2009 MLB Preview: #12 Detroit Tigers

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Offseason Movement: The Tigers didn’t make a ton of offseason moves, but they did add shortstop Adam Everett, catcher Gerald Laird, pitchers Edwin Jackson, Brandon Lyon and Juan Rincon.

Top Prospect: Rick Porcello, RHP
Porcello, who is widely considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, was selected with the 27th overall pick in the first round of the 2007 draft. He has a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a slider, changeup and a curve, but it’ll take time for that array of pitches to be mastered. Some believe that the 20-year old is ready now, but there are signs (mostly his K/IP ratio) that another year or two in the minors would do him good. Unless Jeremy Bonderman starts the season on the DL, Porcello will likely start in Double-A this season to gain more experience.

The Big Question: Can the pitching bounce back?
There’s no doubt that if the lineup stays healthy, the Tigers will score plenty of runs this season. But this club produced a 4.90 ERA last season, which was good for third worst in the AL and 27th overall. After amassing an 18-6 record in 2007, ace Justin Verlander sputtered to an 11-17 record and a 4.84 ERA. Verlander struggled mightily with his control (he walked 87 batters in 201 innings) and it’s unclear if he was battling arm/shoulder injuries or if he just had a bad year. Regardless, he’ll need to bounce back in a big way this season and lead a rotation that posts uncertainties in Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis. The lone bright spot last year was Armando Galarraga, who led the club in wins with 13. But 2009 marks only his second full season in the big leagues.

Outlook: Two major factors will likely play into whether or not the Tigers bounce back after underachieving greatly in 2008. The first was discussed in the aforementioned “The Big Question” section; the Tigers need the starting five to rebound from a disastrous ’08 campaign and it all starts with ace Justin Verlander. The second factor is the overall health of the club, which was a major issue last season. Curtis Granderson, Jeremy Bonderman and Gary Sheffield all missed significant time last year and it sunk this team’s fortunes. The lineup is absolutely stacked from top to bottom and offers an excellent balance of speed, power and average. When healthy, Granderson, Placido Polanco, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen and Gary Sheffield comprise one of the best offenses in all of baseball. But again, is this club destined to stay healthy all season? Can the starting pitching produce like it did during the Tigs’ World Series run a couple years ago? The Tigers are definitely contenders and with the uncertainty surrounding the Indians, Twins and White Sox in the AL Central, Detroit could easily win the division. But they’re going to find out quickly if they’re a balanced club or if the offense will have to carry them throughout.

Projection: 2nd AL Central

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