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Top Ten Prospects: Detroit Tigers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Pat Caputo
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
Background: Granderson proved he could hit in 2002. He finished second in the NCAA Division I batting race with a .483 average, trailing only Rickie Weeks (.495)—who would become the No. 2 overall pick the following year. After signing for $469,000 as a third-round pick, Granderson again finished runner-up for a hitting crown, this time with a .344 average in the short-season New York-Penn League. But for all his hitting ability, scouts weren’t impressed by the rest of his game. Though he skipped a level and had a solid if unspectacular performance at high Class A Lakeland in 2003, he still didn’t win scouts over. Even some Tigers officials began to lose faith in him. But Granderson quickly gained believers with his breakout year at Double-A Erie in 2004. He ranked fourth in RBIs and eighth in batting in the Eastern League, and his other tools all seemed to climb a notch. His September callup made him the first Illinois-Chicago player to reach the majors.
Strengths: Granderson is a classic line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter. He has a quick and compact batting stroke, a good grasp of the strike zone and identifies pitches early. He made an adjustment to become more selective upon reaching Double-A, as reflected in his career-best 80 walks. His gap-hitting approach seems tailor-made for Detroit’s spacious Comerica Park. Once labeled as a corner outfielder who wouldn’t have enough power to play every day in the majors, Granderson nearly doubled his previous career high in homers and made defensive strides in center field. He gets good jumps and takes correct routes to the ball. His range is average for center and above average on the corners. Granderson’s arm is accurate, and he’s a smart player who throws to the right base. His makeup and work habits are outstanding, as evidenced by his decision to complete his college degree after signing as a junior. He shows the potential to be a clubhouse leader if he continues to perform on the field.
Weaknesses: Granderson isn’t going to produce big-time power. He benefited from playing his home games at Erie’s cozy Jerry Uht Park, though 13 of his 21 homers and 27 of his 48 extra-base hits came on the road. Another rap on Granderson was that many scouts considered him a fringe-average runner who lacked the speed of a true center fielder. Now there are just as many scouts who say that knock is overstated, however, and that his speed may actually rate a tick above average.
The Future: With Alex Sanchez arbitration-eligible for the first time, the Tigers likely will be looking for a new center fielder in 2005. Granderson was assigned to the Arizona Fall League to work on his reads in the outfield and is considered a viable option to take over. If the Tigers don’t look outside the organization to address the need, Granderson’s primary competition during the spring will come from Nook Logan and Craig Monroe. If he doesn’t win the everyday job out of spring training, he’ll start the year at Triple-A Toledo.
Background: The winner of an NCAA-record-tying 26 straight decisions at Wake Forest and the second overall pick in the 2003 draft, Sleeth ranked as the organization’s top prospect before throwing his first pro pitch. He didn’t sign until August, when he received a $3.35 million bonus. He was very inconsistent after a promotion to Double-A, with seven quality starts but a 9.50 ERA in his other six outings.
Strengths: Sleeth has the makings of an electric arsenal with above-average major league pitches. He runs his fastball between 92-94 mph and tops out at 96 mph. His sharp, mid-80s slider is an out pitch, and his curveball has put-away potential.
Weaknesses: Sleeth needs to improve his changeup to complement his power pitches. He’s still working on smoothing out his mechanics so he can consistently repeat them. He throws slightly across his body and elevates too many fastballs, one of the factors affecting his command.
The Future: Despite his problems in Double-A, scouts still project Sleeth to have a high ceiling and become at least a No. 3 starter. He’ll try to rebound when he returns to Erie to begin 2005.
Background: Verlander had as electric an arm as anyone in the 2004 draft, though he went just 21-18 in three college seasons. The Tigers drafted him second overall, then broke off negotiations with him and his agent in October. Verlander’s father jumpstarted the talks the following week, and Verlander signed a five-year big league contract with a $3.12 million bonus and $4.5 million guaranteed.
Strengths: Equipped with a lightning-quick arm, Verlander regularly pitches in the mid-90s and touched 99 mph several times during the spring. His curveball is a knee-buckling hammer with vicious downward bite, and his changeup could give him a third plus pitch.
Weaknesses: The Tigers will have to make up for lost time and start reshaping Verlander’s delivery when he reports to spring training. His command is affected by his upright finish and short stride, which causes him to leave too many pitches up in the zone. He doesn’t use his changeup as much as he should.
