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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Detroit Tigers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Detroit Tigers claimed the AL Central title for the third straight season, went to their third consecutve ALCS, and are just one year removed from a World Series appearance. But that didn't stop them from making two major offseason trades, signing a new closer, and hiring a new manager this offseason.

In November, the team traded first baseman Prince Fielder -- who hit .295 with 55 total home runs and 214 RBI over his two seasons with Detroit -- to the Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler (who has already said he plans to steal more bases). The move allows two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera to go back to first base, opening up a starting role at third base for top prospect Nick Castellanos.

2014 Fantasy Outlooks
A.L. East N.L. East
Orioles Braves
Red Sox Marlins
Yankees Mets
Rays Phillies
Blue Jays Nationals
A.L. Central N.L. Central
White Sox Cubs
Indians Reds
Tigers Brewers
Royals Pirates
Twins Cardinals
A.L. West N.L. West
Astros Diamondbacks
Angels Rockies
Athletics Dodgers
Mariners Padres
Rangers Giants

Two weeks after the Fielder trade, the Tigers sent starter Doug Fister to the Nationals for pitching prospect Robbie Ray, reliever Ian Krol, and utility man Stephen Lombardozzi. Ray may see a handful of starts early in the season as the team waits for ace Justin Verlander to recover from January core muscle repair surgery, while Krol should slot nicely into the bullpen. Lombardozzi bounces between spot duty in the infield and outfield. Fister's spot in the rotation will likely be taken by Drew Smyly, who went 6-0 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 76 innings out of the bullpen in 2013. Smyly carried a 2.57 ERA and 1.18 WHIP over 143 2/3 minor league innings (in 2011 and 2012), with all but one appearance coming as a starter.

The Tigers made one major free agent move, signing closer Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal. Nathan should solidify a bullpen that spent a good part of 2013 grasping for a solid closer. Joaquin Benoit finished the season as the leader in saves (with 24), but not before the team tried out a hard-throwing rookie (Bruce Rondon), swallowed their pride and brought back their 2012 closer (Jose Valverde, who saved nine games), and even gave a couple tries to Smyly (two saves), whose value was ultimately in long relief. Despite the tumult, the Tigers blew just 16 saves as a team, the sixth-fewest in the majors.

Detroit also made a couple quiet additions that could have an impact in 2014, signing speedy outfielder Rajai Davis to a two-year deal, and bringing on reclamation project Joba Chamberlain (3.70 ERA and 9.1 K/9 over his first five pre-Tommy John seasons, while bouncing between the rotation and bullpen) on a one-year deal.

If all the player movement wasn't enough, the Tigers replaced the retired Jim Leyland with 44-year-old Brad Ausmus, who has never managed in the major or minor leagues (but whose hiring, which Tony LaRussa consulted on, was met with near-universal praise). Essentially an unknown quantity as a manager (Will the Tigers run? Will he platoon players?), Ausmus brings a nice X-factor into what is a very similar -- yet very different -- Tigers team.

As for the holdovers, the Tigers boast the 2013 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winners in Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer. They have a young, talented outfielder in Austin Jackson and a solid corner option in Torii Hunter. Alex Avila failed to bounceback in 2013, but that great 2011 season gives owners a glimmer of hope, even though it looks more like an anomaly with every passing year. Anibal Sanchez, Drew Smyly, and Rick Porcello make for an exciting (and Fantasy-relevant) trio at the back-end of the rotation, and Justin Verlander enters this season looking to prove something after a disappointing 2013. Verlander may be delayed, however, after that surprise surgery. And even before the surgery, there were concerns about Verlander's drop in production last season, which featured a significant spike in ERA and WHIP. The silver lining? Worry over Verlander's 2013, coupled with worry over his surgery, may push his Average Draft Position to the point where he becomes an enticing Draft Day gamble with tremendous upside.

Sleeper ... Rick Porcello, starting pitcher

2014 projected lineup
Player Name Position
1. Ian Kinsler 2B
2. Torii Hunter RF
3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
4. Victor Martinez DH
5. Austin Jackson CF
6. Andy Dirks LF
7. Nick Castellanos 3B
8. Alex Avila C
9. Jose Iglesias SS
Bench Rajai Davis OF
Bench Stephen Lombardozzi IF/OF

Porcello put together the second-best season of his career in 2013, with a 4.32 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. His 142 strikeouts were a career-best, and his 2.1 BB/9 tied a career low. Just 25 years old, Porcello -- who already has 868 2/3 innings pitched in his career -- is just now coming into his prime pitching years. But what really makes Porcello an attractive sleeper in 2014 has very little to do with any of these factors. With the Tigers infield now featuring Ian Kinsler and Jose Iglesias (and Cabrera moving to first), Porcello will have a far better defense behind him. In 2013, Porcello had the second-highest groundball percentage in the majors (55.5 percent) and sported an xFIP of 3.19 (with a FIP of 3.53). In short, his strength -- inducing ground balls -- was essentially wasted by a poor defense behind him. With a new-look infield, many of those balls that got through (or were mishandled) will now be turned into outs, lowering Porcello's ERA and WHIP (while alleviating his pitch count). The downside here is that Porcello's strikeout rate may dip, as he gains confidence in his defense and relies more on groundball outs. But that should be more than equalized by an improvement in ratios, making Porcello a nice sleeper for 2014.

