Monday, April 24, 2006

Tigers Prospects

In 2005, discussion of the top prospects in the Tigers organization was primarily centered around 3 players. Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and Curtis Granderson. Each was amongst the absolute top prospects in the minors and each is currently performing well in Detroit. So now who is down in the minor league system that has a chance to be a star in Detroit? Here are some names to keep in mind (from A ball on up to AAA):

Cameron Maybin (19 years old, CF, West Michigan) - if you want to talk about the real deal, look no further than last year's first round draft pick. He had a long hold out last year and is just playing his first month of professional ball. By all accounts, he is excellent in the outfield, and he's really hitting the ball well. A .333 BA, .394 OBP, .583 SLG with 4 doubles, 4 triples, 1 HR, 10 runs, and 13 RBI in 15 games played. Throw in 3/4 on SBs and he is stuffing the boxscore on a nightly basis. As he matures and his power at the plate develops, he has a chance to be an absolute superstar. I'd look for him to move up to Lakeland this year and perhaps start next year in Erie.

Ramon Garcia (21 years old, LHP, West Michigan) - I don't know much about this kid, but he's off to a phenomenal start for the White Caps. 2-1, 1.50 ERA in 3 starts with 15 Ks against only 2 BBs allowed. He has only surrendered a total of 15 baserunners in 18 innings pitched thus far. Last year he was 5-3 with a 3.65 ERA for the GCL Tigers. He's a touch on the older side to be considered a great prospect given his level of competition, but if he can move up to Lakeland later this year and keep up the good work he will be turning himself into a great prospect.

Jair Jurrjens (20 years old, RHP, Lakeland) - a stathead favorite last year with his 12-6 record, 3.41 ERA, and 108 Ks vs 38 BBs in West Michigan, he is off to a hot start in Lakeland this year. 1-0 with a 2.12 ERA in 3 starts with 14 Ks and only 1 BB allowed. Only a total of 13 players have reached base in 17 innings pitched. If he dominates Lakeland this year, look out for him in Erie or Toledo next year and he'll be getting mention as one of the top 10 or 20 SP prospects in the minors.

Kevin Whelan (22 years old, RHP, Lakeland) - last year's 4th round pick (or was it 5th?) out of Texas A&M, this kid continues to blow people away as a closer. He's got 5 saves in 6 appearances this year only allowing 1 run with 3 walks and 9 strikeouts. I'm actually a little surprised he didn't start the year in Erie because A-ball level competition is just too easy for him. He should move up soon. I'd look for him the Detroit bullpen as early as next year providing another power arm and strikeout machine.

Clete Thomas (22 years old, CF, Lakeland) - another early round pick from Auburn last year that is off to a good start. In limited action last year, he should good speed and good defense, but not quite enough power at the plate. This year, he has stepped up in that area but his batting average is off a bit. A .262 BA/.351 OBP/.415 SLG line is OK, but would really be boosted by a little more consistent average since his Isolated Power (SLG-AVG) is not bad. He's a solid player who will likely make the majors as a role player at some point with his speed and defense. If his bat continues to improve, though, he could be even more.

Jeff Larish (23 years old, 1B, Lakeland) - another early round pick from ASU last year, this kid can hit. A .271/.405/.508 line is nothing to sneeze at. His power and batting eye remind a little of Carlos Pena, but hopefully he can continue to be more consistent in making contact than Pena was. He should be up in Erie or Toledo this summer.

Humberto Sanchez (22 years old, RHP, Erie) - where the hell did this kid come from? He was a 31st round pick in 2001 who has had a middling minor league career thus far including a 5.21 ERA at Lakeland in 2004 in 19 starts and a 5.57 ERA in 11 starts at Erie last year. But this year? He's dominating in AA and he's only 22 which is considered young for the competition. 1-1 with a 1.96 ERA in 4 starts including 28 Ks to only 7 BBs. In 7 starts last year at Erie as a 22 year old, Justin Verlander was 2-0 with a 0.28 ERA in 32 innings with 32 Ks and 7 BBs. Now I'm not saying Sanchez is the equivalent of Verlander last year, but the kid is off to a very impressive start to say the least. With Sanchez and Jurrjens coming up on the heels of Verlander and Zumaya (and Bonderman), it's easy to see that the Tigs have stockpiled a monster collection of young arms in the 20-23 age bracket.

