Analyzing Detroit Tigers Hitters For 2020
The Detroit Tigers had a rough go of things in 2020, ranking in the bottom five in nearly every offensive category. There are very few impactful pieces on this team, but there is some value to be had. I’m doing to do my darnedest to help you find it by covering every Tiger who might have relevance in a 15-team league (and I’m using that classification pretty loosely, in this case).
Their roster has a lot of moving parts and will likely look a bit different from day to day as players shuffle to and from the minor leagues and the IL, and at this time, it’s unlikely that any Tiger will be all that relevant in your leagues. In fact, you may do an entire 12-team draft with no Tigers hitters being selected (which is actually what happened during a 12-team auction in which I took part).
We will have other articles covering the starting rotation, bullpen, and prospects, so sit back, relax, and enjoy our 2020 previews!
(Last Updated: Nov. 4, 2019)
- ADDITIONS: None (yet)
- SUBTRACTIONS: Jordy Mercer (SS), Josh Harrison (2B), Gordon Beckham (2B/SS)
Jake Rogers (C | Batting 9th)
2019: 11 R, 4 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, .125/.222/.259 | C #110 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Not drafted
Let’s be perfectly honest here: Jake Rogers was never going to wow folks with his bat. He’s an excellent defender behind the dish, and when you combine that with slightly above-average plate discipline and a modicum of power, you have yourself a major league catcher. He started the season in Double-A, where he hit quite well over 28 games (.302/.429/.535) , but he wasn’t able to carry much of that success into Triple-A or the majors. Assuming the Tigers don’t sign some veteran backstop (such as their former catcher Alex Avila, who happens to be the GM’s son), Rogers will likely split catching duties with Grayson Greiner. I could just have easily made this blurb about him; however, the Tigers are likely more interested in Rogers as their backstop of the future thanks to his defense, and it’s not like Greiner’s bat is a whole lot better (.202/.251/.308 in 58 games). Both Rogers and Greiner are right-handed, so there’s no clear platoon either. It’s extremely unlikely that any Tigers catcher provides any value outside the deepest of AL-only leagues, and even then, their primary value will be that they eat innings and maybe take a few walks.
Strengths: BB% (but not OBP)
Weaknesses: Basically everything else
Rogers wins the lion’s share of catching duties and cuts his strikeout rate closer to 30%, allowing him to hit .220/.330/.400, which is almost serviceable as a second catcher.
Rogers splits time down the middle (or worse) with Greiner, hits below .200, and you forget he exists.
2020 Projection: 35 R, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 0 SB, .200/.300/.350
Miguel Cabrera (1B/DH | Batting 3rd)
2019: 41 R, 12 HR, 59 RBI, 0 SB, .282/.346/.398 | 1B #40 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: ADP 369 (1B #39)
I unabashedly love Miggy. I’m a Tigers fan, and everything about him is great. You’d be hard-pressed to find another person who loves playing baseball as much as future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. That being said, it’s obvious we are witnessing the twilight of his illustrious career. Because of injuries, he’s hit more than 18 home runs just once in the past five seasons. He has a cumulative ISO of just .134 over the past three years, and all of his batted-ball metrics (including Statcast) show continued degradation in the quality of his contact. While the once-prodigious power is more or less dried up, there’s still some value to be found in the aging first baseman’s bat. Miggy still has excellent contact ability at age 36, as evidenced by his sub-20% strikeout rate and .282 batting average, and he still excels against left-handed pitching, slashing .340/.414/.557 against lefties in 2019. Heading into 2020, you simply can’t draft him as a starting first baseman, and if you take him as a corner infielder, you probably do so knowing you’ll need to fill in some injury gaps and possibly platoon him. In the right context, though, Cabrera has some decent value in daily leagues if you’re in need of late batting average in the draft and have the depth to use him in a platoon against lefties. It’s probably not a viable play in 10- or 12-team leagues because of the depth of the waiver wire, but 15-team managers could probably do a lot worse than to use a bench spot on him. Oh, and fun/surprising fact: Cabrera was the only Tiger to qualify for a batting title in 2019. Hurray, Miggy!
