Detroit Tigers’ x-factor could be catcher Bryan Holaday

Entering the new season, projected second string catcher Bryan Holaday of the Detroit Tigers has some intriguing tools to offer his ball club when starter James McCann needs a day of rest.

Victor Martinez likely won’t be seeing any time behind the dish at catcher in 2016 for the Detroit Tigers. His 37-year-old legs are too much of a liability there. He caught only 17 innings in 2014 and that was the last time he did such work.  When projected starter James McCann isn’t behind the dish, the Tigers will likely turn to 28-year-old Bryan Holaday.

A sixth round pick in the 2010 amateur draft, breakout expectations should not be pinned on Holaday. But depth at catcher cannot be overlooked on any club. It’s a rare scene when a starting catcher plays 162 games behind the dish. Not only are his offensive contributions noticed, but the work he does with the pitching staff is something that will determine the outcome of many games.

The Tigers have veteran Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the roster at the moment as well. Some teams will carry three catchers in a season. It remains to be seen what Detroit will do. At the moment, Holaday is a solid bet to snag the No. 2 role. He’s getting a lot of playing time to showcase his skills, which he is certainly doing. Through 24 Spring Training at-bats, he leads the club with four home runs and 12 RBI, mashing .500/.520/1.208.

On the other side of the coin, Saltalamacchia is holding his own as well this preseason. In 22-at-bats, he’s slashing .318/.375/.727. In fact, all three Tigers catchers have an OPS north of .900. It’s only the preseason, but the club appears to have a stable of names to turn to at the position.

Holaday flashed potential in 2015’s regular season, whereas with Salty, the jury is no longer out on his potential. After a terrible start to the season with the Marlins, Saltalamacchia was sent down to the minors before landing with Arizona. He somewhat turned his season around there, but the fact of the matter is he’s a career .240 hitter across nine MLB seasons. His defensive metrics are not that great either, with his best dWAR season coming in 2009 with Texas at 0.8.

Last year, Holaday slashed .281/.292/.453 with two homers and 13 RBI in a small sample size of 64 at-bats. But he showed strong growth in his plate approach from 2014 when he logged 156 at-bats. If Brad Ausmus manages his lineup well, Holaday can prove to be a valuable tool in keeping McCann healthy and fresh, as well as him growing a rapport with the likes of Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and others.

If Bryan Holaday continues to rake in spring ball, Ausmus will keep him around. A former catcher by trade during his playing days, the 46-year-old skipper probably already has a soft spot for a hard working backstop who rose from relative obscurity after his draft spot to becoming a viable entity in a Major League lineup.

McCann will get the bulk of the work, though it’s what Holaday and/or Saltalamacchia do with the pitching staff in 2016 that could be the difference between the Detroit Tigers making the postseason this year or not.