Detroit Tigers 2024 MLB Spring Training Storylines

The Tigers aren't true contenders yet, but it will be fun to watch the young core blossom throughout spring training and into the season.

Alex Lange of the Detroit Tigers pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 20: Alex Lange #55 of the Detroit Tigers pitches during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 20, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Is there anything better than seeing videos of players in spring training?

A simple game of catch with the Florida sunshine beating down, serenaded by the pop of leather. Itching for the next “best shape of his life” rumor only to be overshadowed by a pitcher working on a new grip or adding velocity.

In spring training, every storyline is interesting. The desperate search for tidbits and hearsay helps us paint the picture of an eventual Opening Day. I want to take a moment to walk through my stream of consciousness about the Tigers as spring training begins.

The Tigers’ Rotation Depth and the Odd Man Out

Last season, the Tigers struggled with a long list of injuries leading to waiver claims, spot starts, and openers. Heading into 2024, the rotation is healthy and deeper. Kenta Maeda and Jack Flaherty both signed with Detroit this winter, joining ace Tarik Skubal as the rotation “locks.” The four and five spots will come down to a battle between Casey Mize, Reese Olson, and Matt Manning.

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All three have minor league options allowing any of them to start the season in Toledo. Manning’s baseline stats looked solid last year, but advanced metrics like his 5.48 xERA and 5.33 xFIP tell the bigger story. When you struggle to get anyone to swing and miss and the contact is hard, things go south. I’d lean toward Mize, if healthy, and Olson (who I’m very high on).

The battle for the fourth and fifth spots is fun to talk about, but the depth chart past that is more interesting to me. Sawyer Gipson-Long, Keider Montero, and Wilmer Flores are all on the 40-man roster and options to start. Ty Madden and Brant Hurter are a couple of prospects knocking on the door and of course, there is top prospect Jackson Jobe.

Not only will I keep my eye on the Tigers depth chart in spring but also throughout the season.

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal delivers a pitch during game one of an MLB doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics on May 10, 2022 at Comerica Park.
DETROIT, MI – MAY 10: Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Tarik Skubal (29) delivers a pitch during game one of an MLB doubleheader against the Oakland Athletics on May 10, 2022 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

How To Sort Out the Tigers Outfield, and Who Backs Up Meadows?

Let’s paint the picture. Riley Greene, Kerry Carpenter, and Parker Meadows will be starting in the outfield. Mark Cahna will be sprinkled in with Andy Ibáñez or Zach McKinstry as other options.

As you know, A.J. Hinch will mix and match and share the DH role, allowing for multiple lineup combinations. Luckily, the 40-man roster has plenty of outfield options, but few are true center fielders. Greene could slide over to center, although the team has made it clear they want him playing more corner. So, who can back up for Meadows?

Justin-Henry Malloy is officially an outfielder and no longer a third baseman. While I love his approach and think he will be a major leaguer, Malloy is too similar to Canha to make the Opening Day roster. The fact that he is limited to corner outfield and DH does not help.

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Akil Baddoo has played some center, but it was not exactly pretty. While he’s a fun player with some tools, the bat has not proven worthy of regular playing time at this level. He will likely start the year as depth in the minors.

Matt Vierling is already on the roster, and he could move to center to give Meadows a day off. While that’s the boring answer, let’s share a bold prediction. How about Ryan Kreidler as the backup in center? Or Eddys Leonard? More on Leonard later.

Kreidler has primarily played around the infield, yet he did play 113 innings in center for the Toledo Mud Hens last season. Injuries have held him back from making an impact, but we know how much this team likes versatility, and Kreidler provides just that.

Alex Lange Needs To Prove He Is the Closer

With a high 96-mph fastball followed by a hammer of a curveball and a changeup he can pull the string on, you won’t find anyone who doubts Alex Lange’s stuff. He is absolutely good enough to be a closer. However, the righty struggled to keep that job at times last year; as walks piled up, so did doubts.

Something about getting the last three outs is difficult for some players. Others are built for it – so much so that their confidence becomes intimidating. Usually, that’s the difference between a successful and unsuccessful closer. I think Lange has what it takes, but throwing more strikes is the most important step.

I would not rule out a closer committee of sorts. Jason Foley had a shot last year and could be in line to see the first “next guy up” chance. And don’t sleep on Shelby Miller. The Tigers are high on him, and that spitter working off a fastball with movement could be lethal. Remember, they gave him a club option which makes me think a significant role is in play.

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Do the Tigers Really Have Such a Deep Hole at Third Base?

A quick glance at the projected Opening Day lineup shows one glaring hole: third base. Every other position has an established starter or, in Colt Keith’s case, a high-end prospect.

However, the more I think about it, the more comfortable I am with the current plan at the hot corner.

The free agent market at third wasn’t particularly strong, and Matt Chapman on a several-year deal would be too risky for my liking. Without the right upgrade available, the Tigers are letting the current crop battle it out while waiting to see if prospect Jace Jung can eventually play his way into the conversation.

