Edson: What Tigers Fan Can Expect From Spring Training
If you’re a longtime Detroit Tigers fan like I am, you are realistic about the upcoming season.
The Tigers, who have lost 98 games in each of the last two years, might lose 100 this time around.
Or, if they play out of their shoes, they might finish third again in the dreadful American League Central.
But despite all the doom and gloom you’ve been hearing about this year’s team, there are some hopeful signs to watch for in spring training.
That is, the development of some of the team’s good young players. Many of them won’t see the light of day at Comerica Park this season but hopefully they will continue to blossom in Double-A and Triple-A.
It reminds me of when I was a young Tigers fan and had just seen my team win 101 games only to finish second to the hated New York Yankees in 1961.
But instead of building on that banner season, the Tigers went into a tailspin and finished 4th in 1962, followed by finishes of 6th, 4th, and 4th again in the following years.
What made it worse was listening to the spring training games on radio. The Tigers had two “can’t miss” phenoms – Purnal Goldy and Bill Roman. They were solid minor league players and outstanding in spring training.
They gave us even more hope when they made their Major League debuts. Goldy was an outfielder and hit home runs in his first two at-bats. Roman was a first baseman, a college teammate of a young catcher named Bill Freehan at Michigan. Roman homered in his first at-bat against the Yankees.
Turns out, it was Fool’s Gold.
Goldy and Roman were overmatched when they got a chance to play at Tiger Stadium. Goldy hit .231 over parts of two seasons in 1962 and 1963. Then Roman stepped up and hit .143 (5-for-35) in 1964 and 1965.
But then a funny thing happened during those seasons. Other young prospects, who weren’t as highly touted, began taking the Tigers by storm.
Players like Freehan, Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich, Jim Northrup, Don Wert, Denny McLain, Joe Sparma and Mickey Stanley all came up within a three-year span.
The Tigers were contenders again. They should have won the pennant in 1967 but won the pennant and the World Series in 1968.
Baseball has changed since then. Now it’s more a mixture of home grown players and free agents. But what we have to look for beginning this week in spring training is how our young players are developing.
The good news is that the Tigers have expanded their scouting base and started to use analytics more. They have made some solid trades in the last few years to land young prospects.
You can bet we’ll still have some players like Purnal Goldy and Bill Roman who won’t pan out.
But if the Tigers can hit on a half dozen prospects and then mix in some smart free agent signings down the road, the forecast will look much brighter than it does this year.
Hang on to that thought as the Tigers start their 2019 season.
Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.