LAKELAND, Fla. -- Avisail Garcia demonstrated how well he could handle left-handed pitching in key situations down the stretch last season, including the playoffs. He showed how much of a strength his arm could be on defense. He didn't get much of a chance to show off his legs, but his speed is evident in his Minor League history.
At age 21, he already has the tools to fill a role on the Tigers roster. Detroit's decision with him is about more than that. It's about getting more out of him for the long term. The question they face is whether he can develop in the big leagues without playing every day.
The Tigers see a chance for Garcia to become much more than a platoon player. They don't want to limit his development simply to have him fill a role as an extra outfielder and bench contributor. Team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski expressed that during the offseason. Manager Jim Leyland said the same Monday morning.
"I doubt very much whether he'd be a bench player," Leyland said. "Now if you're talking about a bench player as opposed to a platoon player, that's two different things. But I would not take him just to sit around and pinch-hit him."
Tigers officials think he's close to developing into the player they foresee, which might explain why they wouldn't overspend for a role-playing outfielder to platoon in left with Andy Dirks. Yet for all he showed during his season-ending stint in Detroit, Garcia has a lot of room to grow.
His power remains a work in progress, hidden in the numbers. For someone with just 37 home runs over five Minor League seasons, Garcia impresses when he has a chance to unleash his raw power. He sent at least two drives over the left-field fence on one of the back fields at Tigertown during batting practice Monday afternoon. One landed among the trees. Those are the shots that earn him comparisons, fair or not, with teammate and friend Miguel Cabrera.
Garcia did not pull the ball like that in the big leagues. His trademark hit last fall, an opposite-field line drive into right field, bore a stronger resemblance to another Venezuelan Tiger great, Magglio Ordonez. Those are the kind of hits that made him tough for left-handers.
The belief is that the power will come around as Garcia matures, though he already looks like an imposing presence at the plate with his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame. He needs time, but he also needs experience. The question is whether he can get enough of that in Detroit.
As to whether it gives Garcia something to prove this spring, he's staying out of the debate.
"I'm just going to try to do my job," Garcia said Monday afternoon. "When you work hard, good things come. I just control playing hard and working hard. They make the decision."
Porcello to start Tigers' Grapefruit League opener
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers' rotation for the opening weekend of Grapefruit League play is set, and it reflects the plan to watch the innings early on with Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Rick Porcello will start his bid to hold onto the rotation spot he has owned for four years when he takes the mound in the Grapefruit League opener against the Braves on Friday afternoon. It'll also be the spring opener for the Braves and potentially the first game for B.J. and Justin Upton as teammates.
The starting assignment for the Tigers' spring home opener Saturday against the Blue Jays will go to Anibal Sanchez, making his Tigers spring debut. Verlander will start Sunday against the Phillies in another home game at Joker Marchant Stadium.
All of those games are 1:05 p.m. ET starts and will be broadcast in Detroit on 97.1 FM and online via MLB.com Gameday Audio.
Still to be slotted are Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Drew Smyly. The Tigers are looking at six starters for five spots and trying to stretch out Casey Crosby's innings for a likely assignment in the rotation at Triple-A Toledo, so they'll have some juggling to do. They have only one set of split-squad games, which comes up on March 2.
Leyland likes Hunter for No. 2 spot in lineup
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers manager Jim Leyland spends part of his offseason going through potential batting orders. He does the same at various points in Spring Training. He did it on Sunday night. Not surprisingly, he had Torii Hunter batting second in all of them.
So while Leyland isn't ready to finalize an order quite yet, he can end what's left of the speculation that Hunter could move down to the middle of the lineup behind the trio of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez. Instead, he'll bat in front of them and support leadoff hitter Austin Jackson.
"I thought he was real comfortable in that two-hole," Leyland said Monday, "so I'm going to keep him there."
Hunter hit second for 381 of his 584 plate appearances with the Angels last season. He batted cleanup and hit fifth early in the season before settling in between two other great hitters, Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. As a second hitter, Hunter batted .343 with a .376 on-base percentage, .854 OPS, 69 RBIs and 57 runs scored.
Tigers finalize contracts with seven players
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Just because Max Scherzer is signed for this season doesn't mean that the Tigers' contract matters are done. In fact, the team didn't have more than half the players on its 40-man roster signed to terms until they announced seven more deals on Monday.
All of the contracts were for players not yet eligible for arbitration or free agency. They included closer candidate Bruce Rondon, catcher Ramon Cabrera, utilityman Jeff Kobernus and pitchers Duane Below, Darin Downs, Kyle Lobstein and Luke Putkonen.
With that, Detroit now has 26 players under contract, with 14 more to go. The team can continue to negotiate in hopes of one-year contracts for the next couple weeks. It can unilaterally renew contracts beginning March 2.