Prospect Collins honing in on spot with Tigers

Prospect Collins honing in on spot with Tigers

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tyler Collins came to Spring Training looking to get back to the form that made him a breakout candidate out of last year's camp. His performance this spring has him in line for a trip north to Detroit.

Barring a last-minute move for a left-handed-hitting outfielder -- and after two trades in four days, it certainly seems possible -- the Tigers' positional roster appears to be set, with Collins on it. And the last roster battle is down to the bullpen.

With Alex Gonzalez now on board as the starting shortstop, the other shoe fell in Tigers camp Tuesday morning, with the other two right-handed-hitting shortstops sent out. Hernan Perez was optioned to Triple-A Toledo, while Danny Worth was assigned to Minor League camp.

In a procedural move, the Tigers purchased Gonzalez's contract from Triple-A Toledo. He was in Orioles camp as a non-roster invite on a Minor League deal, and that contract was transferred over in Monday's trade.

That leaves Detroit with 13 positional players still in camp, not counting injured outfielder Andy Dirks. Manager Brad Ausmus isn't saying he's going to break camp with those 13, but if they don't, it'll be because they bring in somebody from outside the organization.

"We just don't know," he said. "There's still time left in Spring Training."

For that reason, Collins isn't taking congratulations just yet. Simply getting this far, though, is an accomplishment for him. Yes, he made a strong impression in last year's camp, but that was under a different coaching staff. He also went on to hit .240 at Double-A Erie, despite 29 doubles and 21 home runs.

"I came into camp ready to just continue to play and continue to show them what I can do," Collins said. "A couple of injuries and things of that sort gave me an opportunity, I think, but no, I didn't really think I had a shot."

The new staff helps Collins in one way, giving him some fresh eyes and different voices to watch his hitting. The advice from hitting coach Wally Joyner, assistant Darnell Coles and others on staff was unanimous: Stop worrying about trying to power the ball.

"I tried too hard sometimes," Collins said. "Sometimes, I'd feel like I have to supply the power or I really have to get my hands to this ball, instead of just trusting my ability and my mechanics."

The extra-base power has seemed easy for Collins this spring. Eight of his 11 hits entering Tuesday went for extra bases, including three home runs and a pair of triples. One of those home runs came off a left-handed pitcher.

The regular at-bats he saw in the wake of Dirks' early spring back surgery made a difference for him.

"The more you see the baseball, the more comfortable you're going to get," he said. "Just the fact that I feel game-ready now because of those at-bats was crucial for me. It kind of calmed me down."

Ausmus seemed to hint that Rajai Davis will get the start in left field on Opening Day, noting that Royals starter James Shields fares better against left-handed hitters. Still, Collins appears in line for some playing time. Then again, with roster cuts going on all over Florida and Arizona this week, it wouldn't be a shock if the Tigers dealt for a left-handed-hitting outfielder.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.