Detroit Tigers fans have been asked to show extreme patience while the organization rebuilds its baseball team from the farm system all the way to the big-league club. Will the 2021 Detroit Tigers be any better?
Consistent in Losing
The Tigers have been remarkably consistent over the past four seasons. Too bad it’s been in losing. The team posted winning percentages of .395, .395, and .397 in three of those seasons. They bottomed out in 2019 with a paltry winning percentage of .292.
There have not been not a lot of great highlights the past few seasons. However, the team did hang around early last season. They were one of baseball’s best surprises — at least for the first 33 games. The team had a winning record and was certainly in the mix for an AL wild card spot. Isaac Paredes hit a grand slam for the first major league home run of his career. That gave Tiger fans hope that he could be a bright spot in the near future.
September 2020 Downfall
When September rolled around the Tigers decided it was time to call up many of their top prospects to gain some MLB experience. They won six of their final 25 games, finishing with the third worst record in the league. It certainly was not the ending they hoped for. On September 19, Ron Gardenhire announced his immediate retirement as a manager due to health concerns.
Manager and Pitching Coach
Less than 30 minutes after AJ Hinch had his season-long suspension from Major League Baseball end, he was contacted by the Tigers. He was named named their 39th manager 72 hours later.
Hinch brings winning experience. The great communication he has with his players and his advanced methods of managing a game will have a big impact on the entire organization.
New pitching coach Chris Fetter is from the University of Michigan. He knows Hinch him from when they were in the San Diego Padres organization together. He likes to highlight what pitchers’ strengths are and communicate that to them.
Pitching could be worrisome, though Matthew Boyd, named the Opening Day starter, should be better than he was in 2020. It will be exciting to see what Tarik Skubal can do. He has impressed the organization with his confidence and self-control on the mound. The lefthander is one of their top pitchers in the organization.
The Tigers are considering using a six-man rotation for at least some of this season as they return to a normal schedule with a pitching staff. More pitchers will be brought up and optioned throughout the season, since replacement arms will be needed from week to week.
Whether it is a five- or six-man rotation, the pitching staff has to improve over last year when they finished last with a 5.63 ERA and fourth with the most home runs given up.
Right now, it appears that the starters will be Boyd, Skubal, Casey Mize, Julio Teheran, and José Ureña. As of this posting, Michael Fulmer appears to be bullpen bound.
It needs to be noted that as of this writing Spencer Turnbull, whose absence from camp (placed on the COVID-19 IL), puts his status in question. He could miss the first few weeks of the regular season.
The Tigers feel they have found a few good arms for their bullpen. These guys will end up pitching a significant number of innings in relief. They have right-handers Jose Cisnero, Buck Farmer, Bryan Garcia and Fulmer along with left-handers Tyler Alexander, Daniel Norris, and Gregory Soto. Veteran southpaw Derek Holland will make the team providing experience and leadership.
Soto will start as the closer but the Tigers could utilize “bullpen-by-committee” throughout the season.
Some Veterans for 2021
Hinch has his work cut out for him this year. Luckily he has some talent to work with.
Outfielder Robbie Grossman could be the “spark plug” this team needs on offense. The 31-year-old signed a two-year deal to play for the Tigers. Although he is only a .252 hitter, he finds a way to get on base. He walks a lot and has good bat speed from both sides of the plate. Grossman had the highest slugging percentage of his career last year and has the potential to prove he was a good signing.
First baseman Miguel Cabrera is a leader and guys look up to him. However, last year he had the second lowest batting average of his career at .250. The soon-to-be-38-year-old has said during Spring Training 2021 that he is feeling good and his legs are strong. If Cabrera still can hit in the .280 range with some power and drive in 70-80 runs, it will be a bonus for this offense.
Second baseman Jonathan Schoop returns after agreeing to a one-year contract. In the abbreviated 2020 season, he hit .278 with eight home runs. In the four previous season he hit at least 21 home runs. He has made a tremendous impression on his teammates everywhere he has played not only with his on-field results, but also his leadership and relentless desire to be in the lineup day in and day out.
Offense for 2021
The 2021 Detroit Tigers offense has the potential for some breakout performers, but the concern here is the “free swingers.” Top priority is improved plate discipline. They ranked 28th in the majors in OBP (.303) in 2020 and had the second-highest rate (34.4%) of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. Their overall team batting (.245) ranked 15th. They were also 23rd in homeruns and sixth in strikeouts.
Hitting Coach Scott Coolbaugh will have to work regularly with the whole team to get them to improve and be able to get these hitters back on track during a hitting slump.
It has taken longer than the Tiger fans have wanted, but they are starting to see good things. Their farm system has been ranked as high as number five and pitching help is on the way. Mize and Skubal are already on the roster. They also have Joey Wentz and Matt Manning who could be the first pitchers brought up to the club very early in the 2021 season.
They also have a promising crop of young hitters, with Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson, that could move faster than originally thought.
Greene is only 20 and actually spent time in spring training. He went 3-for-18 with a double, two runs, and five walks. He will most likely be AA this season.
Considered the third-best prospect in all of baseball, Torkelson was drafted number one overall last year from Arizona State. He can play both first and third base. A finger injury early in spring training limited him from showcasing what he can do.
He will open the 2021 campaign at the team’s alternate training site, but could find his way to the big leagues later this season. He possesses real power-hitter potential in addition to solid plate skills. In the near future, he could be a true middle-of-the-order force.
Outlook for the 2021 Detroit Tigers
This season will be fun but could also be disappointing! It’s a good bet that the Tigers will have losing streaks of five or more games during the season. They will struggle with hitting and pitching at the same time. However, if you are a true Tigers fan, try to not pay too much attention to this season’s win-loss column and focus on the development of players.
Hinch is a good manager with an exceptional coaching staff. They have some young players to watch. The team is building a foundation. The ceiling is starting to get raised, and hopefully soon you will be seeing a winning team.
It just may not be this season.
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Isaac Paredes, Ron Gardenhire, AJ Hinch, Chris Fetter, Matthew Boyd, Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, Julio Teheran, José Ureña, Michael Fulmer, Spencer Turnbull, Buck Farmer, Bryan Garcia, Tyler Alexander, Daniel Norris, Gregory Soto, Derek Holland, Robbie Grossman, Miguel Cabrera, Jonathan Schoop, Scott Coolbaugh