Analyzing Detroit Tigers Hitters For 2020

Scott Chu breaks down Detroit's hitters for the 2020 season.

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: March 4, 2020)

 

Roster Changes

 

 

Hitter Previews

 

Catchers

 

Austin Romine (C | Batting 8th)

2019: 29 R, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 1 SB, .281/.310/.439 | C # (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: Not drafted 

 

There was buzz about this addition, but it had nothing to do with performance and everything to do with a scuffle that took place between Romine and Miguel Cabrera. Romine has more pop that any other catcher in the Tigers organization, though that’s not saying much, and should receive the bulk of the starts. He can put up a .250ish batting average with double-digit home runs given enough playing time, but that’s about it. He doesn’t walk much and his strikeout rate is just barely above average. Both Romine and second fiddle Grayson 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 or as an emergency fill-in in 15-team leagues that start two catchers, and even then, it’s not much.

 

Strengths: AVG (you know, for a 2nd catcher)

Weaknesses: OBP, R

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Austin Romine gets 350 plate appearances, hits 12 home runs, and you consider adding him as a second catcher when times get rough.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

No one knows or cares about who plays catcher for the Tigers.

 

2020 Projection: 35 R, 10 HR, 40 RBI, 1 SB, .255/.300/.420

 

Infielders

 

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

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

He plays 140 games and stays relatively healthy, allowing him to hit 20 home runs, rack up 75-80 RBI, and hit .290.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

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 2nd)

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 one of highest fantasy ceilings 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 

Weaknesses: AVG

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

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.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

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.

 

Strengths: OBP

Weaknesses: AVG, SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

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.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

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

 

Jonathan Schoop (2B | Batting 5th)

2019: 61 R, 23 HR, 59 RBI, 1 SB, .256/.304/.473| 2B #39 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: ADP 346 (2B #36)

 

On one hand, Schoop is a consistent power source at second base. He has at least 20 home runs in each of the last four seasons and a respectable .265 cumulative batting average over that time. On the other hand, he doesn’t actually hit the ball terribly hard (87.5 mph average exit velocity since 2015), he doesn’t take walks (3.8% career walk rate), and he’s one more very average year removed from his magical 2017 where he hit 32 runs and drove in 105 batters with a .293 batting average. After two horribly boring seasons in 2018 and 2019 despite ideal conditions playing with the Orioles, Brewers and Twins, it’s hard to imagine any kind of major resurgence as a Tiger. It gets even less likely when you look under the hood and see that those strong campaigns in 2016 and 2017 were actually much less impressive under the hood and that he hasn’t had an expected slugging above .450 or a hard-hit rate above 40% since 2015. These days, School will mainly be a boring deep league play where his everyday at bats and middling power still have remote value. I can’t imagine any 10- or 12-team manager wanting anything to do with Schoop unless he makes significant changes to his approach and quality of contact, which is fairly difficult to imagine at this point in his career.

 

Strengths: HR

Weaknesses: OBP, SB

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Schoop goes from boring to interesting bu adjusting his approach and turns his everyday job into a 25-30 home run season with a solid batting average.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Schoop stays remarkably bland, posting a 15-20 home run season  with a sub-.250 batting average while struggling to accumulate 120 combined runs and RBI in a pitiful Tigers’ offense.

 

2020 Projection: 60 R, 22 HR, 60 RBI, 1 SB, .260/.305/.460

 

C.J. Cron (1B | Batting 4th)

2019: 51 R, 25 HR, 78 RBI, 0 SB, .258/.311/.469 | 1B #33 (per ESPN Player Rater)

2020 ADP: ADP 275 (1B #28)

 

Despite missing about a month due to thumb issues, the 29-year-old C.J. Cron put up a solid follow-up to his 30 home run breakout in 2018 with the Rays, hitting 25 home runs in just 125 games for the Twins. Despite the slightly lower power numbers on the surface, Statcast data suggests that Cron actually took a another step forward in 2019 with a career-high 91 mph average exit velocity, a 15.0% barrel rate, and a .548 expected slugging. Virtually all of his expected stats and quality of contact data were up from his 2018 marks, and it’s interesting to imagine what numbers me might have put up in that powerful Twins lineup had he avoided the thumb injury in July. The Tigers thought enough of him to take a one-year gamble on him (likely to just fill the void at first base and as possible trade bait if he gets hot), and it could really work out well for fantasy owners as Cron should have a chance to reach 600 plate appearances for the first time in his career. While Comerica Park is known for its spacious dimensions, it should be noted that it plays well for power due to the huge alleys on either side of center field. Cron could easily hit .270 with power if he shows the kind of skills he displayed over the last two seasons and could very well exceed his very low draft day cost.