Strengths: AVG, OBP
Weaknesses: R, HR, SB
He plays 140 games and stays relatively healthy, allowing him to hit 20 home runs, rack up 75-80 RBI, and hit .290.
Cabrera deals with nagging injuries again and puts up a similar season to 2019, except the walk rate and strikeout rate continue to trend in the wrong direction.
2020 Projection: 60 R, 15 HR, 65 RBI, 0 SB, .285/.345/.410.
Niko Goodrum (2B/SS/OF | Batting 4th)
2019: 61 R, 12 HR, 45 RBI, 12 SB, .248/.332/.421 | 2B #38 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: ADP 357 (2B #41)
Niko Goodrum only played 112 games because of injuries in 2019, but the former Rule 5 pick continues to show his versatility for the Tigers, playing all over the infield and outfield while flashing some power and speed with acceptable plate discipline. Assuming Goodrum can stay healthy, he’s an everyday player who probably has the highest fantasy ceiling on the team because of his ability to hit 15 or more home runs and steal 15 or more bases. His multi-position eligibility (in Yahoo leagues, he should be eligible at first base) adds a bit of utility as well in deeper leagues or leagues with limited bench spots or waiver adds, though it’s not enough to make him a top-250 player or anything. Thanks to his somewhat elevated walk rate, Goodrum is a little less of a ratio drag in OBP leagues, though he’s not a positive contributor in batting average or OBP. All in all, he’s an OK power/speed guy to have on the roster who you can plug into a lot of holes, but it’s not terribly likely that he’ll put together 20 of either home runs or steals, and he probably won’t hit .250 either.
Strengths: SB, Position Eligibility
Goodrum stays closer to the top of the order, giving him his best chance to both hit and run as he scratches and claws his way to an 18-home run, 18-stolen base season with a .250 batting average.
He hits in the middle to bottom of the order because of strikeout woes and barely breaks into the double digits in home runs and steals with a .235 batting average.
2020 Projection: 70 R, 15 HR, 50 RBI, 15 SB, .245/.325/.420
Jeimer Candelario (3B | Batting 6th)
2019: 33 R, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 3 SB, .203/.306/.337 | 3B #86 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Not drafted
After spending virtually all of 2018 with the big club, Jeimer Candelario was kicked down to Triple-A during the 2019 season to get his bat right. While he has more than tolerable plate discipline (11.1% walk rate, 25.6% strikeout rate in 2019), his quality of contact was simply not good enough for the major leagues. He hit the ball quite well in Triple-A, which is to be expected considering his plate discipline and age for that level, and when he was called up in September, there were some noticeable improvements in his strikeout rate and power. While a .770 OPS for one month isn’t really fantasy news, it could certainly be the start of a positive trend for the third baseman who at one time was a somewhat noteworthy prospect for his contact ability. At this point, it looks like he only needs to beat out Dawel Lugo for the third base job, and more realistically, the Tigers are likely to mix and match their infield enough to give Candelario at-bats more often than they don’t. Even with playing time, though, it’s hard to see Candelario being relevant in mixed leagues without sudden, significant improvement in his quality of contact.
Weaknesses: AVG, SB
Candelario is the full-time third baseman after showing he can hit the ball higher and farther than he has previously as a Tiger, leading to a 20-home run campaign with 65-ish runs and RBI and a .250/.335/.440 line.
Candelario is unable to hold the third base job down and because of his less-than-stellar defensive ability and still depressing quality of contact he rides the pine three to four days a week.
