Playing Pepper 2021: Detroit Tigers

Opening Day is just around the corner (knock on wood after 2020, of course) and as such, that means it’s time for everyone’s favorite post series!  OK, maybe second favorite after Top Cards on Twitter.  It’s Playing Pepper!  Year 13 of our intrepid series finds us, as always, asking questions of bloggers (both former and current) of other teams, seeing how they view the upcoming season.   I think it’s a solid way of getting a handle on MLB as a whole.  So get your bats and ignore that sign on the fence–let’s play some pepper!

Detroit Tigers
23-35, fifth in the AL Central
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper

The Tigers finished the closest they have been to first since 2016.  Sure, that was probably in part because the season was only 60 games, but it’s something and a definite step up from 2019 when the team lost 114 games.  There were a lot of prospects that got a chance to put on the major league uniform as well.  Does this mean that the Tigers are about to roar?  Let’s find out!

Blogger Site Twitter
Roger Castillo Motor City Bengals rogcastbaseball
Tyler Kotila Detroit Jock City tyler_kotila

C70: Baseball in 2020 was like nothing we’ve ever seen before. What are your thoughts on that season? Did you like the rule changes? How was following baseball the same or different during the pandemic?

Roger: Writing about the 2020 season for Motor City Bengals was quite the challenge. There were no minor leagues to discuss and seeing the draft picks for the Tigers lose a year of growth I think to a degree hurts the team. However, Jeimer Candelario, who was fighting for his job heading into spring training really came into his own last year. The emergence of Gregory Soto out of the bullpen and Willi Castro made the Tigers very entertaining. To be near .500 heading in September was fun, considering the last few seasons of watching the team spin its heels.

As far as the rule changes, I like the DH in both leagues but the seven inning double headers feels like little league baseball to me. But I understood that was needed but the fact they are bringing it back, I think that is ridiculous.

Tyler: I think the season was very different, but I also think the fact that the season was played was crucial for the game. Overall the season was smooth in the sense that the teams were able to play games, and even with a COVID-19 impact that kept some teams off the field, the league worked around it, and it allowed for everyone to play out the season. When it comes to rule changes, I was okay with them, including the universal DH, which is something that can be highly contested with some. I felt like sending pitchers up there to stand there and watch three pitches, maybe offer at one, or execute sacrifice bunt is annoying. Yes, some pitchers can hit, but teams should still have the option to let the pitcher hit if they so choose. It was definitely different in 2020 not to be able to go to the ballpark and catch a game, observe players, and take in baseball in the simple sense. When it comes to the following baseball, I think there was a heavy reliance on social media. As a college student who watches games through’s services, it was pretty clutch to be able to throw four games up at once if I wanted to and take in action. But following the games throughout the season definitely meant I had to be more reliant on the media since in-person opportunities were so few and far between.

C70: The Tigers signed a couple of players out of the NL East in Jose Urena and Wilson Ramos. Which one are you the most excited about?

Roger: Jose Urena. He has a good arm on him and he worked with Tigers assistant pitching coach Juan Nieves down in Miami so I am interested to see if he can be an effective pitcher either as a starter or a reliever.

Tyler: When it comes to the new additions, Wilson Ramos is the one I am most excited about. A veteran catcher who has found a way to be “consistent” at the plate. Ramos is a guy that the Tigers can rely on to log a bunch of innings behind the dish in 2021. Beyond that, they can expect Ramos to work with the younger guys to hopefully help foster development. Not to mention, Ramos is going to bring some pop to the Tigers lineup, maybe not so much in Comerica Park, but even there has not been much pop from the Tigers catcher’s in recent years anyways. I like what Ramos brings to the table; on a rebuilding team that has not an immediate solution to their future catcher, Ramos is a good fit. While Dillon Dingler is the future backstop I am most hopeful for, he is far from catching in an MLB game. So, when it comes to offseason additions from the NL East, give me Ramos over Ureña all day. My quick two cents on Ureña is that he could be a great addition, but I am not sold yet. After an injury to his pitching arm that ended his season, I have not been the biggest fan since day one. If he turns some heads and proves he truly is 100% healthy and can lock down a spot in the rotation, great; if not, then no harm, no foul, it’s a one-year deal. But when it comes to the two, I think Ramos is the better addition.

C70: Detroit hasn’t finished over .500 since 2016. Do you believe there’s a plan in place to get them there and when could it come to fruition if so?

Roger: The Tigers have a top heavy farm system and with AJ Hinch‘s experience and who they are bringing in on the front office side, it seems like it is coming together. Their last two drafts have shown a change in strategy and I think its for the better. They are trying to develop from within. I think they are still about three years away before they are in playoff contention, though, once the rest of Miguel Cabrera‘s contract comes off the books.

