Much has been made of the Detroit Tigers adding Torii Hunter to the roster and how much that will improve the offense and defense of a team that was so frustratingly close to winning it all last year. Indeed, Hunter will provide a huge piece to the Tigers’ puzzle, but he doesn’t cure all of the ills.
Most people with an opinion have the Tigers’ 2013 Opening Day lineup looking something like this:
- Austin Jackson – CF
- Torii Hunter – RF
- Miguel Cabrera – 3B
- Prince Fielder – 1B
- Victor Martinez – DH
- Andy Dirks – LF
- Jhonny Peralta – SS
- Alex Avila – C
- Omar Infante – 2B
Assuming Jackson and Dirks can put up repeat performances from a season ago that top 6 will be as fearsome as any other team. As confidently as Jim Leyland can pencil in that top 6 though, slots 7 and 8 raise a lot of questions.
I covered the Jhonny Peralta/Stephen Drew issue in this article. Here, we will discuss the major concerns that come with the catching position.
Rewind one year ago and not many people expected an article of this tone regarding Alex Avila. He was entering his age 25 season and had just hit .295 with 19 homers and 82 RBI’s. For all intents and purposes, he was the top young catcher in the game. And then 2012 happened.
Despite the Tigers making it all the way to the World Series, they did it by and large without contribution from Avila. He batted just .243 and saw his power all but zapped. He hit just 9 homers and 21 doubles (he had 33 in ’11). Avila managed to drive in just 48 runs. It wasn’t long before Leyland turned to a lefty-righty platoon with the surprisingly productive Gerald Laird.
Laird just signed a new deal to back up Brian McCann in Atlanta. Throw in the fact that the Tigers coughed up uber prospect Rob Brantly in the Anibal Sanchez/Infante trade and the catching depth has been thinned.
Two names quickly become relevant: James McCann and Bryan Holaday.
McCann is the reason why the Tigers felt like Brantly was expendable. I mean, how many left-handed hitting catchers can one team hold? The problem is that while Brantly was stellar in 2012 as the Marlins even gave him the call at the end of the season to play in the bigs, McCann, the Tigers’ 2nd round pick in the 2011 draft, has had a rough intro to pro ball.
In ’11, he hit just .146 in limited action (14 games) after being drafted. In his first full year, at age 22, he earned a promotion from High-A ball after hitting .288 for Lakeland in 45 games. Despite the solid average, he had just 10 doubles, and no homers but did post a solid .345 on-base %. However, once he got to Erie he struggled again. In 64 games he mustered up just a .200 average, .227 on-base %, 12 doubles and 2 homers.
The lesson here is that if Avila continues to regress, the Tigers are in trouble from the left side of the plate from the catching position for the foreseeable future. And it’s not like Holaday is a stud from the right side.
As of now, Holaday is the odds on favorite to break camp as the right-handed hitting catcher for Leyland. Holaday was a 6th round pick by the Tigers in 2010 out of TCU. In 214 minor league games he has put together a .237 average, .314 on-base %, 12 homers, 38 doubles, and 79 RBI’s. That’s the equivalent of about a season and a half of full-time major league action. Translation – don’t expect much thump from Holaday.
Once again, the burden falls on Avila. If he falters, the catching slot in the Tigers’ order will become a revolving black hole of offensive ugliness.
Despite his struggles with the bat, Avila still maintained his ability to work the count (61 walks) and post a solid .352 on-base %. As he enters what will be his age 26 season, still before his expected prime, there is reason to believe that volatility should be expected and improvement likely.
Avila’s career trend so far has been an every-other-year pattern of solid play. Subscribe to that wishy-washy theory and great things should be in store for Avila in 2013. It’s either that or he’s just not ready to be consistently solid at the plate.
Which theory are you buying?
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