|Prince Fielder adds more power to the Detroit lineup, but team speed is a concern. (US Presswire)|
LAKELAND, Fla. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Tigers:
• The middle of the order. Yes, I know the argument that Prince Fielder is simply replacing Victor Martinez, and might not be able to do much more than Martinez could last year. Sorry, don't buy it. Even with Martinez having an outstanding year, pitchers walked Miguel Cabrera 108 times, 22 of them intentionally. With Fielder batting behind him, I can't imagine that happening again. And if Cabrera gets more pitches to hit ...
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• The way they all seem to fit together. Watching Fielder and Cabrera take batting practice this spring, you're struck by how far all the balls are going, but also by how excited they seem about being in the same lineup. When I asked Cabrera about his immediate willingness to move to third to accommodate Fielder, he said: "You've got to say yes, when you want to win games."
• The rotation, and it starts at the top. With apologies to Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander is now the best pitcher in the game, and the people who know him say he's every bit as focused this spring as he was last spring. And the Tigers have talent behind him, with 2011 revelation Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and a group of fifth-starter candidates talented enough that ex-Tiger (and camp instructor) Kenny Rogers said: "From what I've seen, they don't need Roy Oswalt, and that's no disrespect to Roy."
• The depth that wasn't there last year. The Tigers lost to the Rangers in the American League Championship Series because they didn't have enough guys to go to in the bullpen, and because guys like young catcher Alex Avila were out of gas. The bullpen is deeper with the signing of Octavio Dotel, and with Gerald Laird signed as the backup catcher, Avila should get enough days off.
• Will the Cabrera at third experiment really work? If doesn't, the Tigers still have the designated hitter spot open, so they do have a fallback. The bigger issue would be next year, when Victor Martinez is healthy again. But even if this year, if it's not working, could it become a problem that helps derail a season? Sure it could.
• Will Austin Jackson get on base? There's a reason that manager Jim Leyland keeps saying that Jackson is one of the Tigers' biggest keys. They simply don't have other good options at leadoff, and if Jackson is as bad as he was at times last year, they won't score all the runs they're supposed to.
• Where's the speed? The original idea was that the Tigers would want to become more athletic over the winter. Instead, they've gotten even slower. That doesn't matter if Jackson (the one speed guy) gets on base and the big guys in the middle hit home runs like crazy, but what it they don't?
• It can't be this simple. I remember 2008. Everyone around the Tigers remembers 2008. They traded for Cabrera. They were supposed to be great. They finished in last place. That doesn't mean it will happen again. But it sure is a reminder that it could.