Tyler: The Tigers have been a tough baseball team to watch the past few years. The end is in sight; the issue is that it is still a good distance out on the horizon. I think that the Tigers can surely translate into their “window” of the competition once again, but they are not there yet, and they still have a ways to go. There is definitely the roadwork of a plan to get there. The Tigers front office has building blocks that they are piecing together to see if they can get back to that winning culture; it’s a matter of piecing it together and then figuring out where the missing pieces are. With a pitching heavy minor league core that has been evened out a bit in the last few drafts, the Tigers organization is trying to set themselves up for the future; that is evident. As to when that plan comes into fruition, I would say 2023 is when the team is a capable and competitive ballclub once again. Being very optimistic would be saying next year for sure. However, I think there are going to be some changes to be ironed out. So, in all likelihood, I think the organization will have things figured out and be moving in the right direction in terms of wins by the 2023 season. By that point, I would expect to be seeing the “Bash Brothers” of Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson getting their looks in the Tigers lineup. By 2023, the hope should be the team should be around the .500 mark if they have not crossed it by that point.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on this team this year?

Roger: It is a tough question because it really depends on where we see Riley Greene or Spencer Torkelson ends up but I think among players who have not made their debut, I would go with Greene. If he can get off to a fast start, I could see him making an impact or if Matt Manning gets his mechanics settled down in Triple-A. The Tigers need pitching and the likes of Manning or Franklin Perez to hopefully provide some meaningful innings if they do not sign a veteran starter this season.

Tyler: This might be taking the cheap way out, but Akil Baddoo. He was selected in the Rule-5 Draft this past winter and has to stay on the 26-man roster for the duration of the 2021 season to be kept around. However, he has not played in the big leagues during his career. I was not super high on the kid after he was selected, but it seems like the kid could forge a role with this team. Similar to Victor Reyes‘ first year, Baddoo is going to be “forced” into games. He will be the go-to outfield defensive replacement, pinch hitter, and pinch-runner for A.J. Hinch. The thing that intrigues me with Baddoo is that he appears to have a swing capable of producing some power. Whether that means he can be a corner outfielder with some pop or not is still in question. But if he can use this year to grow and see some pitches at the big league level, there should be a chance for him to make a big stride in development. Even if the power numbers do not grow in terms of home runs, I would like to see him play to the Comerica Park layout and try to take advantage of that right-center graveyard to try and leg out some extra-base hits. So while it may be a cop-out to say Baddoo will impact the team in 2021, I think that he deserves a look as someone who might impact the team in a quieter fashion. 

C70: What is your expectation for this team this coming season?

Roger: My expectations are around 65, maybe 70 wins if they are lucky. I like how they addressed the need to hit against right-handed pitching with the signings of Nomar Mazara and Robbie Grossman. Grossman was to me, an underrated signing. He draws walks and the changes to his swing for more power showed last year. I expect the young core of Tigers prospects like Manning, Mize and Skubal to take a step forward.

Tyler: My expectation is simple: development, growth, and process. I hope to see the Tigers make strides in 2021. I have zero expectations of their win-loss record to change drastically, though losing less than 100 games would be more than ideal. I think on a player-by-player basis, there should be an expectation of growth and development from the younger guys. Obviously, with the veteran players, it is clear what the Tigers are going to get from them, but for the young guys, growth will be key. When it comes to the other word I mentioned, process, the Tigers need to just go through each game, making sure they are executing the fundamentals and doing what they can to further their development. I would not expect a drastic change, a 65-70 win season would be more than reasonable hope. A.J. Hinch has made it clear that he is not expecting to come in here and be .500 in 2021, but showing improvements in the win-loss column would be a product of the team executing the little things and going through the process.

C70: Overall, what sort of grade would you give this organization and why?

Roger: Overall, a C+. I say C+ because GM Al Avila has done good with the returns he got in the Justin Wilson deal to the Cubs with Isaac Paredes and Jeimer Candelario. On the flip side, the return on the JD Martinez trade provided nothing in return. The day we can see the Tigers have their player development show some more results, then I will give him a higher grade. They need some more consistency and better luck on free agent signings.

Tyler: Honestly, when I think of a grade, I want to give them an “F,” but it is hard to do that when it is widely understood that the team is going to be bad. So, given the rebuild and knowing that this team is going to need to continue to push through a rebuild, I would say a “C” is a very fair grade. My reasoning is pretty simple, Al Avila’s drafting has been impeccable lately, and it has helped the organization’s future grow immensely. Expect good things from the draft again in 2021, which will help the Tigers set their future up even more. But, even with a low-set bar, the product is pretty bad when it comes to on-field production. Prospects are still developing, and that takes time, but even some of the veterans have lagged or struggled, which leads me to drag down this grade a little bit. I would give them a “C”, recognizing that they are in the rebuild and are not going to be posting the most competitive type of results.

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