Vierling and Ibáñez are the front runners, and both are perfectly adequate players. Sure, an upgrade would be welcome, but getting league-average play is okay. The Tigers’ lineup is good enough to afford having an unspectacular player at third for 2024 with a focus on upgrading in 2025.

Does Detroit Have Too Many “DH” Defenders?

As much as we all love Miggy, not having a DH-only type on the roster will open up opportunities for Hinch. This team has several players whose defense would lead you to think they are better off as a DH than in the field, and that’s concerning.

Spencer Torkelson, Carpenter, Greene (injuries), Malloy, and Keith all would benefit from seeing time at DH. I’ll make this simple: This spring, I want to watch to see if any players have improved defensively and see if Keith looks like he can stick at second base long-term. You don’t see many players with his build playing second.

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Tigers Bullpen Breakouts

The Tigers coaching staff and front office deserve all the credit in the world for their ability to identify, develop, and unlock pitching talent. Just last year, Tyler Holton went from an unknown waiver claim to one of the best options out of the bullpen. Here are just a few quick thoughts on some arms:

Beau Brieske – A move to the bullpen saw the velocity tick up on his fastball while his changeup also improved in movement, resulting in a 32.5% whiff rate on the offspeed pitch. In 2023, Brieske cut his barrel rate in half (10% to 5%), slashed his hard-hit rate and forced batters to a meager 87-mph average exit velocity. That’s enough positive movement to catch my attention.

Joey Wentz – Now that your laughs are out of the way, hear me out. Wentz was awful last season in a starting role. He’s now made the move to the bullpen and can hopefully tweak something to unlock his potential. He has a good changeup that caused a 32% whiff rate and held batters to a .189 average last year, helping him against righties. A young southpaw, Wentz is a potential Tyler Alexander replacement. Keep in mind, he’s out of options this season and likely gets a chance to avoid waivers.

Brendan White – If I had to pick one pitcher to break out, it’s White. I love what the sweeper can be, and the pitch boasts plus movement to work off his fastball. White can still work his slider, too. I’d like to see a little improvement on his fastball to help him avoid as much hard contact. His hard-hit rate and average exit velocity were both worse than league average in 2023.

Tyler Mattison – If you are not familiar with Mattison that is likely to change soon. The Tigers’ fourth-round pick from 2021 struck out 91 batters over 59.2 innings between two levels last season. He throws a fastball around 95 mph with good movement to go along with a changeup and a curveball that show promise.

After Colt Keith, Which Tigers Rookies Will Step Up?

Picking a team “Rookie of the Year” was too easy with top prospect Colt Keith set to make the Opening Day roster, so let’s eliminate Keith from the running.

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That leaves us with Wenceel Pérez, Andre Lipcius, Eddys Leonard, Ryan Kreidler, Parker Meadows, Dillon Dingler, Justyn-Henry Malloy, and Justice Bigbie as the contenders on the position player side.

As far as pitchers go, Wilmer Flores, Sawyer Gipson-Long, Keider Montero, Brant Hurter, Jackon Jobe, Ty Madden, and Tyler Mattison stand out.

Meadows is my (predictable) pick. Even if the bat does not come around immediately, his plus running and defense combined with his eye for the zone produce a high floor and a potential 2.5+ WAR player. My long-shot pick is Leonard. After joining the Tigers organization last year, he slashed .302/.374/.530 at Triple-A, good for a 123 wRC+.

Although he does not have power that jumps off the page, Leonard will run into enough to keep pitchers honest. He can play all around the field and could factor into the backup center fielder/utility infielder conversation.

Zach McKinstry Is More Valuable in a Bench Role

When you hear an old-timer say, “That guy is just a ballplayer!” I think of Zach McKinstry, a lefty bat who can play all over the field and provide plus defense and speed. He’s the type of player that is crucial off the bench for late-game strategy.

The crazy May McKinstry put up last year (.301/.454/.411) might have skewed our perception of the type of player he really is. He’s useful, but his value comes from defense and versatility, which will allow Hinch to make other moves knowing McKinstry can fill in all over the field.

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Pinch-hitting for Carpenter against a tough bullpen lefty? McKinstry fills in in the outfield. Same situation for Keith? Plug McKinstry in at second. If Javy misses games with injury, McKinstry is at short; if Jake Rogers reaches late in the game, McKinstry can pinch run. He’s a very useful player.


Although I love this roster, it feels like the Tigers are in the year before they reach true competitor status. The core was established and some questions were answered last year, but more still need to be answered before they move prospects and invest heavily in one position, like third base.

The type of season I’m describing is always fun. Seeing a team blossom and unfold throughout the summer while I get to play armchair GM discussing upgrades and monitoring prospects can be exciting. Sit back and enjoy the ride, Detroit is finally lined up for an exciting summer.