Rotisserie gem ... Rajai Davis, outfield

Right now, there doesn't appear to be a starting spot for Davis, who spent the last three seasons with the Blue Jays. But that's a familiar refrain for the 33-year-old, who seems to enter every season without a starting role, yet manages to steal 40-50 bases. Davis has reached the 40-steal mark four times in the last five seasons, and has 216 total steals in that span. Yet he's only seen 400 at-bats twice since 2009. Davis may see some spot starts as the right-handed half of a platoon with Andy Dirks, and could spell 38-year-old Torii Hunter from time to time. Davis will almost certainly be the next man up if any of the outfielders are injured. But this is what he does -- steal a ton of bases, even when the odds are stacked against him.

Impact prospect ... Nick Castellanos, third base

2014 rotation/bullpen
Player Name Throws
1. Justin Verlander RHP
2. Max Scherzer RHP
3. Anibal Sanchez RHP
4. Rick Porcello RHP
5. Drew Smyly LHP
ALT Jose Alvarez LHP
Bullpen Breakdown
1. Joe Nathan RHP
2. Bruce Rondon RHP
3. Phil Coke LHP
4. Ian Krol LHP
5. Joba Chamberlain RHP

Castellanos is going to play third but won't gain eligibility there in Fantasy until he plays five games (in most standard formats). The organization's top prospect, Castellanos was a first-round pick in the 2010 draft, hitting .333 in seven games for the Rookie League affiliate that season. Over the next four years, Castellanos gradually worked his way up the farm system, hitting .303 over 1,601 at-bats, with three seasons of 32 or more doubles and an average of 14 home runs over the last two seasons (he played in 134 games each season). Castellanos is a natural third baseman who was shifted to the outfield for half of 2012 and all of 2013, which may have accounted for a dip in batting average (.264 in 2012 and .276 in 2013) as he learned the new position. The move, intended to accelerate Castellanos' ascent to the majors, was scrapped after the Tigers traded Prince Fielder, which shifted Miguel Cabrera back to first and opened up third base for Castellanos. The 21-year-old righty played in 11 games with the Tigers last season, hitting .278 over 18 at-bats. While nothing is guaranteed (a rough spring training, for instance, could cause the Tigers to shift players around and give Castellanos some more minor league seasoning), it's a safe bet that he will open the season as the team's third baseman, and should contribute with a nice average, double-digit home runs, and a handful of steals.

Prospects Report

With Joe Nathan signed for two years, Bruce Rondon is back to being the closer of the future (as opposed to the closer of 2014). For all the high-profile imploding we saw in 2013, Rondon still finished the season with a 3.45 ERA and 1.36 WHIP (with a 1.23 ERA over his last 15 games). He should contribute out of the bullpen with a high strikeout rate and low ratios -- and is probably the backup closer -- giving him value in AL-only Roto formats ... Robbie Ray could see some early-season action if Justin Verlander isn't fully rehabbed from January surgery. The 22-year-old struck out 160 batters in 142 innings last season over two minor league levels (High-A and Double-A), sporting a 3.36 ERA ... Jose Alvarez made six starts for the Tigers in 2013 (to varying degrees of success), and put together a solid campaign in Triple-A (2.80 ERA and 1.08 WHIP over 128 2/3 innings). There's no room for him in the rotation, especially if Ray leapfrogs him for early-season starts, but Alvarez does have one distinct advantage over Ray: he's already on the 40-man roster. Baseball America says Alvarez has the best control of all Detroit's minor-league pitchers ... James McCann probably isn't ready for the majors, but if the 23-year-old gets off to a nice start, and Avila struggles again, he could force his way to the majors.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando Di Fino at @NandoCBS .

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Player News
Devin Mesoraco (hip) not in Reds' starting lineup at Cleveland
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco was not included in the starting lineup for Friday's contest against Cleveland.

Mesoraco has been limited to DH duties because of left hip impingement he suffered in early April. He has appeared in the last two games, and only four games since April 11. He has been taking part in catching drills recently and should be cleared to catch a bullpen session over the weekend.

Mesoraco is hitting .178 (8 for 45) with a double, a triple and two RBI this season.

Cincinnati is an underdog (+145) at Cleveland, per VegasInsider.com.


Rays' Tim Beckham gets the start at second base on Friday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:28 pm ET) Rays infielder Tim Beckham is in the starting lineup for Friday's game against the A's. Beckham, who is making his first start since Saturday, will play second base while batting eighth. 

The former first-overall draft pick has struggled at the plate this season, and has just four hits in 30 at-bats this month. Logan Forsythe, the team's regular second baseman, will be the designated hitter on Friday. 


