Entering the 2013-14 offseason, the Detroit Tigers had a hole in left field and plenty of question marks. Would they make a big trade splash, go with a platoon or sign a big name free agent to take over?
As it would turn out, the platoon option won, and the Tigers signed speedy Rajai Davis to occupy left field along with Andy Dirks. Otherwise, Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter are both back, providing Detroit's outfield with some major speed and athleticism. There's plenty of ground to cover in Comerica Park, but these four will be in charge of getting the job done. What's fair to expect? Here's a guide.
1. Austin Jackson, CF. Last season, Jackson slumped badly down the stretch, frustrating in the playoffs enough to warrant a bump down in the order. This season, with more speed at the top, perhaps Jackson might find himself moved down a bit more consistently. All in all, Jackson had decent numbers, socking 12 home runs and collecting a .272 batting average. His strikeout numbers decreased, but were ugly in the playoffs
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Jackson has an upturn from last year, hitting around .290 while powering 17 home runs over the fence. He doesn't have the breakout year that many are expecting, but he does have a solid bounce back season after a rough finish to 2013.
2. Torii Hunter, RF. Despite being 38, Hunter didn't look to age at all last season, and was a still an impossible out at the plate hitting .304 with 17 home runs and 84 RBI. Additionally, Hunter played solid defense in right field, adjusting well to his new surroundings while acting as a positive vocal leader in the clubhouse. Hunter is a steady leader and consistent performer. Expect him to continue to set the tone this season.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: The same type of solid effort. Hunter's power and average numbers may decrease a touch, but there's no reason to expect anything dramatic. He stays in shape and is motivated to win, meaning he'll hit .295 while hitting 14 home runs and playing his usual solid defense.
3. Andy Dirks, LF. Fighting off injury, Dirks had an inconsistent season in 2013, hitting a pedestrian .256 with only nine home runs and 37 RBI. Dirks didn't do nearly enough consistent hitting or running to justify a spot by himself, so the team brought in a player to play in a platoon. In 2014, Dirks will need to stay healthy and hit for a much higher average while playing better defense.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Dirks will do much better than last year considering healthy, hitting around .265 with an increase in home runs and RBI production. He'll also stay healthy most of the year and play decent defense. Don't expect him to set the world on fire, but a bounce back year is definitely on tap.
4. Rajai Davis, LF. Coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays, Davis will be counted on to add some definite speed and excitement to the top of the order. Last season he collected 45 steals with a .312 on base percentage which will need to be improved upon in Detroit. The Tigers need Davis to get on base the most out of anyone to make his speed an asset. If not, it will be wasted behind a decent but not great .260 average. Of note to Detroit? Davis's .319 average against left handed pitching in 2013, which he has always tagged well in his career. Defense shouldn't be a problem, but Davis will have to learn a complicated left field, too, which is something to watch.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Davis has been a speed demon wherever he's been, so that won't slow down at all with the Tigers. He collects 50 steals and fills in well in a platoon role against left handed pitching, giving Detroit exactly what they envisioned when he signed in the offseason.
Next up, a look at a completely remade infield, which has the potential for greatness even though it features a rookie starter making his debut.
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