Burning Fantasy Baseball Questions: Detroit Tigers
Who will close? Or, at least, who will close most often?
The hyped, possibly prohibitive favorite is Bruce Rondon, a 22-year-old fire-baller with precisely eight innings of experience ... at the Triple-A level. The right-hander's heat occasionally registers at triple-digit velocities, but his control has been sorely lacking for the past couple of years. He's the riskiest investment option, at least if he costs most, although the reward is potentially great. What happens in spring training will have a lot to do with how his draft stock is priced and whether it's a fair number.
For what it's worth, Stan Belinda, in his age-24 season, registered 16 saves for Leyland's 1991 Pittsburgh Pirates, one off the team lead, and he led them in 1992, with 18. He wasn't a rookie in '91, but three other relievers pitching with less than 50 innings of MLB experience led a Leyland clubhouse in saves: Dan Miceli (21, 1995), Francisco Cordova (12, 1996) and Matt Mantei (nine, 1998). All those hurlers were 24 in those respective years as well.
Last month, the Detroit Free Press ran a piece that recounted the success of rookie relievers as closers, suggesting that Rondon's ascent was a great possibility. The paper also printed some skeptical comments from ESPN's Keith Law, and fantasy owners would be wise to heed those words.
More sensible, and likely less costly, choices are Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel, two righties with previous closing experience. The Tigers may be hesitant to trust the former because of his miserable post-break work, but he was pretty sharp in the postseason, minus one tough outing. The latter kills right-handed batters but puts it on a tee for the opposite side.
Southpaw Phil Coke is the other veteran presence with a bit of a leg up. In a committee arrangement, a pairing of his services and Dotel's would seem to make sense, and the numbers back that up. Darin Downs' presence enables Jim Leyland to use Coke in the ninth, if the skipper plans it that way.
Brayan Villarreal, Al Alburquerque and Luis Marte have the kind of stuff that might make them nightmares to face at the end of a game, too. It wouldn't be a surprise to see one of them siphon a few saves, although it would be unexpected if one them seized control of the job for a significant portion of the season.
History doesn't appear to be on Rondon's side, but he'll probably be worth at least a low-wage flier. Assuming that Benoit is in good health, he could be the less heralded but likelier reliever to tally the most saves for los Tigres, however. This situation could easily devolve into a mess, too, of course, so putting much effort into deciphering the lyrics is not the way to make a hit.
What can fantasy owners expect from Victor Martinez?
There's no reason to believe that the team's regular DH won't be ready for spring training. He'll be more than a year removed from microfracture surgery on his left knee, and during the procedure, doctors discovered that the damage wasn't as bad as initially feared.
The switch-hitting Martinez should have little problem rediscovering a stroke that allowed him to bat better than .300 in six of his past seven campaigns. He should settle comfortably into a pretty stacked lineup, meaning he'll be in line to drive in plenty of runs, as usual. Fantasy managers should be prepared for a low home run output, however; he hit only 12 in 145 games in 2011, and a weakened lower half will hinder his already diminishing ability to go deep.
As the weather warms and positive reports flood the wire, expect V-Mart's stock to rise. The task will be determining the point at which he's no longer a bargain. He should retain catcher eligibility in many leagues, since he didn't play last year, so the prospect of 120 to 140 games from such a player is attractive at the right price.
GM Dave Dombrowski has made it clear that each may have an opportunity to win a platoon role with left-handed batter Andy Dirks in left field if the Tigers don't bring in a veteran to perform that task. Considering Garcia's age (21), lack of experience beyond Double-A ball and areas in need of improvement, it's highly unlikely that he'd either win that competition or benefit from being in it if he did. The case of Castellanos (21 in March) is extremely similar, aside from his void of major league experience.
The Tigers have been unafraid to promote talented prospects in the past, so a summer call-up for one, the other or both is on the table. For that reason, each might be worth stashing in AL-only leagues. A viable roto contribution from either in 2013 is unlikely, though.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570. Follow @NicholasMinnix
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