It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching. Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside. Not in this space! Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch. There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper! If you want to keep up with the Tigers during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well. You can follow that here!
A funny thing happened on the way to the Tigers’ fifth straight losing season. They started to win. A strong second half pushed them into third place in the division and their best win total in five years. That, along with some really interesting prospects, has folks in Detroit with a spring in their step and a smile on their face. How will it all pan out? I asked some folks.
|Bless You Boys
|Detroit Jock City
|Motor City Bengals
C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about Detroit’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?
Trevor: The Tigers had a decent, albeit fun, season last year and that has propelled them to make moves that improve the roster significantly. They made three prior to the lockout bringing in Tucker Barnhart, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Javier Baez. I LOVE all of those. Baez comes with his share of warts, particularly strikeouts, but he is a gamechanger for a roster that was lacking as the shortstop position. His contract is a high number, but the opt-outs mean if he performs well in the short term then he could leave for a chance at a higher payday. I like that incentivization. Barnhart was basically free from the Reds, costing only under-performing prospect Nick Quintana. He’s perhaps my favorite move because of his abilities as a catcher and how that can help out a young pitching staff led by Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal. And of course it never hurts to add pitching, especially on a good contract. I was elated to get ERod in Detroit. There’s really not much to complain about in my eyes with how this offseason has gone.
Tyler: At the time of writing, the Detroit Tigers have grabbed a few impact players. Bringing in Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodríguez was a solid start for the organization to start really building this team into a contender. Rodríguez is going to be a model of consistency, but he is not the team’s ace, that’s going to be Casey Mize. On the other side of the ball, Báez is going to be equally exciting and frustrating in 2022. He’s someone who has been a real asset to the teams he has been on but also has negatives that drag him down. There are going to be weeks where he looks like an MVP-caliber player, and then other weeks where he is unable to hit a breaking ball and looks like he may need a trip to the minors. He’s a hot/cold type of player who brings a nice boost to the lineup since the team opted to avoid shelling out a mega deal to Carlos Correa. The team added Jacob Barnes on a non-roster invitee deal and I think he will stick around with the team, whether as a part of the big league club or the minors, he will end up playing a role with the team. I like Barnes’s pitch mix and think that the high-velocity arm he has should be something the Tigers can work with and possibly turn him into an asset for the team moving forward. I will say, I was not pleased with the team’s lack of moves in terms of adding pitching. The Tigers could have grabbed a better back-end starter on a cost-efficient deal, or a quality reliever to help the bullpen. It’s something the team will still have to address moving forward.
Roger: I like that Detroit was aggressive early on with the trade of Tucker Barnhart and signing both Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez before the lockout. The additions of Michael Pineda and Andrew Chafin were good as the Tigers really needed some more depth in the starting rotation and another lefty arm that provides a different arsenal than Gregory Soto. That is a good problem to have. Another thing I liked was the amount of minor league pitcher signings. It may sound like a small thing but the Tigers worked their magic with players like Drew Hutchison and Wily Peralta last season with a short-handed rotation and bullpen. Adding players really addressed their depth concerns.
The big elephant in the room of course is about Carlos Correa. Detroit made an offer, he didn’t accept it, and we move on. It’s that simple really. I wish they would of traded a few prospects for a top of the line starter that was out there. I wish they would of grabbed a veteran outfield bat that can hit for power because they still lack that beyond Grossman.
C70: The Tigers played over .500 ball in the second half last year. What do they need to carry over from that to make 2022 a good season?
Trevor: This is a fear of mine. The Tigers were a fun team and they’ve added talent. With top prospects like Spencer Torkelson and future superstar Riley Greene knocking on the door, it’s not a talent issue. There is a question of depth, particularly in the rotation and in the outfield. Robbie Grossman is solid enough for now, but the supporting outfield cast is risky. Rule 5 pick Akil Baddoo was fantastic last year, which was frankly surprising, and he earned the job to start 2022. I fear regression in him because his approached changed drastically in the second half of the year where he became more aggressive and less productive. Greene will hopefully plug into one of those spots and add some stability, but I’m not confident in who will anchor the third spot. As for the rotation, Spencer Turnbull will not be returning so between the three young guns and Rodriguez they have a good start, but the fifth starter spot is wide open and there aren’t too many arms vying for it. That means there won’t be a ton of depth if the injury bug comes knocking again. That’s a long winded way of saying the Tigers will still be fun and they should have no problem improving, but in this imperfect game if the wrong things happen then it could be a long season in Detroit. I’m optimistic that will not be the case.
Tyler: Looking at the 2022 season, the Detroit Tigers have to be a situationally and fundamentally sound team. Not the fundamentals like fielding a ground ball, that’s obvious. But the Tigers need to be able to get reliable outings from relievers. When A.J. Hinch takes the ball from the starter, there has to be some conviction with who is taking over, knowing this pitcher is going to get outs. On top of that, the Tigers were doing a good job of moving up runners by way of stolen bases, aggressive base-running, and playing good situational baseball. They are not a lineup with an extremely talented 3-4-5 stretch in the lineup, so scratching across runs however they can is going to be a crucial thing for this Tigers team. In 2022, they have to carry over that strong finish they had, continue to have pitchers execute and produce quality starts, and continue to build some momentum. It feels like momentum is going to be huge for this team. Playing quality baseball is going to translate to wins and stacking up some wins will allow the Tigers to build some momentum early in the 2022 season.
