Brad Ausmus has been reluctant to commit to anything -- and still, nothing remains etched in stone -- but Tigers fans at least got an early glimpse into how the manager will use Upton after the team posted its first lineup of spring training, as follows:
1. Ian Kinsler, 2B
2. Upton, LF
3. Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4. Victor Martinez, DH
5. J.D. Martinez, RF
6. Nick Castellanos, 3B
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8. Jose Iglesias, SS
9. Anthony Gose, CF
Pitching will be Kevin Ziomek.
Ausmus has said previously that he also would consider batting Upton fifth or sixth, but Upton will begin in the two-hole in Monday's exhibition game against Florida Southern College.
Upton's name wasn't actually penciled in; rather, the Tigers had "New Guy" listed after Kinsler, but Upton confirmed he would indeed be taking that spot in the lineup when the Tigers square off against the Mocs at Joker Marchant Stadium.
Upton said he's got to do his part to fit into the top of the order, and he knows that the expectations are high.
"It's a great lineup. You know, I've said it [before], I'll say it again, health is the key for us," Upton said. "If we can keep this lineup together for a good bulk of our games, I think we'll produce."
Though Upton led the San Diego Padres in strikeouts (159) last season, he has, over his nine-year career, an above-average on-base percentage (.352). The 28-year-old also brings an extra dose of speed and athleticism to the top of the lineup.
"You want as many guys on base in front of Miggy as possible, and Victor, and J.D." Ausmus said, referencing Upton's on-base percentage."
Ausmus also said it could change throughout the season, but this seems to be the best fit with everyone healthy.
"Let's not overthink it. I think two is a logical spot to have him."
Fellow outfielder Cameron Maybin said Upton can "sneak up and steal you 20 bags," which could be an asset with the Tigers focused on improving their base running. Gaining an edge on the basepaths and putting more pressure on the opposing pitcher has been one of the points of emphasis early in camp, and Upton hopes to show that as one of his strengths.
"I take pride in my base running and scoring for guys when they put a ball in the gap, taking extra bases when we need to -- that only makes a team, our lineup, even better if we can help each other out, give ourselves an easier at-bat with a man on third and less than two [outs] rather than a man on second, having to get a base hit," said Upton, who stole 19 bases last season. "Those are the situations we can create more often, running bases well."
Regardless of how Monday's debut goes, it's premature to say that this is where Upton will be expected to bat on Opening Day; the lineup could likely undergo several iterations should the team experience injuries, fatigue and slumps as Ausmus was quick to point out.
"It gets tinkered with because guys need a day off," Ausmus said. "Inherently, it gets tinkered with whether I want to tinker or not."
Regardless, the first taste of game action provides an initial -- albeit premature -- look into how the lineup could shake out. And after more than a week of executing drills and batting practice, the club simply is looking forward to facing players wearing different jerseys.
"The guys get tired of just the monotony of running drills and taking batting practice without the competition, the game competition," Ausmus said.
Monday can't come soon enough.