JaCoby Jones or Leonys Martin: Who will Detroit Tigers go with in CF?

George Sipple
Detroit Free Press
Tigers centerfielder JaCoby Jones (40) catches a fly ball hit by Blue Jays centerfielder Kevin Pillar (not pictured) in the sixth inning of the Tigers' 8-2 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017, in Toronto.

ORLANDO, Fla. — It will be interesting to see how the battle for playing time in center field plays out over the course of the season for the Tigers. 

Mikie Mahtook saw time at all three outfield positions last season, but 67 of his 105 games last season were spent in center. He’s slated to be the team’s starting left fielder this season. 

JaCoby Jones will battle Leonys Martin for playing time in center. Martin recently signed a one-year, $1.75 million deal. Martin could also play in left. 

“He’s a good fit for us because we needed a left-handed bat in the outfield,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said Monday at the MLB Winter Meetings held at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort. “The main thing is he’s also an excellent defender. Our reports show he would be a really good defensive center fielder in our ballpark. So that was a big part of it. Being a guy that can hit left-handed is also an important part of it. We felt he was a good fit. 

“The playing time will come down to performance really at the end of the day.”

Avila said he expects Martin, 29, to “bounce back” and be a better hitter than he was last season. Martin began his major league career with the Rangers in 2011. He batted .172 in 49 games last season — 34 with the Mariners and 15 with the Cubs. 

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“There’s reason to be believe he can bounce back and be better,” Avila said.

“Mechanical. Mental approach. We were told certain things that they changed on him, that he changed on himself that didn’t work. By the time it all came about, he was far gone. There’s a feeling that we (can) get him back on track. 

Martin is a career .247 hitter over 621 games in the majors. 

“JaCoby Jones, obviously, we feel really good about his athleticism and defense,” Avila said. “But he’s gotta also improve on his hitting. 

“So, in saying that, we haven’t stopped looking for outfield possibilities either. There might be other guys that we might feel good about to bring in as another outfielder.”

Jones, 25, bats right-handed. He spent more time in Triple-A Toledo than he did with the Tigers last season. He batted .245 with 86 hits and 104 strikeouts in 90 games for the Mud Hens. He batted .170 with 24 hits and 65 strikeouts in 56 games with the Tigers. 

“I’m not going to predict where JaCoby Jones is going to be at because that’s going to be his job coming out of spring training to decide,” Avila said. “Is he going to be on the team or is he going to go to Toledo?” 

Contact George Sipple: gsipple@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @georgesipple. Download our Tigers Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!