Diamonds in the Rough: Highlights from a rough season on the diamond

I won’t sugarcoat it. Baseball wasn’t much fun for the Tigers or their fans in 2019. This season featured one of Detroit’s worst teams in the history of the franchise, and easily the worst team since the dreaded 2003 season. It was ugly, frustrating and seemed at times the end was nowhere in sight. Thankfully, it’s finally over. Fans can enjoy the postseason with no additional stress. Finishing with the worst record in baseball at 47-114, the Tigers secured the #1 overall pick for the second time in three years and are poised to significantly upgrade an already rising farm system. Competitive baseball is likely a few years away, but that doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. Let’s dive into what the Tigers can look forward to in 2020 and beyond.

Matthew Boyd

Matthew Boyd stood out as the ace of the Tigers pitching staff in 2019. Collecting an astonishing 238 strikeouts over 185.1 innings, he has developed into the prized possession of the David Price trade back in 2015. Although his ERA and FIP numbers are less than impressive compared to typical ace production, Boyd has much to build off from this breakout campaign.

Ace. (All non-Gettyimages photos by Alexandra Simon)

With a few tweaks to sequencing and a likely change coming to 2019’s infamous “juiced balls”, Boyd can cut down on damage caused by his longball-prone second half. (2.30 HR/9 post All-Star Break). However, the fate of his future with the Tigers remains uncertain. Under team control through 2022, will Boyd become the veteran presence of the future rotation, or will he be shipped off to improve on a growing crop of promising prospects? Only time will tell, and it’s clear Al Avila is in no rush to make this decision.

Niko Goodrum

It’s hard to argue anyone other than Boyd was the Tigers’ best player in 2019. Yet, Niko Goodrum turned in the best performance of any Tigers position player by a wide margin.

Niko Goodrum waits his turn.

Accumulating a team high 1.9 fWAR in the field, Goodrum’s super-utility role has been an important facet of the rebuild since his arrival in 2018. Able to play every position and play them well, he opens opportunities for prospects looking to shine at their respective roles on the diamond. Look for him as a future leader of this club moving forward.

Miguel Cabrera

After missing the majority of 2018 with a ruptured bicep, it was refreshing to see Cabrera as an everyday player in 2019. Limited to a full time DH role with a chronic knee injury, we’ve unfortunately seen injuries and age drain the power from the once mighty Miggy. However, this did not stop him from producing a .346 OBP.

Miggy’s bat came back to life.

Over the final 2 months of the season, Miguel posted a .444 SLG with a 111 wRC+. It’s evident the Miggy of years past will never return, yet it’s possible he can perform in the DH role for the remainder of his contract. With the final years of his career approaching, Miguel stands just 185 hits and 23 home runs from the exclusive 3000/500 club. He would become the 7th player in MLB history to reach this milestone.

Daniel Norris

In what seems like an eternity of waiting, Daniel Norris was able to stay healthy and show his potential in 2019.

After years of waiting, Daniel Norris emerged from his cocoon.

Starting 29 games and tossing a career high 144.1 innings, Norris displayed he has what it takes to remain a part of this Tigers rotation. Toward the end of the season, Norris featured a hybrid opener/starter role. Norris’ struggles usually arise as he faces the opposing lineup for the second and third time. Using him exclusively for 3 innings allowed him to maximize his output. In 9 starts of 3 IP from August 11th to September 25th, he posted a 3.33 ERA. At only 26 years old, there is still plenty to prove for the young southpaw.

Spencer Turnbull

Embed from Getty Images

In a surprising rookie season, Turnbull opened the eyes of not only Tigers fans but all of baseball. Posting a 3.31 ERA in his first 17 starts, he was in early consideration for AL Rookie of the Year. Complimenting a high velocity fastball with sharp breaking balls, he saw excellent results through the first 3 months of his career. Naturally, the league adjusted and it’s up to him to make necessary adjustments for 2020. After suffering a shoulder injury a few weeks before All-Star Break, Turnbull faltered in the second half. This combined with a high walk rate inflated his ERA to 4.61 by season’s end. Overall, he ended the season with an FIP of 3.99 and 2.9 fWAR. Turnbull vastly exceeded expectations and appears to be a valuable piece for the future of the Tigers rotation.

JaCoby Jones

In an article I wrote in July, I covered the change to Jones’ batting stance and the near immediate results from doing so.

JaCoby Jones surged in 2019.

After struggling heavily in April, Jones altered his stance on May 1st and turned 2019 into his most productive season at the plate. Fracturing his wrist after being hit by a pitch on August 8th, Jones’ breakout was cut short as he missed the remainder of the season. Looking to build off the strides he made offensively, he should be slotted in as the everyday centerfielder next season.

Jeimer Candelario

2019 was a year to forget at the plate for Candelario.

Jeimer is a bounce-back candidate in 2020.

Spending around a third of the season in the minors, he worked to reignite the potential displayed last season with his bat. Fortunately, his defensive ability remained consistent. Despite only logging 610 innings at third, Candelario ranked 7th of all 3B with 7 defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs. Jeimer is still young and has plenty left to show. If the bat continues to develop, he will become a solid everyday player.

Victor Reyes

In the final month of a dismal year, Reyes started to shine.

Victor Reyes showed flashes.

His 1.5 fWAR in just 68 games ranks second on the team for position players, trailing only Niko Goodrum. In September, he slashed .318/.336/.473. Reyes is beginning to prove why the Tigers chose him in the Rule 5 draft in 2018. To maintain extended success, he needs to walk more. For now, he serves as a useful playmaking outfielder. 

Harold Castro

Seemingly springing from nowhere, Castro impressed the Tigers this season batting .291 over 97 games in a utility role.

Castro seemingly came out of nowhere.

His walk rate of 2.4% leaves much to be desired, but at just 25 years old, he likely earned a chance to prove himself in the following season.

Throughout this rebuild, we’ve witnessed the downfall or departure of many Tiger greats. Although it seems dark now, there is a light at the end of the tunnel through the development of young players. I hope to have shed some positivity on a forgettable 2019 as we all look forward to the arrival of new Tigers from the team’s top 30 prospects in 2020. Until next season, Tigers fans. It can’t get worse than this, right?…Right?!

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