For teams out of contention for a postseason spot, September can be a grind. Simply knocking games off the schedule can become a focus if you are not careful. Yet, for a Tigers team in transition, the final month of the season still has value. Organizations are constantly evaluating, regardless of position in the standings.
Like all teams not named Cleveland in the Central Division, September will provide a quick snapshot of the work that awaits in the offseason. Decisions must be made. Veteran baseball people constantly warn that September is not always the best time to make decisions for the following season. Because of the number of teams out of the race, most organizations are playing young, unproven talent. That can make evaluating your own pieces a challenge. The final month many times will only shed some light on whether or not your prospects can hold their own against another team’s prospects.
Regardless, the Tigers may use September to get a bit closer to answering the following questions:
Where Does Niko Goodrum fit?
Goodrum is without question the most surprising development of the 2018 season for the Tigers. A career minor leaguer who was never really afforded a chance to show what he can do in the Minnesota Twins organization, Goodrum has emerged as an everyday player for this club. But where does he fit in 2019? Is he an everyday player at a single position or is he better suited to roam the field to take advantage of his versatility?
Goodrum went from utility man to everyday second baseman when Dixon Machado struggled earlier this season. While he has driven in 43 runs and has hit 13 homers in 400 at-bats, he also comes with a .229 average and .300 on-base percentage. Moreover, his numbers have dipped in the heat of the dog days. Still, there is a lot to like about Goodrum. He is athletic, versatile and hungry. He plays with energy every single day, runs well and has played six different positions on the field. The Tigers must decide if he is best suited for a utility role, or simply find a position for him. The majority of his reps have come at second base this year in the big leagues. In eight minor league seasons, he played mostly shortstop and third. Yet, there are some in the organization that feel he may be better suited for the outfield. If prospect Dawel Lugo is called up in September, and the feeling is that he will be, he may get some starts at second base, pushing Goodrum into a few more outfield reps.
Goodrum probably will never hit for high average in the major leagues-he was a .250 career hitter in the minors-but his intangibles and skill set have made an impression on the Tigers. So much so that September may provide a glimpse into where the organization thinks he fits in the future. The offseason is also a wildcard. Trades and signings could also alter the Tigers plans.
How many of next year’s bullpen arms are currently on the team?
Mention the word bullpen to most Tigers fans and get ready for some vitriol. It has been a sore spot over the last decade. From failed closers Joe Nathan and Frankie Rodriquez to the myriad of stopgap arms brought in to help the Tigers win a World Series, no other group has been under as much scrutiny as the pen.
Although Joe Jimenez has turned in a few rough outings in August, his talent is undeniable. So is his future. Jimenez will be a staple in the back end of the Tigers bullpen for years to come. An All-Star this year, Jimenez has an ERA over 11.00 in September. He has also logged more innings and made more appearances than last season. The Tigers will ease up on his workload to make sure they control the numbers.
While Jimenez is a lock, several others have emerged as pretty good bets going forward. Drew Verhagen, Buck Farmer, and Victor Alcántara have excelled at different times this year. Spencer Turnbull may get a September call-up and is an intriguing arm as well. He fanned 11 in his first Triple-A start on Monday. Alex Wilson has been a jack of all trades for the last several years and his versatility is valuable.
Verhagen has shined in the last two months, allowing only four walks in his last 27 innings. Verhagen has also posted a 2.33 ERA since the beginning of July and has been a reliable arm. He has also become adept at getting the ground ball. Verhagen has a 52% ground ball rate, the 8th highest percentage among relievers in the American League. That can be a handy weapon for a manager in search of a double play ball. Verhagen has put himself in a good position to claim a spot in next year’s pen.
Farmer was lights out in June, boasting a 0.71 ERA for the month. His fastball reaches 95-96MPH and his changeup has given left-handers fits. A big September would help smooth the ups and downs and leave an impression for 2019.
Alcántara has ironed out some control issues, for the most part, this year. Take away one bumpy outing against the Cubs last week, and the rookie has allowed only one run in 19 innings. He has great stuff and projects to be a strong candidate to lock down a spot next year.
Any mention of this year’s pen must also include Shane Greene. Rumored to be a trade candidate all summer, he remains a Tiger. Should he survive the winter trading season, he would, of course, be a member of the returning group.
Lefty Daniel Stumpf and Louis Coleman have had their moments this year, but would benefit mightily from a strong stretch run.
Then there is Daniel Norris. The feeling remains that Norris is a candidate for the rotation. However, before Norris landed on the disabled list because of groin surgery, he opened his manager’s eyes with a 3.1 inning stint out of the bullpen in April against the White Sox. If Norris is able to pitch again in the big leagues in September, and the feeling is that he will, it would certainly give him a leg up in spring camp next year, regardless of which role he slides into.
Is Christin Stewart the real deal?
We’ll find out shortly. Stewart will make his major league debut next month and not a moment too soon for a Tiger fan base that has been clamoring for his debut since last year. Well, get ready.
The former first-round pick out of Tennessee has flashed impressive power at Toledo again this year. Stewart has clubbed 91 homers in four minor league seasons and has an on-base percentage of. 360 in that span. His time is now and September will offer a glimpse of his skill. Questions remain about his defense, especially in an outfield as expansive as Comerica Park, but he should provide the offense with a jolt the final month.
For a Tigers team that is at the bottom of the list in home runs in the American League, Stewart’s arrival should bring an instant dose of run production that has been missing most of the year.