Detroit bench will once again be stretched thin

Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez will share duties as utility players in the infield for the Detroit Tigers in 2015.

Andrew Romine and Hernan Perez will share duties as utility players in the infield for the Detroit Tigers in 2015.

The bench has been one of the Detroit Tigers’ weaknesses in recent seasons. In this era of overstuffed bullpens, being wise about reserves is more important than ever. You need versatility — players who can fill multiple defensive spots — but you also need useful weapons like good pinch-hitters, pinch-runners, and defensive replacements.

For way too many seasons, Jim Leyland favorite Don Kelly epitomized everything that was wrong about the Detroit bench — clogging a roster spot with proven mediocrity. Yes, he could fill in at multiple positions, but so can Will Ferrell. Kelly is finally gone, and now the Tigers have some better options on the bench.

With the Tigers platooning four outfielders and two catchers, already profiled in previous installments, the following five players will play musical chairs. Depending on how many relievers Brad Ausmus wants to carry, they can’t all fit on the bench at any one time. But it’s a good bet that most or all of these men will see at least some weeks in a reserve role with the Tigers this season.

STEVEN MOYA. With Moya, you get real power and a high ceiling. What else do you get? A strikeout-to-walk ratio (seven-to-one last year in Double A) that would be the envy of any pitcher on the roster. Moya swings at anything and misses most of it, but when he connects it’s bye-bye Balboni. He needs more time with hitting coaches, so another year in the minor leagues seems in order. Or it could be time for more exposure to major league pitching in a sink-or-swim scenario. The Tigers already have four outfielders, and Moya isn’t known for his defense. As a corner outfielder, he profiles as a (gasp!) less selective J.D. Martinez—but from the left side, where the Tigers are in desperate need of a power threat. Moya’s role this year could be anything from Triple-A insurance and late-season call-up to pinch-hitter in Detroit and possibly, if regression befalls one Martinez and/or an injury sidelines the other, a prominent role with the Tigers.

HERNAN PEREZ. Perez is ready to step into the role of major league utility player. He’s adequate everywhere, with a little bit of all the skills and versatility needed to become a utility infielder—and probably he could be pressed into service in an outfield corner in an emergency. In other words, he’s probably a younger but somewhat more valuable Don Kelly but without the short pants.

ANDREW ROMINE. If Perez isn’t ready for the bigs, if Jose Iglesias isn’t fully recovered from his year off due to injury, if Nick Castellanos has a sophomore slump, or if Ian Kinsler injures a big toe, Romine is insurance anywhere in the infield. Tigers fan already know he can’t hit a lick, but though his fielding at shortstop pales in comparison to Iglesias, he does have a decent glove. Hopefully he won’t be starting many games, though; if he does, Detroit’s in trouble.

TYLER COLLINS. A good defensive outfielder with speed is always welcome on the Detroit bench, and Collins, too, has that magical plus of batting left-handed. His upside is a major league career as a fourth outfielder, so he might as well apprentice now by being the fifth outfielder on the Tigers. At the very least he can be a pinch runner and handyman off the bench.

BRYAN HOLADAY. Last year’s backup catcher had a solid enough season, and he’s there and ready to go if the Tigers decide James McCann isn’t ready or if the club feels it has the luxury of carrying a third catcher (unlikely). Detroit could certainly do worse for someone needed to catch fifty or sixty games a season as the platoon partner for Alex Avila.