The initial plan had been to phase in Scott Sizemore who was coming off a strong Minor League campaign in 2009, having hammered both AA and AAA pitching in 2009, Sizemore displayed offense to spare at a position where offense is generally pretty hard to come by. It was widely known that he was a sub-par defender, but the prospect of a second baseman putting up a .270/.350/.440 line is hard to ignore. Second basemen with that kind of offensive production don't just grow on trees.
Unfortunately Sizemore suffered an off season knee injury and while he was handed the opening day job, he still wasn't full recovered from the injury. He struggled mightily and was sent down. As he finally regained his swing in AAA, he again began to crush the ball, posting a nearly identical OPS as he had in at the same level a year before. Once again healthy, Sizemore got a late season call up and in limited duty began to show what he was capable of by hitting .308/.357/.577 for a .934 OPS over the seasons final month.
In the interim however, the Tigers had turned to Will Rhymes, a relatively unheralded Minor Leaguer from their system. Rhymes, proud owner of a career .728 MiLB OPS, came up and hit .304/.350/.414 over 213 plate appearances and provided league average defense. Whether or not his performance is sustainable or not is debatable, but either way, it gave him a chance coming into this spring. Truth be told, even if he fell off somewhat offensively (which is likely) a .720 OPS and league average defense would still make him a serviceable Major League starter.
When it came down to it, Rhymes simply outperformed Sizemore this spring and took the job for himself. Good for him. Rhymes is a very affable young man and should endear himself to the fanbase quickly (provided he continues to play well). He plays hard-nosed baseball, makes solid contact (8.4% K) and has showed a propensity to square the ball up well (23.2% LD). Just don't expect too much from him and you'll be satisfied.
And if he does come back to Earth? I'm sure Sizemore will be waiting, once again proving that AAA pitching simply isn't a good enough challenge.
Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.