Coming into the 2008 season, Curtis Granderson’s Detroit Tigers were the odds-on pick to win the American League Central. With their addition of Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Edgar Renteria and Jacque Jones, the Tigers were expected to pummel opponents into submission with an offense that some commentators predicted would score over 1,000 runs. Granderson was poised to propel that offense from his leadoff spot.

It hasn’t worked out like that at all so far. Granderson broke his finger when he was hit by a pitch during spring training, and he didn’t make his season debut until April 23. By that point, Detroit had recovered from its 2–10 start to improve to 8–13, and Granderson came back with a vengeance. He hit .310 with 3 homers in his first eight games, as the Tigers went 6–2 and improved to 14–15 on May 1. Since then, however, Detroit and Granderson have regressed into a prolonged slump. The Tigers have gone 4–12 since May 1 and Granderson is hitting .177 for the month of May. Detroit finds itself in last place in the Central at 18–27, 6.5 games out of first, and Granderson and his teammates are looking to right the ship.

Granderson spent most of his days before professional baseball in the Chicagoland area. He was born in Blue Island, grew up in Lynwood, went to high school in Lansing, and graduated from the Univeristy of Illinois-Chicago with degrees in business administration and advertising. He was drafted in the third round by the Tigers in 2002, and moved quickly through their system, making his major-league debut in 2004. He spent most of 2005 back in the minors, and earned the starting center field job with the big club in 2006. He had a solid year, showing big-time power potential while hitting for a good average and playing good defense in center field. His biggest weakness was strikeouts, as he led the league with 174 whiffs.

2007 was Granderson’s breakout season. He became the first player since Willie Mays to have at least 20 doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases in the same season (Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies also did so later in the year). He finished with a .302 batting average, 23 homers, 74 RBI, 23 triples (the most by any player since 1949) and 26 steals. He also cut down on his strikeouts (141). Granderson finished 10th in the American League MVP voting. It was a truly unique season from a truly unique player.

In addition to his strikeout totals, the only other hole in his game has been his performance against left-handed pitching. Granderson bats from the left side, and he’s struggled with southpaws his entire career, to the point where Tigers manager Jim Leyland will sit him occasionally when they face a tough lefty. Last year, he hit only .160 against lefties, and this year, only 5 of his 91 at bats have been versus southpaws, with only a single to show for it. Some players are able to improve their platoon splits as they mature, and Granderson will need to do so in order to join the truly elite players in the game.

Granderson has already laid the foundation for a career in baseball when his playing days are over. After the 2006 season, he traveled around the world as an ambassador for Major League Baseball. My brother, Tom, who lives outside London and used to work for MLB’s British arm, Baseball/Softball UK, had the opportunity to meet him while he was on the Great Britain leg of his tour. He had the following to say: “Granderson was totally down-to-earth — both respectful and curious (a good way to be as a tourist!). He did a whirlwind tour, hitting London, Italy, and Holland in a week, doing clinics for kids as well as public appearances. He’s since done a similar trip to South Africa. The guy is exactly as his title for these trips says — an MLB Ambassador. He’s a benefit to the game.”

Last year, he worked for TBS as a studio analyst for their playoff coverage and performed well. He also blogs intermittently for ESPN.com. Granderson is a fantastic player and by all accounts a good guy, and he has the opportunity to continue to improve.