 

Strengths: AB/PA, HR

Weaknesses: R, OBP

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Cron finally tops 140 games played and proves the last two seasons were no fluke on his way to a 30+ home run season with a strong batting average and 170+ combined runs and RBI.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Cron just can’t find the magic from the last two seasons and becomes a steady but uninteresting 20-25 home run hitter with a middling batting average stuck on a very bad team.

 

2020 Projection: 80 R, 29 HR, 80 RBI, 1 SB, .265/.320/.495

 

Outfielders

 

Victor Reyes (OF | Batting 1st (Platoon))

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 under-performance 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.

The signing of journeyman Cameron Maybin complicates matters a bit for Reyes, but his speed, defensive prowess, and the fact he’s a switch hitter combined with the volatility of the other outfielders on the roster should give Reyes a shot at 500 plate appearances.  If you need speed and/or batting average, there’s some evidence to suggest that you should use a late-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

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Reyes secures an every day job hits first or second for the Tigers all season and carries his second-half success into 2020, swiping 20 bags and hitting .290.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Reyes can’t find his late-2019 magic and reverts to something closer to his career .268/.307/.400 line, which makes him a part-time player with no fantasy relevance.

 

2020 Projection: 80 R, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 18 SB, .280/.320/410

 

JaCoby Jones (OF | Batting 9th)

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

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

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.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

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 7th)

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

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

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.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

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

 

Cameron Maybin (OF | Batting 1st (Platoon))

2019: 48 R, 11 HR, 32 RBI, 9 SB, .285/.364/.494 | OF # UR

2020 ADP: Not drafted

 

The third times is possibly the charm for Maybin, who finds himself in a Tigers uniform for the third time (first in 2007 and then again in 2016). Maybin was famously part of the package for teammate Miguel Cabrera, and he’s never quite lived up to the extremely high hopes many had for him in the mid 2000s. He was a surprisingly useful fill-in for the injury-riddled Yankees in 2018, posting a very strong 127 wRC+ with both power and speed over 82 games. He’s been hurt off and on throughout his career and he’s a pretty average defender, but the outfield situation in Detroit is in flux with a ton of young and inconsistent players fighting for spots, so his experience and walk rates should give him a decent shot to at least platoon the lead off role. I don’t think he’s a full-time fantasy asset, but it’s easy to envision a few hot streaks where he winds up as your fifth outfielder for a few weeks.

 

Strengths: OBP, SB

Weaknesses: HR, RBI

 

Best-Case Scenario

 

Maybin stays healthy and is the lead off hitter for the entire season, giving him a chance at 10 to 15 home runs and 20 steals.

 

Worst-Case Scenario

 

Injuries, inconsistency, and the emergence of Victor Reyes makes Maybin an afterthought in real life and in fantasy.

 

2020 Projection: 50 R, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 15 SB, .255/.335/.400

 

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.

There are a lot of potential outfielders on this roster. At some point this season, Reyes, Maybin, Jones, Stewart, Castro, and Demeritte will get a start, plus prospect Daz Cameron should make his debut.

 

Projected Lineups

 

 

Conclusion

 

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 Cron, Goodrum, Reyes, Jones, Schoop 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)

Scott Chu

Scott Chu has written about fantasy baseball since 2013. In addition to being a writer and content manager at Pitcher List, he creates content with Friends with Fantasy Benefits. If you want to chat about baseball, fantasy curling (featured in WSJ), sports in general, deaf culture, being a twin, or the oddities of having Irish and Korean ancestry, Chu's your guy.

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