Andy Dirks knows about pressure situations.
In a tie game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with runners on the corners, Dirks singled up the middle to win the Dominican Winter League championship. Now the pressure is making the Tigers roster out of Spring Training.
A year ago, Dirks used winter ball to get in shape, and the result was a very impressive spring training, where he went 19-for-47 with four doubles, three triples and a home run. He battled Boesch and Casper Wells throughout spring, but was part of the last round of cuts. A couple months later, when Magglio Ordonez went on the disabled list in May, Dirks got the call-up.
Now he’s a Caribbean hero, although the always-humble Dirks has downplayed it. Dirks always refers to himself as "just a ballplayer," but now Caribbean fans have chanted his name and called him a king.
Dirks should have the inside track to make the squad when camp breaks, having put up a respectable .703 OPS in his rookie campaign. Dirks showed some pop, with seven home runs in 235 plate appearances, and some speed, with five stolen bases.
Jackson will assume his normal role in center field, while Boesch and Young are back from injuries. Young is in the final year of his contract, and Jim Leyland has said he wouldn’t put Young at a full-time designated hitter role. It’s likely that the Tigers will use a variety of players.
Not having a full-time DH will allow the Tigers to be flexible with the position players. Expect to see both Young and Boesch at DH from time to time. In that case, Dirks would have a good shot to replace them in the field. A move like this would help the Tigers’ defense, as Dirks had a UZR/150 of 7.5 in left field and 20.6 in right field in limited time last season.
If Dirks wants to make the team and be more than a bit player, he’s going to need to prove to Leyland that he can hit left-handed pitching as well. Last season, 204 of his 235 plate appearances came against righties, usually splitting time with Casper Wells when Magglio Ordonez went down in May.
Of all the position players fighting for roster spots, Dirks has the best chance to contribute with the Major League team due to his versatility and willingness to play wherever needed. He’ll look to build momentum off his winter league heroics. Who knows. Maybe Detroit fans will find themselves chanting "King Andy."