2020 Projection: 60 R, 17 HR, 60 RBI, 3 SB, .230/.320/.395
Harold Castro (2B/OF | Batting 7th)
2019: 30 R, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB, .291/.305/.384 | 2B #53 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Not drafted
The 25-year-old lefty wasn’t really on anyone’s radar coming into 2019 thanks to a fairly mediocre minor league career, but a hot start in Triple-A combined with injuries and futility at the big league level created an opening that Harold Castro took and ran with. His .291 batting average jumps off the page compared with his teammates’ marks, and he does make a lot of contact, though the quality-of-contact data suggests he was perhaps more than a little lucky (.265 xBA per Statcast). As far as power is concerned, there isn’t much to be found in Castro’s bat, as he ranked in the bottom 10% of the league in hard-hit rate, and his 7.9-degree launch angle means he wasn’t exactly hitting a lot of deep fly balls. His slightly above-average speed will help him make up a little of what he lacks in power, but ultimately, this is not a .291 hitter going forward, which means he probably isn’t a high-value player in fantasy either.
Strengths: AVG, Points
Weaknesses: R, HR, RBI, OBP
Castro slaps the ball like crazy, keeping his batting average above .275 and running just enough to swipe around 10 bags.
Castro’s unwillingness to walk combined with a reversal in batted-ball fortunes leads to a .250 batting average, which makes him more of a utility player than starter.
2020 Projection: 50 R, 7 HR, 50 RBI, 8 SB, .270/.300/.390
Willi Castro (SS | Batting 8th)
2019: 10 R, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 0 SB, .230/.284/.340 | SS #100+ (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Not drafted
Willi Castro was called up in late August after Jordy Mercer hit the IL again and remained the starting shortstop for the Tigers for the rest of the season. Part of that is because of the fact that Castro is probably the best defender at shortstop on the Tigers roster, while the other part of it is because of the strong season Castro had in Triple-A (11 HR, 17 SB, .301/.366/.467 over 119 games). My infinitely wise colleague Shelly Verougstraete had good things to say about Castro in June, which is more than enough to get my attention. While he doesn’t have enough power or speed to be a major fantasy asset, there might be some sneaky value in AL-only leagues because of what will likely be a full-time role with the potential for double-digit home runs and stolen bases and a palatable batting average. He won’t walk much, but he should probably slap the ball just enough to lock down the shortstop role for 2020.
Strengths: AB/PA, SB
Weaknesses: R, RBI
Castro locks down the shortstop gig, adjusts to major league pitching and scraps his way to a .260 batting average with double-digit home runs and steals while climbing his way out of the bottom-third of the order.
Castro’s aggression at the plate is his downfall as he struggles to hit above .230. He gets routine days off in the Tigers infield shuffle and fails to have more than seven home runs or steals.
2020 Projection: 55 R, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 11 SB, .255/.300/.390
Victor Reyes (OF | Batting 2nd)
2019: 29 R, 3 HR, 25 RBI, 9 SB, .304/.336/.431 | OF #107 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Not drafted
Victor Reyes was basically unused for the first half of the season, appearing in just nine games prior to the All-Star break. Because of injuries and underperformance by the roster (a common theme, as you’ve likely noticed), Reyes was given his chance in the second half, and the patience certainly paid off as he stole eight bases and hit .313 down the stretch. Another Rule 5 pick, Reyes has spent plenty of time on the Tigers roster, but this was his first real opportunity to play regularly. From July 30 (the day he started playing full time) to the end of the season, he had the 10th-best batting average in baseball and tied for the 14th-most stolen bases. While Goodrum is probably the safest bet to return the most fantasy value of any Tiger, there’s a non-zero chance that Reyes becomes the only breakout fantasy asset thanks to his wheels. In fact, per Statcast, Reyes is in the top 10% of the league in sprint speed. Additionally, while Reyes doesn’t hit the ball exceptionally hard (86.4 mph average exit velocity), he did have a solid .283 expected batting average, which at least indicates that his success wasn’t entirely fueled by BABIP luck. If you need speed and/or batting average, there’s some evidence to suggest that your last-round pick should be Reyes in a 15-team league. In 10- and 12-teamers, he’s watch-list worthy.
Strengths: AVG, SB
Weaknesses: HR, RBI
Reyes hits first or second for the Tigers all season and carries his second-half success into 2020, swiping 20 bags and hitting .290.
