LAKELAND, Fla. -- While the Tigers try to fill the void in center field created by Cameron Maybin's trade to the Angels, there's another opening Maybin left. Somebody has to hit second between leadoff man Ian Kinsler and All-Star slugger Miguel Cabrera.
That contest might be more wide open than the one in center.
"We really don't have a prototypical two-hole hitter," manager Brad Ausmus said on Thursday. "I know the theories behind hitting your best hitter second, but I don't know that it applies if your best hitter is not really a runner."
Victor Martinez batted second in the Tigers' exhibition against Florida Southern, but that was just to get him a first-inning at-bat before exiting. More quirks like that are expected to get players early at-bats before heading to the World Baseball Classic.
Ausmus has candidates for the role. Justin Upton, who hit second at times early last season and struggled, is not one of them. Jose Iglesias, who batted second in 22 games in 2016, is a candidate. J.D. Martinez, who hit second 33 times last year, could be a candidate, but Ausmus would rather keep him in the middle of the order.
"Ideally, I'd like someone who could run a little bit and get on base," Ausmus said. "You want to be able to score from first on a double, ideally."
Cabrera, Ausmus said, is not a candidate.
"Has it crossed my mind? Yeah. Have I considered it? No," Ausmus said. "Miggy's been pretty successful hitting third, and I know that the numbers say the two hole gets more RBI opportunities. Of course, the two hole getting more RBI opportunities is based on the fact that most teams have the best hitter hitting third."
Nick Castellanos, who has never started a game batting second in his Major League career, is a candidate. Moreover, he wants to be a candidate.
"I've talked to Nick, and Nick's a possibility," Ausmus said. "And quite frankly, Nick wants to hit second. Nick and I talked about it at TigerFest, and I'm glad he wants to hit second. Ideally, he would get on base a little more, but if he hits second, he can't go up there trying to walk. He can't change the style of hitter he is. He just has to hit, be Nick Castellanos, maybe tighten up the balls you're swinging at, don't leave the zone so much when you're swinging. But don't try to walk. You can't try to walk. Teams tried to do that early on in the Moneyball era."
Castellanos has walked in 6.3 percent of his career plate appearances for a .311 on-base percentage. His OBP last year, however, reached .331. American League hitters batting second posted a .334 OBP last year, the second highest of any spot in a batting order behind the third hitter (.349).
"We want Nick to hit and drive the ball because that's the type of hitter he is," Ausmus said. "We're hoping he doesn't leave the strike zone as often trying to hit pitches he can't hit. Easier said than done when a guy's throwing 96 mph."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.