As spring training winds down, it becomes time for all 30 major league teams to trim the fat of the 40-man roster down to the 25 guys who get to suit up on Opening Day. Last week, teams sent their top young prospects back to minor league camp to take a longer look at those in competition for big league jobs.
For the Detroit Tigers, this meant looking at second basemen Will Rhymes, whom manager Jim Leyland named a starter, and Danny Worth.
Yet, for some reason, the club opted to send Sizemore, last year’s Opening-Day starter at second, down to Triple-A Toledo to start the season.
He failed to make hard contact, looked shaky in the field and hit .205 before being sent to Triple-A in May. He returned in September as a call-up and hit .308 in 12 games with two home runs, including one off of White Sox flamethrower Chris Sale.
Rhymes, on the other hand, made the most of his opportunity leading the Tigers in starts at second, scrappiness and hair.
He also became the first Tigers rookie to hit at least .300 in at least 200 plate appearances since 1939. It surely was an impressive debut for the 27-year-old rookie.
Still, the question for the Tigers isn’t which second basemen had the better 2010 season, it’s which will have the better 2011 season.
There’s plenty of evidence to favor Sizemore. If you forget about the small sample of at-bats Sizemore has in the bigs, he has has proven again and again that he can sting minor league pitching.
In 342 plate appearances with Triple-A last year, he hit .298 with a .378 on-base percentage and slugged .472, a strikingly similar line to the one he put up at the same level in 330 plate appearances in ’09—.308;.378 and .473.
In 421 plate appearances, he hit .305, got on-base by walking 36 times on his way to a .370 on-base percentage and put the ball in play by striking out just 9.6 percent.
His skill set translated easily to the majors as Rhymes picked up where he left off never missing a beat.
Still, the one valuable skill Sizemore has that separates him from the pack is his power. Rhymes posted slugging percentages of .415 at Triple-A and .414 in the majors last year, and both were career bests. Rhymes has never hit more than five home runs in a season at any professional level, and he hit those five taters four years ago at Low-A ball.
Just by looking at the two players in question, you can tell which one hits for power as Sizemore is 6-foot, 185 pounds to Rhymes’ 5-9, 155-pound figure.
It’s strange that a club like the Tigers that lacks power at other positions like third base, shortstop, catcher and center field wouldn’t take a guy like Sizemore — who can provide power at an up-the-middle position—north with the big club.
At the start of last season, the Tigers were ready to tab Sizemore as the second basemen of the future. Now, the 26-year-old is starting the season in the minors, where he has little if anything left to prove.
The Tigers will push forward with some combination of Rhymes, Worth and Ramon Santiago (if he isn’t traded) at second until they believe Carlos Guillen is healthy enough to take the field.
Guillen, 35, has missed more than 200 games the last three years and had micro- fracture surgery this offseason.
After he inevitably gets hurt again, it would be wise to bring Sizemore and the thunder in his bat back to the bigs.