Mikie Mahtook's offense took a significant step back in 2016, his second MLB season, as he finished under the Mendoza Line while seeing his strikeout rate jump to 34.7 percent. In fact, pick out pretty much any offensive category for downturns of varying degrees for the 27-year-old outfielder. Perhaps the most drastic was in his power numbers, as Mahtook's HR/FB rate took a dive from 28.1 percent to 5.4 percent, and his hard contact rate dipped more than eight points as well. The long-ball decline may actually have been just a regression to the mean, as Mahtook has topped out at 12 homers back in 2014 at Triple-A Durham. What he has consistently demonstrated in the past is proficiency on the basepaths, as Mahtook posted double-digit steals in four minor league stops. The 27-year-old currently slots as a backup at all three outfield positions and could certainly take another positive step forward in 2017, although he'll likely be limited to a platoon role after being dealt to the Tigers during the offseason.
With J.D. Martinez out 3-4 weeks, Mahtook is a candidate to play some in right field, Jason Beck of MLB.com reports. Mahtook was penciled into a center field platoon with Tyler Collins to begin spring training, but both are options to play in right. Mahtook played 18 games in right for Tampa Bay in 2016 and 23 in center. Mahtook got off to a terrible start this spring, as he was hitting just .074 through his first 12 games. Since then, he's been able to get the average up to .213, which should give the club at least some confidence that Mahtook can be a regular player. But he might not have the longest leash, especially with Martinez due back and prospect JaCoby Jones waiting in the wings.
Mahtook said he hasn't lost any athleticism, despite some in the organization wondering if his weight-room work has caused decreased quickness and agility, the Detroit News reports. Mahtook is off to a slow start in spring training, and there is apparently some concern in the organization that he's added too much upper-body mass, which could reduce bat speed. Mahtook said he's cut down on weightlifting since spring training began, focusing more on strength maintenance. "I don't think I've lost any athleticism," he said. "My legs feel great. I still run well. I can jump well. I don't know where that comes from. I don't think I'm chunky at all." The fact that there is at least some internal questioning of Mahtook's conditioning isn't a great sign. Mahtook figures to begin the season in a center field platoon with Tyler Collins, but he could be on a short leash if he continues to struggle at the plate.
Mahtook is just 1-for-16 (.063) through eight spring training games. Expected to form a platoon in center field with Tyler Collins, Mahtook is not doing much to impress his new manager. The 27-year-old will likely be given time to figure things out, but if the struggles continue too far into the season, the Tigers could simply use Collins more or possibly turn to prospect JaCoby Jones in center. Mahtook did bat just .195/.231/.292 last season.
Mahtook said he is fully recovered from the various injuries he sustained in 2016, MLB.com reports. Mahtook suffered through several injuries last season, including a fractured left hand that cost him several weeks during the summer. He ended up appearing in 65 games for the Rays, posting a poor .195/.231/.292 line. If he can stay healthy this year, he figures to work in a center field platoon with Tyler Collins.
Mahtook could form a platoon in center field with Tyler Collins, Evan Woodbery of MLive reports. As the right-handed batter of the two, and a much better career hitter against lefties (.859 OPS; .536 OPS against righties), Mahtook figures to be on the smaller side of the platoon. There's also the chance that both Mahtook and Collins lose playing time to prospect JaCoby Jones, who made his MLB debut last season.