Virgil Vazquez (23 years old, RHP, Erie) - as a 22 year old last year he was decent in Erie with a 2-8 record, 5.27 ERA, but a very nice 53/14 K/BB ratio in 83 innings. This year, he is 1-2 with a 3.50 ERA and 15 Ks to 3 BBs in 18 innings having only allowed 17 baserunners. If he can maintain this improvement, he is a solid prospect at the right age level for his competition.

Brent Clevlen (22 years old, OF, Erie) - the former 2nd round pick hammered the ball at Lakeland last year. Now he's up in AA and off to a decent start with a .277/.382/.415 line in 17 games. The power is lacking a bit with only 1 HR and 6 doubles, but hopefully he can find the stroke that produced 18 HRs and 28 2Bs last year. Along with Maybin, he is the best OF prospect in the organization. A big year in Erie probably gets him Craig Monroe's job next year.

Kody Kirkland (22 years old, 3B, Erie) - he had a nice year at Lakeland last year hitting .266/.342/.470 with 24 doubles, 9 triples, and 16 HRs. For a guy with decent power, it's mildly surprising that he has 31 triples the last 3 years. This year he's off to a similar good start in AA hitting .254/.296/.537 with 2 doubles, 1 triple, and 5 HRs in 17 games. He's the right age for his competition and he has put up similar batting numbers at every level he's been at so there is little reason to believe he'll fall off any time soon. Right now, he projects as a decent prospect that might be in Detroit in 2-3 years manning the hot corner. I could easily see him developing into a .275 hitter with 25 HR power in the majors. One thing he really needs to improve, however, is his current 2 BB to 24 K ratio. That's not good, and it is something he has struggled with at every level. His power numbers let him compensate for the lower OBP, but drawing a few more walks would really help.

Wilfredo Ledezma (25 years old, LHP, Toledo) - seems like just yesterday he was the next big thing out of the Tigs minor league system when he dominated AA Erie with a 10-3 record and 2.42 ERA in 2004. Well, he's been up and down ever since. Nobody denies he has the talent with a good fastball and big time curve, but he needs to be more consistent. So far this year, he has been excellent for the Mud Hens with a 2-1 record and 2.28 ERA in 4 starts with 26 Ks and only 6 BBs allowed in 23.2 innings. Those are excellent numbers that project well to the MLB level. I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a callup for some spot starts or long relief work at some point this year, especially if Zumaya gets sent down to Toledo to get some starts under his belt.

Zach Miner (24 years old, RHP, Toledo) - one of 2 pitchers acquired for Kyle Farnsworth last year, Miner is pitching well in Toledo right now. He's 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in 3 starts, though he has walked 11 batters in 19 innings which isn't good. Seems he has always struggled with walks, racking up 3.4 per 9 innings pitched over his career thus far. He's definitely pitched well in Detroit since coming over, though. In 6 starts in Toledo last year he was 3-1 with a 2.36 ERA despite 20 BBs in 34 innings. I'm not one to argue with success, but his BB rates are just not good. And it's not like he doesn't give up hits to compensate as he allows around 1.4-1.5 base runners per inning which isn't good. Let's just say that he's still young and he's putting up good W/L and ERA numbers in AAA. It's hard to argue with that, but hopefully he improves the command at least a ltitle.

David Espinosa (24 years old, OF, Toledo) - former national POY in HS and acquired via the Brian Moehler trade, Espinosa is hitting well in Toledo this year. .286/.419/.457 is nothing to sneeze at through 11 games. He has never had a lot of power, but just gets on base consistently with a career OBP of .361 entering the season. Kind of a Matt Lawton type hitter that can be a solid major league outfielder even if he isn't hitting 20 HRs. It'd be nice if he developed some more pop, but I find it hard to complain about a 24 year old in AAA that is getting on base almost 42% of the time. He could probably replace Craig Monroe right now without missing much of a beat. Alexis Gomez and Tike Redman and Nook Logan are probably all higher in line for callups this year, but Espinosa has by far the better longterm value.



There are some other names I left off like Tony Giarratano that are talented, but not off to much of a start this year. These are just some guys that are talented, at the right age for their level of competition, and off to a good start this year.

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