LAKELAND, Fla. -- The big worry is that everything will be different. That somehow, that exhilirating run to the World Series will have changed the Tigers to the point that you wouldn't recognize them this spring.
Well, it's a little early to declare that there's nothing to worry about, but as the Tigers prepare for Friday's official opening of spring training, at least there's nothing obvious to worry about. There are at least the usual number of early arrivals, maybe even a few more, and on reporting day (which, to be honest, is one of the biggest misnomers in sport), the players in camp looked exactly the same as they always look.
Quite a few guys who are already in town took the day off today, because it's the last day off they'll have for a while. Everything starts up for the pitchers and catchers in the morning. They have to be in uniform by 9:15, and once the last physicals are done and Jim Leyland meets with the pitchers and then with the catchers, they should be on the field by about 10:15 for the morning stretch.
There will be more reporters than usual. Already there are a few TV crews in from Detroit, and already I've answered quite a few e-mails from reporters from around the country who plan to attend tomorrow. But for the most part, it looks like any other spring, and it sure seems like that's a good thing.
A few odds and ends from reporting day:
1. The big thing about reporting day is that no one is really expected to ``report'' on that day. The pitchers and catchers are supposed to be in uniform and ready to work out Friday morning, and the team doesn't really care when they actually arrive in town. A few guys were at Marchant Stadium to work out this morning, and a few others came by to unpack bags and set up their lockers, but it's not like anyone was ``checking in'' to camp.
2. Does anyone look different? Well, Mike Maroth has a new haircut. He cut it short, almost a buzz cut. Said he just got tired of the way his hair was before, and wanted to try something different. On a more important note, Maroth said he feels fully healthy and sees no reason why he won't be part of the starting rotation come opening day.
3. Justin Verlander lived in Lakeland this winter, so he's been around for a while. But the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year seemed even more ready to get going than most of his teammates. He admitted today that his arm really wore down at the end of last year, and said he was especially proud of his Game 5 performance in the World Series because ``I was pretty tired that game, and I gave our team a chance to win.''
4. Al Kaline is here, of course. The thing about Kaline is that he never looks out of place in the clubhouse. I'm not going to tell you he looks like he could still play, but he doesn't look 72, either. And he is 72. You can look it up. He's also a very proud grandfather right now. Colin Kaline is a good enough baseball player at Birmingham Groves that he has signed a scholarship offer from Florida Southern College. So get ready for that Tigers-FSC exhibition next spring, when Kaline will be playing against the Tigers.
That's it for today. Check back every day, because as I've done each of the last couple of springs, I'll provide daily updates from spring training.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Here at MLive, we like to think we offer you most anything and everything you need to know about the Tigers. True or not, it's what we like to think.
But if you don't like what we had to say about the first official day of Tiger spring training, shop around. Check ESPN.com, or Yahoo.com, or CBSsportsline.com. Or the New York Times. Or the Washington Post. Or the Toronto Star. Or the Philadelphia Daily News.
They all had reporters at Joker Marchant Stadium this morning.
``It's going to be a little bit like New York around here,'' Al Kaline said as he saw the crowd waiting to get into manager Jim Leyland's office.
Not exactly, but this had to be one of the most-covered Tiger spring training days ever. And quite possibly the most-covered PFP session in the history of spring training.
PFP is pitchers fielding practice, and Tigers PFP became a story when their pitchers committed a World Series-record five errors last October against the Cardinals. It became such a story that Leyland actually considered not even having PFP on the first day of spring training.
``(Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez) said that might even bring more attention to it,'' Leyland said.
So this morning, the Tigers did what they do every first day of spring training. The pitchers practiced covering first base. They practiced throwing to first base. They practiced fielding ground balls. From the looks of things, they didn't do it any better or worse than they did last spring training Day 1 (although they were certainly better than they were in October in St. Louis).
Asked if he noticed anything different, Leyland smiled and said: ``On or off the record? Off the record, they caught a few.''
Later on, Leyland said he didn't have a problem with that off-the-record comment being published. He understood that this was going to be a story, a one-day story, and that the chances of it affecting anything the Tigers do this season were pretty slim.
Not only that, the Tigers are still in a position where they don't mind the attention.
``I'd rather have people care about dumb stuff than have apathy,'' Todd Jones said.
In the case of the Tigers, there's definitely not apathy. Not anymore. The best estimate was that about 50 media people showed up for the first workout, which was probably about 40 more than showed up last spring.
Jones, who writes a weekly column for The Sporting News, admitted that his editors want him to write about PFP, too.
``I'm just glad you're not talking about how long until (Joel) Zumaya closes,'' Jones said.
Jones remembers past springs. He remembers back to when people were figuring that Matt Anderson would replace him.
``There's a whole lot of difference between (Zumaya) and Matt Anderson,'' Jones said. ``I like (Zumaya). That's the difference.''