Reds move Brandon Phillips to top of order over Zack Cozart
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:25 pm ET) Red manager Bryan Price inserted second baseman Brandon Phillips into the leadoff spot for Friday's contest against the Indians. It's the first time since Sept. 25, 2014, he's at the top of the order.

Phillips bumped Zack Cozart to the No. 2 hole against right-hander Carlos Carrasco.

Phillips is hitting .357 (25 for 70) with two homers, 11 RBI and six walks over his last 19 games played. Cozart has just one hit over his last 16 at-bats.

Cincinnati is an underdog (+155) at Cleveland, per VegasInsider.com.


Blue Jays INF Munenori Kawasaki makes season debut on Friday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:24 pm ET) After just being recalled from Triple-A, Blue Jays infielder Munenori Kawasaki is in the starting lineup for Friday's game against the Mariners. Kawasaki is playing second base and batting ninth in manager John Gibbons' lineup.

In 23 games at Buffalo this season, Kawasaki was batting .222 (16 for 72) with four doubles and four stolen bases. Steve Tolleson will get the day off Friday after starting five straight games. 


Blue Jays 3B Josh Donaldson finally gets a day off Friday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:18 pm ET) Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson will get his first day off this season, as he is being held out of the lineup on Friday against the Mariners. Donaldson has hit well lately, batting .270 with two home runs and seven RBI over his last 10 games, batting solely out of the top two spots in the lineup.

It appears to just be a day of rest for Donaldson, who has started each of the team's first 43 games this year.

Danny Valencia will get the start at the hot corner, while Ezequiel Carrera will move up to the leadoff spot the batting order. 


Rays OF's Kevin Kiermaier, David DeJesus sit against lefty Friday
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(2:09 pm ET) With the Rays facing a left-hander on Friday, manager Kevin Cash has loaded his lineup with right-handed swingers.

Outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and David DeJesus are being held out of the lineup against the A's. Kiermaier had started nine straight games for the Rays, but will take a seat on Friday, despite the fact he actually has a higher batting average against lefties (.267) than righties (.232).

DeJesus meanwhile has been on a tear lately. He's batting an even .400 (10 for 25) over his current seven-game hitting streak. But he's been heavily shielded against southpaws this season, having just three at-bats against left-handed pitching. 

Joey Butler will enter the lineup and bat fifth while playing left field. Brandon Guyer moves up to the leadoff spot and will play center field on Friday. 


Brewers RP Will Smith suspended eight games, will appeal
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(1:35 pm ET) Brewers left-hander Will Smith has been suspended eight games by Major League Baseball. Smith is being disciplined for having a foreign substance on his arm during Thursday's game against the Braves.

Smith will appeal the suspension, MLB announced, meaning he should be available for Friday's game. He was ejected from the game on Thursday in the seventh inning when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez noticed the substance and asked the officials for Smith's removal.


Manager: Rest, rehab possible for Rays SP Drew Smyly
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(12:53 pm ET) Rays manager Kevin Cash has echoed the optimism expressed by Rays starter Drew Smyly in regard to the torn labrum that has the left-hander on the 60-day disabled list.

"There are so many different degrees to a shoulder issue," Cash told MLB Network Radio. "He met with doctors and rest and rehab is now a possibility."

Smyly is hopeful he can return to the mound at some point this season. He performed well in three starts before going down despite an 0-1 record, yielding just five runs on 10 hits in 16 2/3 innings while striking out 21.


Blue Jays want consistency from SP Daniel Norris at Triple-A
by Jason Lempert | Staff Writer
(12:22 pm ET) Blue Jays left-hander Daniel Norris could be close to returning to the Major Leagues. Norris was optioned to Triple-A on May 1 after allowing 10 earned runs in 23 1/3 innings over his first five starts with the Blue Jays this year. His 18:12 K:BB ratio didn't do him any favors either.

But in three starts at Buffalo, the rookie has a 2.50 ERA in three starts since his demotion. In his most recent start, Norris went six innings, allowing three runs on five hits. He walked three and struck out nine. He will make his next start on Friday, according to SportsNet. The Blue Jays are looking for some consistency out of the young hurler before they decide to bring him back up.

“His last outing was pretty good, we just want to see that a couple of times, a few times maybe, for his own benefit. He needs that,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “We’re looking to get him back. He got here so quick, he started to struggle, you want to make sure what you did by sending him down was worthwhile, that he’s regrouped enough, instead of rushing him back. If he’s not quite ready yet, then you’re back to square one again.”


A's place Edward Mujica on DL, promote infielder Andy Parrino
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:20 pm ET) As expected, the Athletics placed reliever Edward Mujica on the 15-day disabled list on Friday with a fractured thumb. Mujica suffered the injury during Thursday's 3-0 loss to the Rays. He held a 3.32 ERA at the time of the injury.

In a corresponding move, Oakland selected the contract of infielder Andy Parrino from Triple-A Nashville. Parrino hit .273 (38 for 139) with six doubles, two triples, four homers, 12 RBI, 20 walks and 43 strikeouts in 38 games at Triple-A this season.

The A's also added Tyler Ladendorf (ankle) to the 60-day disabled list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.


 
 
 
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