Reyes can’t find his late-2019 magic and reverts to something closer to his career .268/.307/.400 line, which makes him either a part-time player or a No. 8 hitter—neither of which is all that useful to fantasy owners or the Tigers.
2020 Projection: 80 R, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 18 SB, .280/.320/410
JaCoby Jones (OF | Batting 2nd)
2019: 39 R, 11 HR, 26 RBI, 7 SB, .235/.310/.430 | OF #131 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Not drafted
JaCoby Jones wasn’t able to stay healthy in 2019, missing half the season with a wrist injury. When healthy, Jones did seem to show that he might be a little bit more than what we initially expected. He hit 11 home runs and stole seven bases in just 88 games while improving his walk rate from 5.1% in 2018 to 8.1% in 2019 and lowered his strikeout rate to below 30%. While his batting average was still below average, it was certainly improved, and the growth at the plate is likely the culprit behind the increased power (and maybe a little bit because of that ball everyone keeps talking about). He’s never going to be a contributor in batting average or OBP, but his power and speed should make him an intriguing flier in deeper leagues as long as he has the inside track to a starting role.
Strengths: HR, SB
Weaknesses: AVG, OBP
Jones builds on the improvements he was making in 2019, keeping a near 10% walk rate and a sub-30% strikeout rate that allows him to stay near the top of the order and get close to 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases.
The growth stagnates for Jones as he reverts to the .211 hitter he has been thus far in the majors, pushing him to a platoon role and the bottom of the order.
2020 Projection: 70 R, 16 HR, 60 RBI, 12 SB, .230/.300/.410
Christin Stewart (OF | Batting 5th)
2019: 32 R, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 0 SB, .233/.305/.388 | OF #160 (per ESPN Player Rater)
2020 ADP: Not drafted
Oh, what could have been. Christin Stewart‘s minor league track record suggested we might be looking at a 30-home run hitter with a 10% walk rate, which could be somewhat useful in five-outfielder formats that use OBP. With an outfield spot up for grabs and him being one of the few left-handed hitters on the major league roster, it seemed like Stewart was a sure thing. While he did start 104 games, he was unable to capitalize on his opportunity, providing neither power nor OBP in his 416 plate appearances. He’s a pull-heavy fly-ball hitter, but he couldn’t translate it into power as he hit too many pop-ups and weak fly balls to do any damage. He also struggled a bit with breaking stuff (.157 batting average), though he was fine against fastballs and offspeed offerings. With some minor adjustments, we might still see the power hitter we hoped for.
Strengths: HR, BB%
Weaknesses: AVG, SB
Stewart makes the adjustments needed to barrel up the ball and fight off breaking pitches, leading to a 30-home run season with a solid OBP.
Stewart continues to pop up too many hittable pitches and is relegated to the bottom of the order, barely hitting above .200.
2020 Projection: 65 R, 20 HR, 70 RBI, 1 SB, .240/.320/.430
Playing Time Battles
At catcher, Rogers and Greiner will likely duke it out for the majority of catching duties. Both are fairly young and hit from the right side, so there’s no obvious platoon to play with. Rogers is likely the favorite because of his advanced defense, so Greiner will have to significantly outperform with the bat to play more than twice a week.
The Tigers will likely mix and match at first, second and third base throughout the season, with Cabrera, Brandon Dixon, Harold Castro, Candelario, Lugo, and Ronny Rodriguez getting shuffled in and out of the order with Willi Castro and Goodrum being more or less the everyday guys (with Miggy starting every day at either 1B or DH, health permitting). Harold Castro, Dixon and Rodriguez have multiple options left, so should the Tigers sign any veterans infielders (which would be far from surprising), expect them to be the first ones sent down.
It’s not a strong team, and as a whole, the Tigers will likely once again be near the bottom of the league in virtually every meaningful statistic. Guys like Goodrum, Reyes, Jones and Miggy can all provide a little value, though, if things work out just right … so don’t completely ignore them, OK?
As a Tigers fan, this was really depressing to write, so I’m going back to fantasy curling for a while.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)