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Hands Across Comerica: A Q and A with Bless You Boys’ Ashley MacLennan

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They dem (blessed) boyz

Detroit Tigers v Minnesota Twins
frandz!
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

This week, we are joined by Ashley MacLennan of Bless You Boys, who was gracious enough to answer some questions for us about the Tigers. Follow her on Twitter @90feetfromhome, or you can read her writing at BYB. If you’d like to see the series preview I did with Ashley for BYB, you can find it here. I promise they’ll take less time to read than the fifteen-inning game.

The Tigers and the Mariners enter this season diametrically opposed--the Tigers sit atop the AL Central, while the Mariners reside in the basement of the AL West. What has been the key to the Tigers’ early-season success?

The Tigers are winning sort of in spite of themselves. Many of their high-performers (Miguel Cabrera, Jose Iglesias, JD Martinez) are currently on the DL, and yet with some great plays from the lower-lineup guys, they’ve been able to succeed. A lot of their strength is in their starting rotation. Guys like Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd are doing great things at the front end, which they’ve needed because our bullpen is a dumpster fire.

The Tigers have had question marks surrounding their outfield since the off-season, and now JaCoby Jones is on the 10-day DL. Is there a possibility the Tigers go after recently DFA’d Mariners center fielder Leonys Martín?

I know the staff at Bless You Boys are hoping for this on levels that defy logic and reason. Centerfield has been a big point of contention for the Tigers this year, as it was decidedly the biggest question mark going into the season. Now that we’ve seen JaCoby in action, a lot of fans were breathing a bit easier. Of course with him now on the DL (though likely only for 10 days) the team might decide to add some depth, and yes, we at BYB would love that pick up in particular. Do I see it happening? Probably not. Tigers GM Al Avila may soon need to bite the bullet on a very costly contract (Aníbal Sánchez) so I can’t imagine picking up another player would be high on his list. With that said, I hope he surprises me.

Alex Avila and James McCann are both off to fairly hot starts to begin the season. Is this level of production out of the catching position sustainable?

Short answer: no.

Neither Avila nor McCann are known to be heavy hitting guys. Avila, who is my favorite Tiger, has long been a fan target for how poorly he does at bat. I personally like his approach: he’s cautious, takes a fair number of walks, and will surprise you with a solid dinger. His real value is behind the plate though, where he’s absolutely sensational at calling games and pitch framing. I’m an Avila Apologist to the bitter end. McCann, too, isn’t known for his bat, so I suspect both their hot starts will start to mellow over time. But in Avila’s case especially it’s been really fun to see him start the year so well.

Castellanos and Cabrera have both been among the barrels leaders per Statcast, yet they're getting far less luck with balls in play. Is there a sense that the fanbase is patient and understanding, or are they frustrated with a seeming lack of production?

I know a lot of fans were really on Miggy’s case when he started the year, but that’s almost always how it goes. The chorus of “Cabrera is fat and old, dump him” dies out pretty fast after he hits some bombs, and when he gets 30+ home runs but the end of the year he’ll have the last laugh. As for Castellanos, I think people are too busy being impressed with him to get mad. He lost some weight and gained a lot of speed this offseason, which lends really well to extra base hits, and I genuinely believe this is going to be a massive season for him.

Some Mariners fans have held a grudge against Justin Upton since he refused a trade to the Mariners (even if we don’t blame him). He had a pretty uneven 2016. Which Justin Upton will show up for the Tigers in 2017?

Upton really started to improve from September onward for the Tigers last year, and so far that’s the guy we’ve seen in 2017. He’s got three home runs so far, and is hitting .277/.404/.532. What makes this sort of a bummer for Upton is that he suffers from left fielder syndrome. When he was performing poorly, everyone was mad at him; now that he’s performing well, he sort of just gets ignored, which isn’t fair to him considering he has made such obvious strides to improve his game with the team.

The fifth slot in the Tigers’ rotation had some question marks around it until the eleventh hour, when Matt Boyd beat out Aníbel Sánchez, pushing Sánchez to the bullpen. How has Boyd--a Northwest native--done so far?

Boyd had an absolutely sensational spring training and definitely earned that fifth starter spot (which has been proven time and time again as Sánchez bombs in the bullpen). While he hasn’t been able to translate his spring performance to the same kind of regular season results, I think he’s a good addition to the lineup. I’d like to see his walks allowed brought way down and his strikeouts go up. He only gave up one walk in spring training and has allowed 11 so far this season. His FIP is a manageable 3.86 right now, though, and with a bit more control on his command I think he’ll have a good year.

Miggy, VMart, JUps, Verlander, Fulmer--Baseball fans are very familiar with most of the names on the Tigers’ roster. Who are some lesser-known names or up-and-coming prospects Mariners fans should know?

I’m sorry you guys aren’t going to get to see JaCoby Jones in this series. His bat has cooled off slightly, but he’s been a really fun addition to the team. Nicholas Castellanos is going to be one to watch for. He’s full of swagger and he’s just so much fun on the field; he has a real personality on him that he can thankfully back up with skill. As for the pitchers, Daniel Norris will feature in Wednesday’s matchup and he is a really energetic, talented young pitcher who could have a hugely promising career ahead if he listens to the right guidance. Joe Jimenez, too, our newest bullpen callup, throws straight fire and god his pitches are a thing of beauty. If you don’t blink and miss them, that is.

The Tigers and the Mariners are in similar points in their life cycles: both clubs have a few young talents but an aging core, and both clubs’ farm systems are generally ranked in the bottom third of MLB. What will be the Tigers’ probable path moving forward? What does the future look like for the club?

This is all speculation of course, but over the next year or two I think the Tigers are going to see a massive rebuild. They’ll retain some of the young talent, potentially Castellanos or J.D. Martinez, and a few vets like Verlander, Cabrera, and (hopefully) Kinsler, but the rest will likely be a lot of young guys, cheap acquisitions, and some trial-and-error from the farm. The Tigers don’t have a ton of depth in their farm system but there are young kids like Christin Stewart, Matt Manning, and Beau Burrows who could bring a lot of excitement to the team in years to come. It might be a drag for a couple years but it could also be something really amazing in the long run.

Thanks again to Ashley for doing this and props to everyone over at Bless You Boys, which is one of the best sites on the network. Check it out, if you haven’t!