2019 Positional Review
The Tigers had eight players log innings at third in 2019, with Dawel Lugo and Jeimer Candelario playing the most games at the position. Neither player distinguished themselves at third base. Around midseason, the Tigers moved Candelario over to first base with Miguel Cabrera no longer taking the field to give Lugo at-bats at third. However, with the signing of CJ Cron, Candelario will be back at third base and he and Lugo will be the primary contenders for the starting spot at third, however joining them will be a familiar vet and a promising rookie trying to make a statement.
The battle is coming because neither player laid claim to the spot with their time at the spot in 2019. Candelario was unable to build off a solid debut campaign in 2018, barely hitting over the Mendoza line and belting only eight home runs, good for an OPS+ of 72. The only thing that kept Candelario’s WAR above 0 (0.3 fWAR) was still solid defense, with a UZR/150 of 6.3 and seven defensive runs saved.
Lugo’s offense was slightly better, but mostly driven by an empty batting average, as he slashed .245/.271/.381. Lugo’s free-swinging ways (2.8% walk rate) allowed him to find some success in driving the ball, with 21 extra-base hits, good for an XBH once every 13 at-bats, but his defense left much to be desired; he was -6 in defensive runs saved at the hot corner.
There were no notable subtractions at the position.
The Tigers are banking on internal improvement at third, as the only addition to the competition is an internal one in Jordy Mercer, who mostly played at shortstop last season, but will compete for a utility role in 2020 as a non-roster invitee (NRI). There should be extra motivation as both Candelario and Lugo are out of options and have to prove they belong on a 26-man roster. Plus, with Cron and Jonathon Schoop added, there is not playing time available at first and second base, respectively.
Overall, Mercer had a disappointing 2019. However, when you look at his post All-Star break numbers he actually had a solid second half (.305/.335/.497, eight home runs and an .832 OPS). In 2020, Mercer is probably playing for a utility role, but if both Candelario and Lugo scuffle, Mercer could be viewed as a reliable alternative.
There’s one final potential option, a rookie contestant that is the longest shot to break camp with the Tigers, but he is one to keep an eye on. Paredes has long been considered a productive bat, ranking second in the TigsTools hitter category and fourth among best power hitters. The question for Paredes has been where is home will be on defense, though it increasingly looks like the answer will be third base. Whether that is in Triple-A Toledo or in Detroit is the question.
2020 Player Projections
TigsTown 2020 Outlook
Because of the need for solid defense, Candelario is the odds-on favorite to be the starting third basemen in 2020. This battle will be notable because with both players out of options, there is a very real chance that the loser of the Candelario/Lugo battle will end up being put on waivers and outrighted off of the 40-man roster. The likelihood that Mercer ends up making his way unto the roster in a utility role backing up all the infield spots and providing a solid veteran presence in the locker room is a strong one, and with the Tigers dedicating a roster spot to designated hitter, carrying two third basemen with limited utility flexibility (Lugo could play second, Candelario could play first) is unlikely.
While the loser of the competition may stay in the system, at-bats in Toledo could be hard to come by and might have to come from the player moving off third base to get those at-bats.
Whether it be Lugo or Candelario that wins the job, he shouldn’t be too comfortable however, because if Paredes hits in Triple-A like he has at his previous stops and shows he can handle the defensive assignment at third, he’ll be knocking down the door to Comerica sooner than later.