Wednesday, March 13, 2013
By Jason Catania
One of the few positions that features a spring training competition of sorts on the Detroit Tigers is left field.
With Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter locking down center and right field, respectively, the battle for left primarily will be between Andy Dirks and Brennan Boesch, although youngster Avisail Garcia could also factor into the mix.
Thing is, those three may be just keeping the spot warm for prospect Nick Castellanos, a 21-year-old right-handed hitter who posted a triple-slash line of .320/.365/.451 in reaching Double-A last season. As the Detroit News' Lynn Henning writes, Castellanos could be up in the first half of 2013. The biggest factor here is how the natural third baseman takes to playing left field full-time after being switched late last year to avoid being blocked by Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers are known for pushing their top young players quickly, and if the club feels Castellanos can be their short- and long-term answer at the position, they won't hesitate to bring him up.
Left field remains a work in progress because Boesch, 27, was a huge disappointment last year, hitting just .240 with a .659 OPS. And while Dirks, also 27, was a mini-revelation, batting .322 with an .857 OPS despite missing all of June and July with an Achilles injury, he might fit better as a fourth outfielder in the long run. Even manager Jim Leyland has questioned whether Dirks can be an everyday player, writes James Schmehl of MLive.com, given last year's injury and his recent battle with an intercostal strain this spring.
For now, Dirks has the leg up (yes, even coming off a leg injury), but Garcia, who hits from the right side, unlike both Dirks and Boesch, could at some point be used in a platoon role and see action against tough left-handers. And if none of Dirks, Boesch or Garcia get the job done, Castellanos will be waiting for his turn.
Baseball Prospectus' Ben Lindbergh writes for ESPN Insider that Dirks should emerge as the starter in left:
Ben LindberghDirks vs. Boesch
"Dirks hit .322/.370/.487 in left last season; Boesch hit .240/.286/.372 in right, where he has been displaced by Torii Hunter. Those stats would seem to make this a clear-cut case, but PECOTA's offensive projections for the pair are comparatively close (.769 OPS for Dirks, .744 for Boesch), and Jim Leyland has indicated that Boesch will have a chance to compete for a starting role. Who should win? Dirks. Both hitters are left-handed, and neither has shown any platoon split to speak of at the major league level, so this isn't a problem a platoon would solve. Dirks' recent success and Boesch's issues with impatience make Dirks the better and the more likely choice."