A few other Day 1 notes and observations:
1. Leyland told the pitchers what we already know, which is that there really aren't many jobs open here. The rotation is set, and so are all but one (or maybe two) jobs in the bullpen. But he said he would like to identify 3-4 more starting pitchers who can be called up in case of injury.
2. All the pitchers made it to Lakeland as scheduled. The only missing catcher was Steve Torrealba, which isn't a big deal because: A. you've never heard of him (he was in the Mexican League last year), and B. He let the Tigers know he had airline trouble and would be a day late.
3. Leyland had some interesting things to say this morning. He said what makes him most optimistic is that the Tigers have a lot of players who can improve individually, and also that the only way the Tigers don't have a good team this year is if they either have big-time injuries or ``self-destruct.''
4. As usual, a few position players are coming in early. Carlos Guillen was there today. Cameron Maybin, too.
LAKELAND, Fla. -- I saw Curtis Granderson on Friday at Joker Marchant Stadium. Then I went back to the hotel, looked at the mlive.com Tiger Forum, and I wondered whether I had really seen Granderson at all. The big talk on the Forum was about how Granderson looked so much bigger this spring.
Figuring that I must have missed something, I went right up to Granderson first thing this morning. Looked pretty much the same to me, although his biceps bulged a little more than I remembered. So as he rushed to get dressed, I told him about what I had read.
``That's funny,'' Granderson said. ``Vance (Wilson) said my arms look bigger. But I weighed in the other day, with my clothes on, and I was 189 or 190. Accounting for the clothes, I'm probably about three pounds heavier than I was last year.''
That's it. Three pounds.
But what about those pictures that made him look bigger.
``I had sunscreen on,'' Granderson joked. ``Maybe that was it.''
Granderson did admit that in some photos taken late last season, he seemed to look ``skinny.''
``Maybe I need a smaller uniform,'' he said.
A few other Day 2 notes and observations:
1. It was much quieter in Tigertown today, now that the national media has watched PFP and left camp. Things should pick up a bit when the full squad works out for the first time on Wednesday.
2. Manager Jim Leyland reiterated today that he's looking for potential starting pitchers beyond the five who will actually open the season. He said he made a list of candidates Friday night, including Wilfredo Ledezma, Zach Miner, Chad Durbin, Andrew Miller, Jordan Tata, Virgil Vasquez and Jair Jurrjens.
3. Leyland talked about how good it feels to have so many talented arms around. ``We're kind of pitching-rich, to be honest, even though there's a lot of truth to the saying that you can never have enough.''
4. Leyland on Gary Sheffield: ``He's one of the best guys I've ever had in the clubhouse. He doesn't have a vicious bone in his body, not one. I can guarantee you these guys will love Gary Sheffield. His teammates will love Gary Sheffield.''
LAKELAND, Fla. -- A year ago at this point, Jim Leyland realized the kind of young pitching talent the Tigers had stockpiled when he saw Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Jeremy Bonderman, Fernando Rodney and Eulogio De La Cruz lined up throwing bullpen sessions. And he felt a lot better about his new job.
Leyland knows his organization better now, and much of that young talent from last year is more established. Yet he still has to shake his head in amazement every once in a while.
Some of the arms he was watching on Saturday were familiar, like Verlander, Zumaya and De La Cruz. Others, however, weren't part of that group last year. Leyland saw Andrew Miller, Preston Larrison and Kyle Sleeth and was marveling again.
"There was some pretty impressive stuff thrown out there today," Leyland said Saturday afternoon. "And I'm always very cautious about that, commenting on those guys before they pull the cage away and all that stuff. But seeing Sleeth and Verlander and Zumaya and Miller and Larrison lined up out there today, it was pretty impressive."
It underscores the point on which these Tigers have been built. Detroit traded away three pitching prospects last November to pry Gary Sheffield from the Yankees, yet they still have enough quality young arms to rival many organizations.
There's one key difference this year: While this year's crop of arms wowed Leyland, there's almost no chance they'll have a chance to win him over. Whereas Verlander and Zumaya pitched their way onto the roster last spring, the young arms this year have their tickets set for the Minor Leagues -- no matter how well they pitch.
It's why Leyland is now playing semantics a bit. When he says he'll take the 12 best pitchers up to Detroit with him, he does not necessarily mean the 12 best arms. Earlier in the day, he repeated that with the starting rotation and most of the bullpen pretty much set, the main competition for pitchers in camp is the search for sixth, seventh and eighth starters, guys who can jump into the rotation if one of the regular starters is out.
Some of those reserve starters fit into Detroit's bullpen, notably Wilfredo Ledezma and Zach Miner. The rest are younger arms trying to break into the big leagues, from Miller to Jordan Tata, Virgil Vasquez and Jair Jurrjens.
