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Fantasy Baseball Spotlight: Detroit Tigers

Feb 21, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera during spring training at Joker Merchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
Feb 21, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera during spring training at Joker Merchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

It's so cold in the D!

But it'll warm up with the hot bats of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, so cheer up Detroit natives. The Tigers are perhaps the biggest lock to make the playoffs in baseball. With three great teams in the AL East (and the Jays aren't bad either) and two top teams in the AL West, you're almost all along atop the Central.

Even if a mystery team in the Central does compete this season, it shouldn't be enough to overcome the supreme talent that the Tigers have in the lineup and rotation, although stranger things have happened. Even with the loss of Victor Martinez though, Detroit should be among the leaders in runs scored and they've got the reigning Cy Young and MVP in Justin Verlander too. Not shabby. Not shabby at all.

It might be cold in the D, but which players will keep your fantasy team hot? Let's take a look!

Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera

I sing the praises of Jose Bautista, and I'll stick with that, but if there's competition for best hitter in the AL it's either Cabrera or Albert Pujols. The main difference is that Cabrera is still on the right side of 30 and he just continues to build up a Hall of Fame resume.

Last year he hit .344/.448/.586 with 48 doubles and 30 HR with 111 R, 105 RBI and 197 hits. He's already finished in the top five in MVP voting five times and he might be the best active player to not yet win the award.

How much will his hitting being affected by the presence of Prince Fielder in the lineup? Well, "protection" has basically been classified as a myth but that doesn't mean that Cabrera won't score more runs as a result of having big Prince behind him. It wouldn't be nuts to expect .330/.450/.600 with 35 HR, 120 RBI, 120 R and 45 2B from Cabrera this year.

For Fielder's switch to the AL, I'll guess .270/.400/.570 with 35 HR, 115 RBI, 95 R.

Best Pitcher: Justin Verlander

Best pitcher in baseball? He might not have caught up to the dominating "everything" of Roy Halladay yet, but Verlander is only 29 and he's shown a rare ability to be a fireballer that hasn't lost velocity yet in his late-20s. Verlander has reduced the use of his fastball but still pumps it up to 95 MPH on average.

Beyond that, he's also improved his command and control to post 2.4 BB/9 over his last three seasons and 102 starts while still striking out 9.3 per 9.

In fantasy when you consider innings pitched and strikeouts with wins, Verlander might have the best combo of all of that and be the #1 guy.

Potential Breakout: Delmon Young

I'm not going to make much out of Spring Training, but Young is currently ripping it up better than any other hitter. Could this finally be the year? With four guys in front of him that can get on base and into scoring position, Young might top 100 RBI for the second time in his career, even if he's still got some serious plate discipline issues.

I'm not saying that Young WILL do any of these things, but potentially? Sure, potentially he might finally be a 2 or 3 win player.

And how about a full year of Doug Fister in Detroit? He went 8-1, 1.79 ERA/2.49 FIP/2.75 xFIP after the trade in 70.1 innings. He could throw 200 innings, win 15 games and limit walks and WHIP to be a solid #3 pitcher.

Potential Disappointment: Alex Avila

He was one of the top pickups of 2011 and didn't disappoint with a .295/.389/.506, 19 HR, 82 RBI, 63 R season at the catcher spot. However, he posted a .366 BABIP, a 23.8% K rate, and posted an ISO that was nearly double his 2010 season.

It's not out of line for a player to break out at this stage in his career or to expect Avila to hit 15-20 HR, but that .366 BABIP simply won't sustain and he could be more like a .260/.350/.450 hitter than what he did last season. Very unlikely that he hits .300 even if the power and RBI opportunities will be there.

Prospect Watch:Per BA

1. Jacob Turner, rhp
2. Nick Castellanos, 3b
3. Drew Smyly, lhp
4. Casey Crosby, lhp
5. Andy Oliver, lhp
6. Brenny Paulino, rhp
7. Rob Brantly, c
8. Alex Burgos, lhp
9. James McCann, c
10. Avisail Garcia, of

As Robert noted earlier, this list is full of players competing for the fifth job with Turner as the most likely to grab it at some point this season, if healthy, even though he is only 21 years old. The Tigers hate to wait on pitching prospects. As the 9th overall pick in the 2009 draft, Turner has always had the pedigree of a number one starter, but he was pushed to AAA at 20 and then made three (bad) starts for the Tigers last season. He should be at AA probably, but he'll be in AAA at the worst and then the majors before too long.

Smyly, Crosy and Oliver are all close to the majors and one of them could be in the majors to start the year. However, none of them are going to set the world on fire. Crosby was once a top 50 prospect but injuries and ineffectiveness when he returned from injuries have set him back. This system isn't that good past Turner and Castellanos.

Castellanos will try to jump into the top 20 of prospects this year (#45 now) at the age of 20 with the chance he'll become a third baseman with above-average power.

Other than that, most of these guys are low-ceiling or far from the majors. At least, for most teams... with the Tigers, they could all be up by May.

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