Raburn spent Spring Training trying to prove to Tigers officials that he could play in the big leagues, and he opened some eyes before being sent down. Now, as a footnote in the Neifi Perez suspension, Raburn has earned his Major League opportunity.
"I've worked really hard the last couple of years," Raburn said on Friday afternoon. "This is where I want to be. I hope, given the chance I get called, that I can hopefully go out there and perform and show people that I can play. But that's not up to me, what people think about me."
The way he has hit this year, people are thinking pretty highly of him.
Raburn's versatility was a big reason the Tigers called on him over other options at Triple-A Toledo when they had to replace Perez. But manager Jim Leyland also liked the idea of rewarding a player who has proven his worth in the Minor Leagues.
"Like [Chad] Durbin, here's a guy, Raburn, who's kind of been forgotten about," Leyland said. "He went down there, grinded it out in Spring Training, looked good, had a heck of a year, and I think it sends the right message to your organization. I mean, anybody can call up Andrew Miller or Justin Verlander. My mom knows to bring them up. But I think this sends the right message to the organization."
The message is that if players work hard, they can get a chance, whether or not they're on the top prospect list.
Raburn was on that list once upon a time. He was eighth after the 2004 season, when he hit .301 at Double-A Erie and made it to the big leagues as a September call-up. He made his Major League debut the day before his SeaWolves teammate, Curtis Granderson.
Raburn made the jump to Triple-A the next year and had been stuck there until now, eventually being removed from the 40-man roster. But the high strikeout totals he racked up the previous two seasons have been tempered this year, and he already has as many walks as he did all of last season. All the while, he has maintained his power bat and put himself on pace for a potential 100-RBI season.
"The last couple years, [hitting coach] Leon Durham and I [have] been working really hard, trying to figure out the best way for me to have success," Raburn said. "The last couple of years, it's worked well. The confidence is up, too."
How well Raburn can translate that into spot playing time remains to be seen. Part of Omar Infante's value as a utility player is his ability to hit after sitting for days on end. But the more positions Raburn can play, the better chance he'll have at getting at-bats. He had a late-inning chance Friday night and contributed an RBI single.
Raburn came up through the farm system as an infielder before being converted to the outfield last year. When the Tigers sent him to Minor League camp near the end of March, Leyland told him to keep working out at second and third base to increase his utility. Raburn's playing time has all come in center and left field, but he has taken ground balls in the infield every other day.
That work might well have been the difference that got him up here.
"He can play center field," Leyland said. "He can play second base and third base. We felt like [fellow Mud Hen] Timo Perez would've been a great choice, but with the infielder being gone, we felt like at least he could play second and third. He can't play short, but I can move [third baseman Brandon] Inge over if I have to. So we actually went for the versatility."
Rotation not set: Leyland said that he hasn't yet set his rotation coming out of the All-Star break. He still wants to get back to his old order -- placing finesse lefty Kenny Rogers between hard-throwing right-handers Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander -- but that might not be the trio that starts the second half in Seattle.
The Tigers could go with anyone but Nate Robertson next Thursday at Seattle and still allow the pitchers at least their normal rest. Part of the question, however, might involve Verlander and how much he pitches in Tuesday's All-Star Game.
Coming up: The Tigers and Red Sox continue their series with a 7:05 p.m. ET game on Saturday at Comerica Park. Jeremy Bonderman (9-1, 3.58 ERA) will try to become the Tigers' second 10-game winner when he takes the mound opposite Kason Gabbard (2-0, 5.79).
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less