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Detroit Tigers - PlayerWatch

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3B Nick Castellanos was handed the starting third base job when Detroit traded 1B Prince Fielder to Texas. He spent the last year-plus training as an outfielder but now returns to the position at which he began when the Tigers drafted him. Castellanos hit .278 in 18 Detroit at-bats last September after batting .276 with 18 home runs and 76 RBI with Triple-A Toledo. Experienced pitchers skilled at off-speed stuff may give him problems initially, but it would not be surprising to see him duplicate his Toledo numbers in his rookie season.

RHP Luke Putkonen, who has been up and down with Detroit the last couple seasons, appeared set to open the season with the Tigers this year after a strong spring left him one of the last 25 players following the final spring cuts. Putkonen added a split-finger fastball to his list of pitches last year and it has become a great offset to a good fastball. He gave up just two runs in 11 1/3 spring innings entering the final weekend before the regular season, striking out 10 without issuing a walk.

2B Devon Travis hit .350 at two Class A levels in his first full pro season after Detroit took him in the 13th round of the 2012 draft out of Florida State. He will open the season with Double-A Erie and might get a peek at Triple-A if injury strikes Toledo's double play combination, SS Eugenio Suarez and 2B Hernan Perez. He is a smallish, high-energy guy who could force his way to Detroit in a year or two.

LF Tyler Collins, who played at Double-A Erie last season, appears to be Detroit's choice to platoon in left field with LF Rajai Davis while LF Andy Dirks recovers from spring back surgery. Collins became pull conscious last season and it sent his strikeout total up and his batting average down, but he appears to have tamed some of the wildness in his swing this spring. "Not doing too much, that's exactly what I've been doing," Collins said of a spring in which he's hit .250 but with some extra-base hit production. "Quit fighting myself. But I feel like I've found a way to consistently do it. Just stay easy, free and smooth. It's like Wally (hitting coach Joyner) said to me today: 'Dude, if you do anything this year, don't stop relaxing and being easy with that swing.' " Davis will play against more right-handed pitchers than he would have had Dirks been available, but Collins will get a lot of playing time unless he shows he's clearly overmatched.

3B Miguel Cabrera agreed to an eight-year contract extension March 27 that makes him the highest paid player in the history of baseball. Cabrera, who turns 31 next month, has two more seasons at $22 million left on his current pact, then a run of $31 million seasons that extend through 2023. Critics rail at the length of the dea,l but it would be nearly impossible for the Tigers to replace a player who has won three straight batting titles and two MVP crowns for them had he left after the 2015 season. Cabrera appeared fully recovered this spring from sports hernia surgery at the conclusion of last season. He is five hits shy of 2,000 for his career with 365 career home runs and 1,260 RBIs. "I spent a lot of time with my family in the offseason thinking about how bad I wanted to stay in Detroit," Cabrera said. "If there was any chance we could work out this deal to agree with the front office with the Tigers to make this happen, I was hoping to do it. I was never thinking about going to free agency. I want to be here. I want to stay here. I want to be a Tiger." The deal reportedly has two additional option years at $30 million that vest if Cabrera finishes in the top 10 in MVP voting the previous season.

SS Alex Gonzalez, a late spring add to Detroit's roster made in an effort to cover for injured SS Jose Iglesias, will enter the season as the Tigers regular despite having played just 14 games at the position over the previous two years. Gonzalez, 37, played short this spring with Baltimore and was hitting well when Detroit obtained him March 24 for UTL Steve Lombardozzi. New Tigers' first base coach Omar Vizquel watched Gonzalez play winter ball and recommended him. "He still looks like a shortstop and has the actions of a shortstop," manager Brad Ausmus said after viewing the newcomer in some Detroit spring games. "I think he'll be fine." "For me, it's great to be back at my position," Gonzalez said. "I can still get (ground) balls. Not the same range, but I can still make plays. I've got experience. I know the hitters."

RHP Justin Verlander concluded the spring perfectly -- leaving Florida with a run of 20 scoreless innings. Already named Detroit's Opening Day starter for the seventh straight year, Verlander closed the spring with a 6 1/3 inning outing in which he allowed just one hit, struck out seven and walked one. "I'm definitely encouraged," said Verlander, coming off January sports hernia surgery on both groin muscles. "There hasn't been a lot of solid contact, so I know that what I've been working on has been beneficial to me."

RHP Evan Reed, a high-velocity thrower who improved his off-speed stuff this spring, apparently made Detroit's 25-man roster. Reed was still there after the Tigers made their final cuts but a late deal to remake the club's bullpen was also possible. Reed, who is out of options, allowed two earned runs in 11 1/3 innings over nine spring games entering the final weekend of play before the regular season. He performed well in several stints with the Tigers last year. He likely will be used in long relief early but could graduate to late-inning situations given the unsettled nature of the back end of Detroit's bullpen.

RHP Max Scherzer turned down an offer of a contract extension from the Tigers and will play through the season before either negotiating a new deal with Detroit or becoming a free agent. The Tigers reportedly offered $144 million for a six-year deal, but the pitcher is looking longer-term. Scherzer met with Dave Dombrowski after the Detroit GM revealed March 23 talks had broken off. "He expressed regret over how things had been portrayed in the media," Scherzer said. "He said he needed to let fans know they (the Tigers) were doing their job. He regretted any negative light it might have placed on me. He also said he didn't give out any numbers and that he was upset over numbers that had been released." Scherzer had a career year in 2013, going 21-3 and winning the AL Cy Young Award.

LHP Phil Coke, who endured a shocking trip to the minors last August during a nightmarish 2013 season, shored up his position with two strong final weeks of spring training. In Coke's seven outings entering the final spring game, he allowed four hits in 7 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts and two walks. "The thing that stood out about Coke is his breaking ball was a lot shorter and crisper," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It was more slider-ish than slurve-ish." He's been showing a tighter breaking ball than the sweeping curve he had trouble getting over the plate last year. His contract was not guaranteed and Detroit could have cut him and paid just $475,000 of his now-guaranteed $1.9 million deal.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/140329/detroit-tigers-playerwatch