm-system developmental players like Victor Reyes and Jacoby Jones. Rounding out Detroit’s roster is the fan-favorite, future hall of famer Miguel Cabrera, who will begin his 14th season with the Tigers likely as a designated hitter.
THREE THINGS TO EXPECT
After a COVID-impacted 2020 season, lots of fans are wondering what Detroit will be like in their first full season back since 2019. Here are three things that will likely change or be expected of the 2021 Tigers:
1. More media and television coverage
With the nature of Hinch’s past actions, many people will be interested in seeing him succeed or fail. Many fans and analysts will now be forced to stay up to date with Detroit Baseball to see the narrative play out. The Tigers have also reported that they will allow only 1,000 fans into Comerica Park to start the season in cooperation with statewide COVID-19 mandates and protocols. This means over 42,000 potential attendees will be forced to watch Detroit take the field from their living rooms this April instead of watching in person.
2. More emphasis on young player experience
One of the big reasons Hinch has been successful as an MLB manager is his ability to build young talent. When he originally started in Houston, Hinch was given a young team that seemed to have big potential. The problem was former manager, Bo Porter, did not really give many young guys a shot in the majors. Hinch changed this by calling up and constructing notable prospects to give the team a spark. Who were these prospects? Future 2017 World Series MVP George Springer, Former 2011 #1 overall pick and Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa, and upcoming 21-year-old All-Star Lance McCullers. With the load of talent on the Tigers roster, don’t be surprised to see major prospects like Matt Manning and Spencer Torkelson get their shot during 2021.
3. An urgency to win
It has been almost a decade since the Tigers’ juggernaut stretch with Jim Leyland. Since then, with former managers Brad Ausmus and Ron Gardenhire, the team has certainly inadvertently fell to inferiority. However, there is still hope. Owner Chris Ilitch and Al Avila knew there was a guy that once built a team from “rock bottom” to World Series Champions in two years: A.J. Hinch. With the recent team success of newly hired coaches like Fetter and Lombard, there will certainly be an urgency to turn the tables around. Could this mean more spending in the off-season? Fans will have to wait and find out.