Since it’s that time of year, let’s salute the Tigers’ All-Stars (as for the moment, we avoid a reference to the abysmal showing of the team as a whole).
Miguel Cabrera. Perhaps the most telling thing to note about Miggy is that he is currently on the disabled list for the first time in his career. There is more to this superstar than the fact that he is best hitter of this century so far. One thing is that he is surprisingly durable. He has played through many minor injuries. He’s on the wrong side of thirty now, so that’s not likely to continue, but, much like Prince Fielder, Cabrera is always surprising people with his athleticism, his defensive skills, and even his base running. Just because he’s a big man and a powerful hitter doesn’t mean he can’t play the whole game. He’s more than adequate at first base. And of course he’s an asset in intangible ways too, like his leadership in the clubhouse. And though he’s one of the veterans on this team, he’s also still one of the most boyishly enthusiastic players. He clearly loves to play the game; just witness his conversations with opposing players, his laughs and smiles, his occasional harmless pranks. It goes without saying that he’s one of the smartest, most versatile, most reliable, and most powerful hitters ever to play in the major leagues, and Detroit fans should count themselves lucky to see him playing at the peak of his career. Like a much quieter star of the past, Al Kaline, Cabrera is so consistent and dependable day-in-and-day-out that it’s too easy to take him for granted and miss the fact that we are seeing someone very special.
David Price. More than just a very talented pitcher, David Price is a bulldog. Much like Justin Verlander in his prime, Price will do whatever it takes to put his team in a position to win the game. Price has great talent, but his stuff is not quite as overpowering as many of the strikeout artists who are dominating the game today. But even when the lefty is having an off day, during the rare outings when he’s struggling a little with his command (like, for instance, last week in Minnesota), he will battle through it. He is an old-fashioned workhorse who would prefer to complete his games. And he will keep his team in position to win no matter what the score. Thus, Detroit’s record is remarkable, way up above .800, when he is on the mound. More than anyone else on the roster not named Miggy, Detroit needs Price right now as the anchor of a staff that is full of question marks, and the front office had better do whatever it takes to keep him under contract if they entertain any hope of returning to the World Series.
Jose Iglesias. Though not yet widely recognized for the special talent he is, and though still at the beginning of his career, Iglesias should be the AL starter at shortstop, being by all available measures superior to any other shortstop in the league. He is a spectacular, creative, resourceful, dependable, and rock-solid defender. And he has many of the same attributes as a hitter and base runner. It’s time to stop dismissing his .300-plus batting average as some sort of fluke, and it would help the team immensely if he were moved to leadoff, or maybe the No. 2 spot in the lineup, where he belongs, rather than being buried at No. 9. Iglesias may not do somersaults, but he is an absolute wizard with the glove. In fact, if he can stay healthy and spend his career in Detroit, he could eventually become the greatest shortstop in Tigers history, at least the equal in the field of any of the team’s many previous good-glove, no-hit shortstops, and potentially a hitter near the level of Alan Trammell, though lacking Tram’s occasional power. As good and consistent as Trammell was (and he should be a Hall of Famer), Iglesias is a superior defender. It shouldn’t take more than another year or two of batting .300 for Iglesias to be recognized as a perennial All-Star. For many years to come, he’ll be battling Houston’s Carlos Correa for the honor of being the starting AL shortstop in the All-Star Game.
J.D. Martinez. The other Martinez is developing rapidly into one of the league’s most explosive power hitters. Like many with a big bat, J.D. is prone to being inconsistent, and you have to take the whiffs with the clouts, but he is starting to improve at delivering a clutch single or double now and then as well, and even his defense has turned the corner from plodding to adequate. A classic power-hitting corner outfielder, J.D. is learning a lot, perhaps just from being in the same clubhouse with Miggy and VMart. While I wouldn’t bet the bank on his turning in an All-Star-level season year-after-year, he’s no longer looking like a fluke who’s having a career year. Ideally he belongs in the No. 5 spot in the lineup, where he can drive in a lot of runs when he does reach the seats. Picked up off the scrapheap of seemingly failed prospects, J.D. counts as one of the real finds in Dave Dombrowski’s career, and the Tigers’ coaching staff deserves credit for rounding out the rough edges of his game. He’s one of the most pleasant surprises of this very disappointing season.