LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tigers general manager Al Avila has already told Lloyd McClendon he expects a championship in Toledo. Avila insists he was only joking with his Triple-A manager, but he is quite serious about the faith he has in his organizational depth heading into the 2016 season.
With the club’s roster now set (journeyman Logan Kensing beat out Lendy Castillo for the last remaining bullpen spot) and barring a handful of names being dispatched to the disabled list, Avila feels good about the talent at both the major and minor-league levels.
“What I feel good about is we do have some depth. Even after all these injuries, we're breaking camp with a team that we like,” Avila said in an impromptu press briefing on Friday morning. “And after we overcome some injuries and some guys start coming back in, at this point if someone else gets injured you have a steady flow of guys coming in and out. That’s always important. We feel we have quality guys that can do that.”
Taking a closer look at the club’s injuries – centerfielder Cam Maybin (wrist), relievers Alex Wilson (lat/shoulder) and Blaine Hardy (shoulder) and starter Daniel Norris (lower back) – and there is no proverbial gut-punch the Tigers sustained in camp. Compare that to last year, when Justin Verlander went down with a triceps injury that landed him on the disabled list, and it looks like a major coup for the club.
What’s more is that none of those injuries are expected to be long-term. Maybin’s fractured left wrist was the most dire, and even he has resumed taking batting practice, with a return looking likely within a few weeks. “Most of the guys that are going on the DL are gonna be back the middle of April, so that’s the good news,” Avila said.
Some of those injuries can even be seen as blessings as disguise, when you consider that heavy workloads last season led to fatigue for pitchers like Wilson and Norris.
“Sometimes things happen for a reason,” Avila said. “You see a guy like Alex Wilson and maybe that's the best thing for him, push him back a lot more. Norris, the same thing. All the sudden he doesn’t have to worry about all the innings he’s gonna have to pitch.”
Avila has been encouraged to see some of the depth signing already pay off., with Bobby Parnell and Casey McGehee providing the team with a veteran presence in Toledo, and with guys like Kensing and Castillo making a surprising push for spots in wake of injuries to the bullpen.
There’s a lot to be optimistic about, but Avila doesn’t want to get ahead of himself yet. Once he expresses confidence in one certain area, there is always the possibility something unexpected crops up.
“There’s always a surprise,” Avila said. “You’ve got to be ready for anything that shows up.”