The Sunday afternoon game between the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals was supposed to be the major league debut for outfielder Andy Dirks. Mother Nature had other ideas and the game was called due to rain. Dirks would have to wait one more day for his time to begin in the big leagues. In his major league debut on Monday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, Dirks went 1-2 with a walk.
With the recent placement of Magglio Ordonez on the disabled list (his ankle still bothers him after off-season surgery), the door was opened for Dirks to make the trek from Toledo to Detroit. Dirks had put together a fine season with the Mud Hens before getting called up, batting .328 with 6 HR and 20 RBI in AAA. It was a move many Tigers fans wanted to see and a chance for Dirks to show that his quick rise through the Tigers farm system was no fluke.
The Tigers drafted Dirks out of Wichita State by the eighth round in 2008. Dirks quickly showed that he could hit for average (.296 with Erie and Lakeland in 2009), steal bases (21 in 2009 and 22 last season) and play decent defense (9 errors in 250 minor league games). Dirks played well enough in the spring to contend for a place on the roster, but was ultimately sent to Toledo. Many thought that he would be the first call-up if one was needed in the outfield - which he was.
Dirks needs to prove now that he belongs in Detroit and not in Toledo. The Tigers have had a string of alleged successors for Ordonez. Besides Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch, none have proven themselves close to “Magglio-worthy.” Even those minor successes have doubters among the faithful. Jackson is batting only .231 and many fans are worried that Boesch will start playing like the Brennan Boesch of late 2010 – when he batted .216 to finish the season.
Ryan Raburn ended last season on a tear finishing with 14 HR and batting .273 – but this season has Raburn struggling at the plate with a .206 average. Clete Thomas played much of the 2009 season with the big club until an injury sidelined him all of 2010. 2011 finds Thomas back in Toledo where he is batting a meager .212. Don Kelly has played competently as a utility backup with a .262 average, but lacks the power and skill to be an everyday player.
None of these candidates made it possible for the Tigers to pass on Ordonez in the off-season and the club had to re-sign the 37 year-old to a one -year deal worth $10 million. That’s money which might have been better spent elsewhere rather than an aging, injury-prone right fielder. Perhaps that money would have gone toward upgrading the infield. Orlando Cabrera (who went with Cleveland for 1 year, $1 million) comes to mind or Orlando Hudson (2 years, $11.5 million with San Diego) or Bill Hall (1 year, $3.25 million with Houston). Instead the Tigers felt they had no other option for the outfield, re-signed Ordonez, and left the team with a huge question mark in their infield going into this season. Two problems instead of one.
If Dirks proves himself worthy of inclusion with the Tigers, and continues to play well throughout the season, it could mean that a changing of the guard is finally here for the Tigers outfield. If not it means that he will join the list of players brought up through the Tigers farm system who failed to prove himself as a major league outfielder.
About the Author
Written by Jeremy Klumpp
I am a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a degree in Electronic Media and Film. For two years I wrote a baseball blog, "Ground Rule Double," and have contributed to a book on the 1968 Detroit Tigers. If you want to read my non-sports thoughts head to jklumpp1.posterous.com.