"We're kind of pitching-rich now, to be honest with you," Leyland said, "although there's a lot of truth in saying you can never have enough."
All that pitching serves more than just depth purposes. It's insurance in case of injury, but it's also potentially trade bait in case the Tigers need to swing a deal for help in other areas. It's also stability down the road if Detroit can't keep its core group of pitchers together.
"I think at this juncture for our organization now, the Minor Leagues become even more important," Leyland said. "Because it looks like we've got a little bit of stability at the Major League level. In saying that, because they've gotten good, you want to retain all your players, but who knows if financially you're going to be able to retain everybody. So I think this is a critical time for our Minor League system to stock up in case we do lose somebody or we can't sign somebody, then you've got a replacement.
"The wheels continue to go around. It's a never-ending process. This is a big time for that now."
Miller is the most impressive of the bunch, and the best example of the notion that taking the 12 best pitchers isn't the same as taking the 12 best arms. He worked out of the Tigers bullpen in September, but he's ticketed to begin the year at Class A Advanced Lakeland as a starter, and there's very little chance of that changing. Even as an insurance option, Leyland admitted Miller probably wouldn't be called up until later in the year.
"Obviously it's pretty unlikely he'd be on the Major League club when we break camp this year," Leyland said. "But in saying that, it would not surprise me if at some point this year, he might make the jump."
Leyland went out of his way to praise Sleeth, whose impressive workout Saturday follows his battle back from Tommy John surgery over the better part of the last two years.
"His arm feels good, and if it stays good, it's real impressive," Leyland said. "That's the first time I really ever saw him today, and it's impressive. I don't know that much about it, but he'll be in the mix like everybody else.
"If he's healthy, he's a top prospect, there's no question about that."
If Tigers self-destruct, it shouldn't be because of contracts
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Jim Leyland talked the other day about self-destruction, and one way that teams self-destruct is that contract issues get in the way. You already see some complaints from other spring training camps this spring, whether it's Carlos Zambrano and the Cubs or Mariano Rivera and the Yankees.
So it should comfort Tiger fans to know that Carlos Guillen isn't prepared to make his lack of a contract extension a major issue in Lakeland.
Of course, Guillen would have preferred to have a new deal done over the winter. Absolutely, Leyland said Sunday, he wants Guillen to remain a Tiger.
But Leyland also said what he wants most is for Guillen to be happy, and when I asked Guillen if he was disappointed that a deal wasn't yet done, he said: ``A little bit, but I want to focus on the season. . . . It's business, and I'm not the guy with the checkbook. I'll talk now about the contract, but when I go on the field, I have to leave everything in the clubhouse, or at my house.''
If you doubt Guillen's ability to do that, think back to 2004, his first year with the Tigers. He was a potential free agent that year, too, and he was batting .322 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs through 67 games when he signed the three-year, $14 million deal that expires at the end of this season.
The numbers will be bigger now, a lot closer to $14 million a year than to $14 million for three years. But there's no more indication now than there was then that the uncertainty will adversely affect Guillen or his team.
A few other Day 3 notes and observations:
1. The young pitcher who caught Leyland's eye today was Jair Jurrjens, the 21-year-old Curacao native who has gone 21-9 over the last two seasons in the Tiger farm system. ``Oh boy,'' Leyland said. ``The ball comes out of his hand nice.''
2. I know no one up North wants to hear that it's cold in Florida, but cold is relative, and when you're trying to play baseball outside, morning temperatures in the 30s and high winds feel cold. The wind was what forced the Tigers indoors today, but as pitching coach Chuck Hernandez pointed out, ``We're going North in April, not to Puerto Rico or the Dominican. We might as well get used to it.''
3. Leyland doesn't want to get into long lineup discussions yet, but he did say that Brandon Inge will probably bat 9th 95 percent of the time. That's fine with Inge, who likes the ninth spot so much that he refers to it as ``my house.'' Speaking of Inge, he's building a house in South Carolina, but is also buying a house outside Ann Arbor.
4. Leyland talked the other day about players who could improve this year. Sunday, he said two of the players he was referring to are Inge and Craig Monroe.
5. Leyland has already talked about Marcus Thames about playing first base. He's also planning to try out Omar Infante as a backup center fielder. Infante said he played center field for Caracas in the Venezuelan Winter League playoffs, and that he's happy to play anywhere if it gets him into more games.
6. Speaking of lineups, Leyland had his 15-year-old son Patrick make out a few, and he was impressed. ``He wrote out a heck of a lineup, probably the best one so far,'' Jim Leyland said. ``I'd be too ashamed to say I'd use it, and if I do use it, it will not have been his idea.''
7. This is the first year Inge hasn't reported with the catchers. He's now strictly a third baseman, although he unpacked a whole bunch of different gloves Sunday. ``Those are my Justin gloves,'' he said. ``Just in case.''