Tigers' roster remains stable as season starts

Tigers' roster remains stable as season starts

The Tigers packed up and exited Lakeland, Fla. Before doing so, they finalized their 25-man roster, and aside from an injury, it looked much like it was projected at the start of Spring Training.

LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers' roster was fairly straightforward when Spring Training began in mid-February. With so many regulars returning and so few spots up for grabs, the intrigue was about health all around, youth in center field, experience in the rotation and contracts in the bullpen.

In the end, the three X-factors that threw off camp were the injury to J.D. Martinez, the emergence of JaCoby Jones and the growth of Matthew Boyd (not just in name, since he was Matt Boyd, but in pitching).

Though a last-minute waiver pickup or free-agent signing could change the mix, here's a look at what shapes up to the be the Opening Day roster compared to previous projections in February and mid-March.

Catchers (2): James McCann, Alex Avila
This group was set as soon as Avila returned on a one-year, $2 million contract just before Christmas. While he settled back into his old clubhouse and had a positive impact on young pitchers, Boyd among them, McCann spent camp working on his mobility behind the plate and his pitch framing. Detroit added depth Friday by re-signing Bryan Holaday to a Minor League deal.

First base (1): Miguel Cabrera
Though a pesky back injury threw some worry into Tigers officials once Cabrera returned from the World Baseball Classic, the centerpiece of the Tigers' offense appears ready to go and up to his usual self at the plate. Who backs him up is in some question, with Victor Martinez limited to DH this spring, but Avila and Andrew Romine both garnered time at first while Cabrera was playing for Venezuela.

Kinsler talks Classic, Tigers

Second base (1): Ian Kinsler
Had Kinsler been traded in the offseason, this spot likely would've been open for Omar Infante to become the surprise of camp and take his old job back. But Kinsler remains a Tiger at the top of his game following an outstanding performance for Team USA.

Shortstop (1): Jose Iglesias
Dixon Machado looked good during his starts at short, but this was always going to be Iglesias' spot unless the Tigers traded him. Iglesias reminded people why that's so by unleashing some acrobatic plays over the course of spring.

Third base (1): Nicholas Castellanos
The surprise wasn't Castellanos holding down the spot, but how good he looked this spring. An open spot in the batting order in front of Miguel Cabrera served as motivation, and a leaner, quicker frame was the driving force.

Upton's two-run homer

Outfield (4): Jones, Tyler Collins, Mikie Mahtook, Justin Upton
Collins and Mahtook came into as the likely ingredients for a platoon, but it was supposed to be in center. Once J.D. Martinez sprained his foot, the door opened for them to shift to right and for the Tigers to reward Jones, who played an athletic center field and displayed a more disciplined eye at the plate than the team might have expected.

DH (1): Victor Martinez
His health will be at some level of concern all season after he played through a hernia injury for much of last year's stretch run, but the 38-year-old remains a critical cog who has to remain healthy if the Tigers are to contend. He went just 5-for-36 with one double and one home run in Grapefruit League play, interrupted by his stint in the World Baseball Classic.

Bench (2): Romine, Machado
Infante made a strong push for a spot, and if the Tigers weren't looking to get younger for the future, he probably would've won a utility role. But the slick-fielding, speedy Machado has a future on this club, he's out of Minor League options, and there was no chance he'd clear waivers. The Tigers were willing to take that chance with Steven Moya, also out of options.

Avila on Fulmer's outlook

Rotation (5): Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Boyd, Daniel Norris
Verlander, Fulmer and Zimmermann were set going into camp as long as they were healthy. The questions were Norris and Boyd versus Anibal Sanchez and Mike Pelfrey. I put down Norris and Boyd at first because of what they did down the stretch last year, keeping the Tigers in the postseason hunt by pitching above their experience level. I kept them here because of what they did in the spring. Norris' dead-arm outing earlier this week aside, these two had the strongest camps among the starters, despite Sanchez's amazing midpoint resurgence.

Bullpen (7): Francisco Rodriguez, Bruce Rondon, Justin Wilson, Alex Wilson, Shane Greene, Kyle Ryan, Sanchez
The question all spring was which of the guaranteed contracts might end up here. Mark Lowe's history of wild swings in performance from one year to the next made him as good of a case for a resurgence as any, but the change that brought him hope couldn't stick. Same with Pelfrey, who had been seen as a prospective reliever from the day he signed but didn't adjust as well to the role. Enter Sanchez, who will stay stretched out in case an injury or doubleheader require an extra starter.

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.