Last season, to preview the upcoming summer we ran through the “key” to each player’s season. Rather than the keys to game you might see on a network like Fox, these keys weren’t “play better than the other team,” but rather, what aspect of their individual game you should be tracking early on.
Over the next couple weeks, I’ll go through the roster by position covering the thing I’m most interested in watching about each player as the season gets under way and then we’ll tie things together by breaking down the division rivals and club as a whole. Today, we’ll talk catchers and DH. (Read about the outfield and infield).
Avila is a polarizing player because while he does a lot of things really well, he does two “negative” things that a lot of people care about: He has a low batting average and a high strikeout rate. Those two flaws don’t mean anything on their own, as you can be a great hitter while doing both, even if Avila is more in the “solid” hitter arena. Certainly, for Avila to be a successful player, he needs to maintain his high walk rate, average power, and good defensive play. He should probably be a little less terrible about running the bases, but catchers gonna catcher.
His key is the health of his brain. The concussions are scary on a human level, but also very damaging to his current and future play. Baseball’s a sport about hand-eye coordination and millisecond decisions. If your brain is bruised, you’re going to suffer in more ways than one.
Avila doesn’t have to hit like he did in 2011 to be a super valuable player, he just needs to play 120 or 130 games at reasonably full strength. There will be bumps and bruises along the way due to the baseball magnet located where more people have an appendix, but in order to have a good season, he needs to be healthy. It’s as simple as that, even if you’re one of those people who stupidly looks only at a player’s batting average.
Holaday might spend a lot of time in AAA this year, but it’s hard to say given Ausmus’ strange coolness toward James McCann. Holaday isn’t a good major league player. His defense is passable, but it isn’t a plus. His bat is somewhere between below average and poor.
Holaday, in all honesty, just needs to avoid making big mistakes. It’s a silly thing to ask a professional to simply execute the most fundamental players, but Holaday isn’t going to be anything more than a weak backup. Maybe he could teach some other players to bunt?
McCann isn’t a sexy prospect, but he might also be exactly what the Tigers need. He’s a right-handed bat to compliment Avila and he’s not wholly dependent on one tool. He could fit in as a backup, platoon partner, or starter if need be. Is he going to be an above average major league regular in 2015? Very likely not, but it’s not out of the question if Avila had to be out for a long period of time.
McCann’s key for the year is crush lefties. We (well, everyone who isn’t the manager) knows McCann is a capable defender. He might not be superlative, but he’s not going to cause a lot of problems back there. His meal ticket will be his ability to produce offense on days when Avila sits and to prevent the other teams from going to their LOOGY when Avila comes to the plate.
He doesn’t need to hit lefties like Cabrera, but if going to a lefty is the same as Avila against a righty, there’s a huge improvement for the Tigers over last year’s club. And it’s not crazy to think he can get there. McCann needs to get good swings against lefties and the positive effects will cascade across the roster.
The throwaway answer is health, but that’s a given and we’ve already used that on Avila and Cabrera so let’s try something else. Martinez needs to avoid the trap of trying to match his 2014 production. It’s not going to happen. Martinez hit for an insane amount of power a year ago and if he tries to do the same thing on a recovering knee in 2015, his real talent might take a hit. That talent is the ability to make contact and line the ball around to all fields.
So early on, look to see if Victor is keeping his swing in line and not trying to overcompensate in the power department. The results might not come right away, but you want to see line drives to all fields and lots of contact. If the power is still here, great, but if he’s missing the center of the ball too often because he’s trying to hit it 400 feet, the Tigers will be in trouble.