Detroit Tigers team outlook

The Tigers declined in a hurry last season, but they have spent the offseason reloading. Al Melchior combs through the reshaped roster in search of Fantasy bargains.

Tigers‘ fans had to know their aging team’s run of four straight division titles was due to end soon, but few likely saw a last-place finish in their immediate future. That was the fate that befell the 74-87 Tigers, who won nine of their first 10 games and went downhill from there on out.

Little went according to plan, as Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez and Alfredo Simon were woefully unproductive in the first half. Miguel Cabrera, still the team’s best hitter, went on the disabled list for the first time in his career. Justin Verlander didn’t make his first start until June 13 due to a strained triceps, but he was not himself when he first returned. He turned his season around after the All-Star break, but by then, it was too late. The team went 11-16 in July and closed out the month by trading away ace David Price, slugger Yoenis Cespedes and closer Joakim Soria.

Verlander’s comeback was a rare bright spot over the season’s final two months. Even Cabrera’s return from his calf injury in mid-August didn’t help matters, as he failed to hit with his typical power. In the waning weeks, Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, acquired in the trade that sent Price to the Blue Jays, took turns in the rotation, offering a possible preview of things to come. That sneak peek wasn’t especially reassuring, as Norris and Boyd combined to give up 18 home runs in 87 1/3 combined innings.

Owner Mike Illitch and general manager Al Avila saw that more work had to be done on the roster this offseason, so they brought in Justin Upton, Jordan ZimmermannFrancisco Rodriguez and Mike Pelfrey as free agents. Upton will join Cabrera and J.D. Martinez as part of a powerful lineup core, while Zimmermann takes a little of the sting out of losing Price.

Though the Tigers strengthened themselves this offseason, the additions of Upton and Zimmermann do not guarantee their return as a playoff contender. Cabrera needs to stay healthy, and Victor Martinez and Kinsler need to produce more consistently. Barring a bounceback year from Sanchez, the rotation could face a rocky season as well. They will also need to get help in unexpected places, but younger players like Norris, Nick Castellanos and Anthony Gose just might be able to deliver.

2016 projected lineup

1. Anthony Gose, CF
2. Ian Kinsler, 2B
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Justin Upton, LF
5. Victor Martinez, DH
6. J.D. Martinez, RF
7. Nick Castellanos, 3B
8. James McCann, C
9. Jose Iglesias, SS
BENCH: Mike Aviles, 3B/SS/OF
BENCH: Cameron Maybin, OF

2016 projected rotation

1. Justin Verlander, RHP
2. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP
3. Anibal Sanchez, RHP
4. Daniel Norris, LHP
5. Mike Pelfrey, RHP
ALT: Buck Farmer, RHP

2016 projected bullpen

1. Francisco Rodriguez, RHP
2. Justin Wilson, LHP
3. Alex Wilson, RHP
4. Mark Lowe, RHP
5. Blaine Hardy, LHP

Bounceback player …

Justin Verlander SP / Detroit Tigers (2015 STARTS (LAST 14 GAMES))

INN: 99 1/3 ERA: 2.27 K: 91 BB: 20

When Justin Verlander had a 6.62 ERA through his first six starts, it was natural to assume that this was all part of the steep decline that had begun in 2013. Who could have foreseen that when Verlander left his July 19 start against the Orioles in the fourth inning, having allowed seven earned runs, that it would be the last time all season he would last fewer than six innings? He would dramatically improve his control and rediscover his ability to make batters whiff, all the while holding opponents to a .299 slugging percentage over his final 14 starts. If Verlander reverts back to decline mode, he wouldn’t be the first pitcher to fool Fantasy owners for a two-and-half month stretch, but he was dominant enough for long enough that he’s worth trusting as a No. 2 starter in standard mixed leagues.

Enigma …

Ian Kinsler 2B / Detroit Tigers (JULY/AUG. 2015 STATS)

PA: 230 AVG: .364 OBP: .391 SLG: .581

Ian Kinsler’s days as a 30-homer masher seem long gone, so Fantasy owners probably won’t be too excited about him on Draft Day. Maybe that should change. Even though Kinsler’s bat was stuck in neutral until late June, he was a top five second baseman in 2015. When he finally turned it on, he did so with a vengeance, hitting seven home runs, 16 doubles and five triples in July and August. The enhanced power resulted from Kinsler pulling more balls and hitting them for greater distances. Then Kinsler faded from Sept. 1 on, batting .257 with two home runs and three doubles. It would be easy to write this binge off as a random hot streak, but if Kinsler could suddenly mash for two solid months, just maybe he still owns some power skills. If he slides far enough in drafts — to the 10th round or later — that’s a proposition worth gambling on.

Breakout …

Nick Castellanos 3B / Detroit Tigers (2015 SECOND HALF STATS)

PA: 267 AVG: .269 OBP: .322 SLG: .478

Nick Castellanos heated up around the same time that Kinsler did, but the late-season streak may be especially meaningful for the Tigers’ third baseman and his Fantasy owners. His gains in power appears to be legitimate, as they were accompanied by increases in his pull and hard contact rates, and better yet, Castellanos did not suffer from a September slump. Though he didn’t homer from Aug. 27 on, he still hit 15 doubles over that 33-period. Given that Castellanos will be just 24 on opening day, he is clearly young enough to take a step up power-wise.

Prospects report

Michael Fulmer was the more enticing of the two pitching prospects that Tigers received from the Mets in last summer’s Cespedes deal. He has yet to pitch above Double-A, but he had a nice breakout at that level with a 2.14 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings. There could be room for him in the Tigers’ rotation later this season, and he could wind up being useful to owners in deeper mixed leagues.

Deeper down in the minor league system are lefty Jairo Labourt and last year’s first-rounder Beau Burrows. Labourt needs better control but can throw an upper 90s fastball, and Burrows was sharp in his professional debut, allowing five earned runs with 33 strikeouts in 28 Rookie league innings.

The Tigers’ two best hitting prospects have yet to play in Advanced Class A, but outfielders Michael Gerber and Christin Stewart transitioned nicely from short-season ball to Class A. Both will be tested this season, playing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.

-Al Melichor

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