Roger: A healthy starting rotation and for their young pitchers like Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize to take another step forward. Skubal’s stuff is so good but he lead the league in home runs allowed last season. If he can get away from that, and his game grows, he will be one of the most feared lefties in the American League. If the bullpen can build off their 2nd half, they might have one of the better ones in the division.
C70: It’s Michael Fulmer’s last year before free agency. Is there going to be a push to extend him before he gets there?
Trevor: There should be, but if people haven’t paid attention this is not the same Michael Fulmer that was catching headlines as a rookie. Injuries, poor performances, and little patience from us fans were calling for Fulmer’s head not that long ago. But then a move to the bullpen changed the whole perspective. He’s a legitimate backend bullpen arm right now and will pair nicely with Gregory Soto as a two-headed monster shutting things down late in games. They shouldn’t let him walk because he is adding so much value now in a way he simply was not prior to 2021.
Tyler: This is a really good question because I think there are two distinct possibilities for Fulmer. While he entered the league as a starter and looked like he was destined to be an ace of this Detroit Tigers pitching staff. Injuries curbed those hopes and have made things interesting. In 2021, Fulmer got a taste of being a closer, and also a long reliever, something that honestly worked out pretty well. While he was not destined to be a closer, it seems like the Tigers could trot him out there and see what he can do. If Fulmer does wind up closing games for the Tigers, I’d expect a push to extend him and keep him around. Especially if they can do it at a bargain price, locking down their new closer. That hinges on him having success in the role. If it’s another year of Fulmer bouncing around between long relief, late-game, and spot start roles, it feels like the Tigers may start trying to feel out trade possibilities for Fulmer. If the Tigers were able to recoup anything of value, moving Fulmer to a team in need of an extra arm or bullpen depth, then pulling the trigger on a trade should not be ruled out.
Roger: That’s a tough question to answer but as far as what I have seen or heard, there has been no indication as of yet.
C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?
Trevor: Riley Greene. Hands down. That’s not anything negative about Spencer Torkelson because he’s extremely good in his own right, but Greene is a different animal. He can do just about everything, but his bat stands out to me. His hands are so good not only in terms of hand-eye-coordination, but also being able to adjust to offspeed and cover the zone. He is a Major League hitter in the making. His strikeout rates were high, but I’m convinced that will change. He was extremely young at the Triple-A level and his swing decisions are what led to the strikeouts more so than swing and miss. He is a special player and I wrote in depth about why recently.
Tyler: Spencer Torkelson. While Riley Greene is going to be an incredibly talented player and is one that I looking forward to watching, Torkelson takes the cake. After all, he was the first overall pick in 2020 and the tools he has are going to excite any Detroit Tigers fan. Torkelson’s abilities in the batters’ box is what I am most excited to see and it sounds like that may be happening in 2022 from the looks of it. It seems like Torkelson may be able to break camp with the team but if not, will likely join the team in Detroit soon after.
Roger: Riley Greene. He is the most exciting positional player I have seen throughout his journey in the minor leagues. He is always making adjustments, can hit into the gaps well and has great instincts in the outfield. He has such a sweet swing.
C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?
Trevor: Like it or not Detroit is fun right now. The large Cardinal fan following that C70 has earned will not like seeing Baez, but I recommend just watching a game or two. They will be fun. With that being said they aren’t poised to win a championship this year. The rebuild is on the downturn…hopefully…and with extended playoffs they Tigers might just squeak in. The White Sox are too tough right now for any real chance at the division, but if everything shakes out in just the right way they could find themselves second in the division. More than likely, though, I would anticipate them fighting for third place in the NL Central this year with continued improvement from a season ago.
Tyler: Similar to 2021, but better. That’s the short answer. I think that the 2022 season is going to allow the Detroit Tigers the opportunity to push into more of a contender role, but I am not sure they are going to battle the Chicago White Sox for the top of the division. The Tigers finished third in the division in 2021 with a 77-85 record. In 2022, I would expect the team to be in second or third once again, but I think they have a shot to crack the .500 mark or be a little over that. It’s an improvement, one that will move them further into a window of competition, but I think there’s still another year of missing the playoffs before the team truly contends.
Roger: If everything goes right, I think they will be in the playoff hunt or at least a game or two above .500.
C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good Tigers Twitter accounts to follow.
Trevor: First of all, thank you C70 for letting me take part. (Hopefully this is a copy and paste and that doesn’t get cut.) I also want to use my pull with you to give an extra that belong to a group. The site I write for @BlessYouBoys is a great follow, as are the writers that aren’t me. @RogcastBaseball is phenomenal as is his work with @TigersMLreport and their writers. And finally one of my favorites who does Locked On Tigers is my friend @BentleyScotty. The beat writers are fantastic too.