There’s a sense of urgency surrounding the 2015 Detroit Tigers. Detroit has one of the most talented rosters in baseball, but several key players have been underperforming. After being swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Divisional Series, Detroit made moves to infuse youth into its roster. By trading for outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, Detroit allowed 39-year-old Torii Hunter to leave via free agency. Detroit also added 24-year-old outfielder Anthony Gose, who should provide speed and defense in right field. Cespedes and Gose will be joined by Rajai Davis in the outfield. Detroit’s infield will be comprised of catcher Alex Avila, first baseman Miguel Cabrera, second baseman Ian Kinsler, shortstop Jose Iglesias, and third baseman Nick Castellanos. Here are five things to watch during Spring Training:
Storyline #1: Is Justin Verlander Healthy?
Verlander’s 2014 campaign was forgettable. Due to various injuries, Verlander was never able to find a rhythm and posted his worst numbers since 2008. Verlander’s strikeout total plummeted from 217 to 159 while his ERA increased from 3.46 to 4.54. Injuries may be to blame for Verlander’s struggles. Verlander underwent core muscle surgery during January of 2014 and suffered from shoulder fatigue in August. Verlander is a strikeout pitcher, so keep an eye on his velocity during Spring Training.
Storyline #2: Scherzer Watch
Max Scherzer is still a free agent. As long as he remains unsigned, he’ll be linked to Detroit. Scherzer turned down a six-year, $144 million contract extension last season, so there’s obvious interest from his former club. During 2014, Scherzer went 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA. He struck out 252 hitters over 220 innings. Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, is likely commanding top dollar, so Scherzer may not sign for a few more weeks.
Storyline #3: Victor Martinez: Due to Regress?
During an age-35 season, Victor Martinez had the best year of his career. Martinez posted career highs in hits (188) and home runs (32) to go along with a .335 batting average and 103 RBIs. This performance resulted in a new four-year, $68 million contract. While a regression seems likely, Martinez’s line drive rate, 21.3%, was a little better than his career average, which could hint some of the high average was due to hard hit balls rather than lucky blopp singles. Expect another solid season from Martinez.
Storyline #4: Can Castanellos Take Another Step?
Expectations are high for former first round pick Nick Castanellos. During his rookie season, Castanellos hit 11 home runs and drove in 66 runs over 533 at-bats. Castanellos did strikeout 140 times, but expect a better performance during 2015 as the 22-year-old makes adjustments during his second season.
Storyline #5: New Rivalry with Kansas City?
The Kansas City Royals are the reigning American League champions. Detroit, however, is the reigning American League Central champions. Kansas City and Detroit developed as fierce rivalry during September as the two teams jockeyed for position. Expect emotional battles between these two teams for supremacy.