Roster spot for Kelly depends on versatility
Non-roster invite has mostly played third, but will see time in outfield
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers released Brennan Boesch on Wednesday because they didn't have room for another left-handed-hitting outfielder with Andy Dirks starting in left field. That doesn't mean they don't have room for another left-handed hitter who can play the outfield -- so long as he can also play the infield.
"There's really not the need for another left-handed-hitting outfielder that's just primarily [an outfielder], that doesn't have the versatility aspect," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski explained Wednesday morning. "We're not going to pinch-hit for guys."
Don Kelly, of course, can play different positions.
"A lot of positions," Dombrowski said.
Dombrowski wasn't endorsing Kelly for a roster spot, he was just explaining the differences in what Kelly offers compared to Boesch. However, when Dombrowski ran down the list of the guys in camp who need time in the outfield over these final 2 1/2 weeks of Grapefruit League play, he mentioned Kelly getting some playing time there. So far, virtually all of Kelly's playing time has come at third base. Now that the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera and Omar Infante back, playing time might be easier to find in the outfield.
The Tigers know Kelly can play the outfield, just like he can play the corner infield positions, serve as an emergency catcher and play second base in a pinch. After four years, there's nothing about Kelly's game Detroit doesn't know. His chance comes down to whether the Tigers could use the versatility he brings, or whether his bat would be a liability taking up a roster spot.
Once again, Kelly is fighting for a job. He has a pretty good history when he's doing that.
"Every year, it's been coming in and battling for a spot," Kelly said. "Just go out there and compete, do as well as you can and try to make it a tough decision."
Kelly came to camp this year on a Minor League contract he signed near the end of the offseason, seemingly trying to hold onto his spot at age 33. Given the talent on the 40-man roster, it seemed like a long shot. But even before Boesch's release, Kelly was putting together the kind of spring to give himself a real chance.
Kelly's home run Tuesday off the Phillies' Roy Halladay was his second of the spring, topping his total from all of last season. It bumped his hitting to 8-for-25 with five extra-base hits and three walks this spring. It's a small sample size, for sure, but it's an encouraging sign Kelly credits to seeing left-handed pitching early in the spring and having to stay on the ball against them.
At the very least, it shows the benefit of a semi-steady diet of at-bats, something Kelly didn't get last season while he struggled through the first half of the schedule in Detroit. That said, the bench role dictates that he's going to have to at least hold his own at the plate after several days off in a row.
"When you're out there, you get rhythm and timing," Kelly said. "And I think the more that you go through that, you learn some different things. It's how to prepare yourself and to try to stay as consistent as possible when you're not getting at-bats."
Dombrowski and the Tigers have made no secret that they want a right-handed-hitting outfielder on the bench to help mix in with Dirks. Add in backup catcher Brayan Pena and utility infielder Ramon Santiago, and that leaves one roster spot left for a bench role. Detroit could take an extra infielder in Danny Worth, an extra outfielder and speed option in Quintin Berry, or Kelly, or one of the youngsters.
In other words, if the Tigers end up wanting to take Kelly, there are no roster issues that would restrict them. If they want to save Kelly for later, it gets tricky. Kelly's contract gives him the option to decline a Minor League assignment and ask for his release at the end of Spring Training, if he so chooses.