The Guide to the 2014 Tigers: Keys To The Infield

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

A few days ago, I made the point that the Tigers outfield is more or less going to be about as good as it was last season. The Tigers infield might end up that way, but it’s an entirely different arrangement of players. My baseline estimate is that the unit will be about 10 to 60 runs better (1-6 wins) defensively, but that some of that value will be lost with a little less offensive oomph.

Over the winter, we looked at the state of the infield, but now it’s time to take a look at the most important thing to watch for with respect to each member of the group. Note: The bench will have its own post.

Miguel Cabrera

Um…health? He’s not a good defender or fast runner, but he’s moving back to a position for which he is more suited and he’s definitely established himself as the best hitter of the moment. He showed some signs of physical wear last season, and a recurrence of that would be the only thing to keep him from the top of most of the leaderboards. So yeah…what can you even say about Cabrera?

Ian Kinsler

Kinsler’s defensive is a little unsettled. It’s somewhere in between average to above average based on the tendency to mishandle the baseball on semi-routine plays. He’s a good runner and has solid range, so the question for Kinsler is going to be how he handles the transition to Comerica Park. When we evaluate players, we control for park effects, but there are some people who believe that Kinsler’s swing is specifically designed for Arlington’s dimensions and climate. We know that Kinsler is aging and won’t be a 5-7 win player like he was during his peak, but if the park factor isn’t a big issue, he’s going to be a very solid player for the Tigers. Personally, I’m not worried about the transition, but that’s probably the thing to watch here.

Jose Iglesias

Is he going to be an average player or a star? That question is going to be answered based on how well he can get on base. Most scouts and analysts see Iggy as a guy who can muster a .300 wOBA, but in 382 PA in 2013 it was all the way up at .327 thanks to a .356 BABIP. That’s the thing. Is he someone who can sustain an above average, line drive single kind of BABIP? He doesn’t walk much or hit for power (and he didn’t do that either in 2013), so his offensive value is based on the base hit. If he can’t keep that up, he’s a 2 win player. If he can, we might be looking at 3-4 wins thanks to that elite glove. So what we’ll be watching is how Iglesias responds to his first full season and how his approach looks and contact adapts to pitchers who learn more about him. We’ll also have to keep an eye on his shin splints, but those seem to be healing up right now.

Nick Castellanos

Castellanos has been the Tigers top position playing prospect for several years and look excellent in High A in 2012 and was one of the better hitters in AAA in 2013 despite being one of the youngest players at the level. He’s back at his more natural position, third base, but there are a lot of question. This series focuses on one key thing to watch, but I’ll give you two.

First, how does Nick’s footwork progress over the course of the season. From what I’ve seen and heard, his troubles on defense come from lateral movement rather than his hands or arm. He’s not going to be Longoria or Beltre, but if he can be just a few runs worse than average, things will be just fine. On offensive, you want to watch the whole production, but I’ll be curious to see how he adapts to better breaking stuff at the big league level. Nick has mastered the minor leagues, and has the tools to succeed in the show, but he’s had some swing and miss issues in his career and the degree to which he can handle the slider will say a lot about his 2014 impact.

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