The Detroit Tigers are one of the most star-studded teams in baseball, specifically on offense. From Miguel Cabrera to Victor Martinez to Ian Kinsler to Yoenis Cespedes, there are plenty of high-profile names in the Detroit clubhouse.

However, while all four players will be important factors to the Tigers achieving the ultimate success next season, young players will ultimately play the most important collective role—improving the bench and the bottom of the lineup.

Detroit has won four American League Central titles, made it to three straight American League Championship Series and went to the 2012 World Series mainly on star power.

Sure, their batting lineup was phenomenal, but the players at the back end of the team’s roster weren’t exactly world beaters.

The perfect example of this occurred during Game 3 of the Tigers’ ALDS matchup with the Orioles.

Down by two runs entering the bottom of the ninth and needing a rally to extend their postseason hopes, the Tigers sent Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Bryan Holaday (who was subbing for an injured Alex Avila) to the plate.

Victor Martinez doubled to start the inning, while J.D. followed with a double of his own to bring the Tigers within one run.

The next batter, Holaday, promptly struck out. Nick Castellanos was intentionally walked, which brought the lineup around to the shortstop’s place in the batting order. The lighter-hitting Andrew Romine was removed for Hernan Perez. Perez grounded into a double play that ended the game and the Tigers’ season.

Perez is a player with solid potential who could be a consistent offensive contributor down the line but wasn’t the right player to hit in that spot. He’s played all of 44 games in the majors in the past three seasons.

Sadly, Perez was the best option. Eugenio Suarez was the only other player available off the bench at that moment, and he only managed a .570 OPS in the second half of the season.

Suarez was the last man on the bench due to the loss of Austin Jackson and some substitutions earlier in the game.

After losing Jackson in the David Price trade, the team was forced to play Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez and Torii Hunter as the preferred outfield trio. This replaced the predicament of having four quality outfielders rotating between three spots.

Post-Price trade, the Tigers bench generally consisted of some combination of Don Kelly, Ezequiel Carrera, Holaday and Suarez or Romine (depending on who wasn’t starting).

With the exception of Kelly, who has a penchant for timely postseason hits and can play almost anywhere on the diamond as well as Romine—who brings defense and speed—there isn’t much there that will win Detroit a game.


Improving the Bench

Enter the Tigers young players, who should give the team more quality depth—depth that could push the team over the hump and allow them to claim the World Series trophy that has evaded them in years past.

Detroit’s pinch hitters produced a measly .182 batting average and an awful .297 slugging percentage.

The Tigers have inadvertently made strides to improve this. Newly acquired center fielder Anthony Gose will at the very least push Davis into a platoon role in center field. This means that Davis will be on the bench for many games.

Should Gose improve on his .226 batting average in 2014 and continue to play stellar defense, he may win the job outright.

This would not be a bad thing.

While Davis didn’t exactly light it up as a substitute (.250 batting average when coming off the bench in 2014), he does possess qualities that teams look for in a bench player—pop (37 extra-base-hits) and speed (36 steals in 2014, meaning he won’t have to be removed for a pinch runner).

The former Pittsburgh Pirate also hit .356 against right-handed pitching, posted a .302 clip with runners in scoring position and had a collective .315 average in the seventh through ninth innings.  

Along with Davis, manager Brad Ausmus will have his pick of players. Highly regarded prospect Steven Moya plays like a more athletic Adam Dunn with the same, if not more, raw power and an ability to hit for average (.276 batting average at Double-A).

Fellow outfielder Tyler Collins provides a solid blend of speed and pop, while catching prospect James McCann shows the ability to succeed on both sides of the ball thanks to a .295 batting average in Triple-A and a strong, defense-first reputation.

All of these players should vastly improve Detroit’s bench in 2015.  


Solidifying the Bottom of the Lineup

Even if the young players aren’t reserve players, like Jose Iglesias (24) and Castellanos (22), they can still improve the team’s overall depth.

The Tigers’ depth was exposed by the Orioles not just on the bench, but also at the bottom of the lineup. Detroit has multiple batters hitting sixth hit a cumulative .226. A massive drop off from the .299 clip number five hole hitters posted. The seventh spot in the order produced a collective .249 batting average. The eighth spot turned in a .241 number, while the nine hole came in with a .248 batting average.

These trends should be helped by the arrival of Cespedes. He or J.D. Martinez will hit sixth for Ausmus, providing an immediate upgrade.

Similarly, if Iglesias hits anywhere near the .259 mark he posted in Detroit after coming over from Boston, he will also provide a definite upgrade at shortstop and at the bottom of the lineup. An improvement on that .259 number isn’t out of the question either. Should that occur, it would be icing on the cake.  

Castellanos is another young player who stands a strong chance to improve in 2015. Long touted as the best hitting prospect in the Tigers’ system, Castellanos produced 31 doubles and drove in 66 runs as a rookie. His .259 batting average (coincidentally identical to Iglesias’) should improve as well with more experience. Should that happen, his statistics should improve across the board.

Should Iglesias, Castellanos and Gose all improve on their 2014 numbers, the Tigers will no longer have a bottom-of-the-order that is perceived as a handful of easy outs. Should the bench improve, the team may finally have an offense equipped to succeed in the postseason and ultimately win a World Series.

All stats courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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