Infield defense has been a huge area of concern for the Detroit Tigers for a long time, and rightfully so. The team has had several ground ball pitchers, and badly needed to clean things up. As a result, the team made a big move shipping away Prince Fielder and gaining Ian Kinsler, a plus defender while moving Miguel Cabrera back to his more comfortable first base position.
Add in the inclusion of young shortstop Jose Iglesias for a full year, rookie Nick Castellanos returning to third base from the outfield and the hiring of former star player Omar Vizquel as an infield coach and the potential for dramatic improvement exists. What is a realistic goals for the infield this season? Here's a look.
1. Miguel Cabrera, 1B. Despite the fact that Cabrera played much of 2013 hurt, he still powered through, bravely chasing a second consecutive triple crown for months. With 44 home runs, 139 RBI and an always impressive .348 batting average, Cabrera did win another MVP award, and with health now back in his favor, could be poised to do even better things in 2014. Additionally, he should feel much more comfortable moving back to first base.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: More of the same, also known as pure greatness. Cabrera should sock 40–45 home runs, drive in over 120 runs and have another gaudy batting average above .320 again. Considering health, those numbers might even be conservative estimates.
2. Ian Kinsler, 2B. The dependable Kinsler comes over from Texas, the only place he's played and the place he likely expected to finish out his career. Nevertheless, Kinsler takes over second base and considering the fact he's an above average defender and solid contact hitter, the fit could be exellent. 2013 saw a slight downturn in numbers, but Kinsler still had a .277 batting average with 15 steals, 13 home runs and 72 RBI's. That was more than anyone near the top of Detroit's order last season, meaning he should play a big role.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Kinsler hits near the top of the order, and has a decent year as a tone setter for the lineup, hitting .265 with 15 home runs, 60 RBI's and 20 steals. He plays solid defense and embraces his new surroundings.
3. Jose Iglesias, SS. There's a feeling in Detroit that the Tigers have only scratched the surface of Iglesias' greatness, considering he joined the team late in July and didn't have a chance to make a full season impact at shortstop. Still, the young man made his presence felt immediately, turning in highlight reel plays in the field while managing to hold his own at the plate with a .259 average, 2 home runs and 10 RBI's. It's fair to expect more of the same for Iglesias in 2014, as he enters his second full season in the big leagues.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: More exceptional, defensive wizardry. At the plate, Iglesias holds his own over the course of a whole season, hitting .270 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI. Few will mind those statistics, however, considering how acrobatic Iglesias is at saving runs and preventing base runners.
4. Nick Castellanos, 3B. Possibly the biggest wild card on the team, nobody knows what to expect from Castellanos, who will have pressure on him as a rookie expected to step in immediately at a tough position. It's not known how Castellanos will adjust to big league pitching or deal with the grueling defensive weight of 162 games. What is known, however, is that Castellanos will play his more comfortable third base instead of outfield, and comfort most often leads to success. in 18 major league plate appearances, he's collected five hits. If Castellanos is able to hold close those numbers during the season with some power and plus defense, the Tigers will be thrilled.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Castellanos will face growing pains with the Tigers in 2014. Success won't be immediate, but Detroit's new third baseman will adjust well and persevere through the season. He'll hit .263 with some decent power and grow as the season goes on.
5. Steve Lombardozzi, INF. The inclusion of Lombardozzi in the deal for Doug Fister was a big reason the Tigers were able to let dependable Ramon Santiago walk. Expcted to be a super sub, Lombardozzi can play all the positions in the infield . He's not a heavy hitter with a career .260 batting average, five home runs and 50 RBI, but should be able to provide what Santiago did and then some in a reserve role.
- What To Realistically Expect In 2014: Much of the same as Santiago. Lombardozzi will be able to give Tiger defenders a rest without much of a loss defensively, and could step in if Castellanos periodically struggles. He'll hit .255 with two home runs in a fill-in role.
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