The Future: Verlander has the stuff to front a rotation, but scouts are divided on whether he profiles better as a closer. Detroit hopes he’ll remain a starter and will begin his career in high Class A.
Background: Zumaya wasn’t an unknown in the talent-rich San Diego area, but he lasted until the 11th round out of high school because few scouts projected his velocity would spike so quickly. His fastball jumped from the low to mid-90s right after he signed. Filling a void created by injuries, he reached Double-A at age 19.
Strengths: Zumaya has pure power arm strength and has shown the ability to overpower more experienced hitters at each stop in his three-year career. His fastball tops out at 98 mph, and his hard slurve has late depth. His intensity would serve him well in a late-inning relief role.
Weaknesses: Zumaya’s shortcomings also may lead him to the bullpen. His maximum-effort delivery makes it difficult for him to command his fastball and breaking ball and also leads to questions about his durability. He barely has averaged five innings per start as a pro. He lacks a changeup.
The Future: For now, the Tigers plan on leaving Zumaya in the rotation and seeing whether he can improve his secondary pitches and control. He’s heading back to Double-A.
Background: Sanchez moved from the Dominican Republic to the Bronx when he was 10. Taken as a 31st-round draft-and-follow out of Rockland (N.Y.) CC in 2001, he garnered some first-round interest the following spring after transferring to Connors State (Okla.) JC. He signed before the 2002 draft for $1 million.
Strengths: Sanchez presents an imposing figure on the mound and has drawn comparisons to Roberto Hernandez. His fastball can overpower hitters at 92-95 mph with hard sink. His curveball shows flashes of already being an above-average strikeout pitch.
Weaknesses: Sanchez has spotty control and finds himself behind in the count too often. He needs to build confidence in his changeup. He spent last offseason working his way into shape at the Tigers’ spring training complex. They were pleased with his progress, but he needs to keep an eye on his body and maintain his focus.
The Future: After handling his first taste of Double-A well, he’ll return to Erie. Sanchez has middle-of-the-rotation potential, but needs to show better feel to avoid going to the bullpen.
Background: Giarratano lasted until the third round of the 2003 draft in part because of lingering doubts from his sophomore season the year before, when he hit .238 at Tulane and .187 in the Cape Cod League. He has had no problems hitting as a pro, with a career .333 average. He injured his left shoulder in early August, ending his season and requiring surgery.
Strengths: Giarratano has pure shortstop actions with outstanding glovework and soft, quick hands. He has answered questions about his ability to hit with wood, employing a contact approach and producing consistent line drives to all fields from both sides of the plate. He runs well and has the instincts to reach double digits in steals annually.
Weaknesses: The lone hole in Giarratano’s game is his power. His other tools are solid across the board, and he showed improved patience after walking infrequently in his pro debut.
The Future: Middle infield is one of Detroit’s few areas of depth. Giarratano is poised for a jump to Double-A, and if he keeps producing like he has the Tigers will find a spot for him.
Background: Frazier batted .382-13-59 as a junior and set Rutgers’ career home run mark with 34 before signing for $500,000. His pro debut ended after 20 games when an errant pitch broke his left forearm. His older brother Charlie is an outfielder in the Marlins organization and his younger brother Todd (the MVP of the 1998 Little League World Series) is a freshman shortstop at Rutgers.
Strengths: A good all-around hitter who uses the entire field, Frazier has the strength and leverage to turn on pitches and drive them out to any part of the park. His makeup is outstanding. He has a chance to be an above-average outfielder with a strong, accurate arm.
Weaknesses: Frazier had to tone down a deep hand hitch in his swing to avoid getting under too many balls. He’s a solid athlete, but he doesn’t get down the line very well. Though his instincts help him on the bases and in the outfield corner spots, his speed and range are somewhat limited.
The Future: Frazier likely will start 2005 at low Class A West Michigan. He’s advanced enough to get pushed to high Class A after a strong first half.
Background: Raburn’s career was sidetracked in 2002 when he dislocated his hip falling off an all-terrain vehicle. He moved from third base to second in instructional league after 2003, then missed the first six weeks of the 2004 season after dislocating his left pinky in spring training. He recovered from the injury and a slow start to hit .381 in July and August and join the Tigers in September.
Strengths: Raburn hits the ball to all fields with authority and has elicited comparisons to Jeff Kent as an offensive-minded second baseman since he shifted from the hot corner. He was a poor defensive third baseman, but his hands are good and he has an average arm.
Weaknesses: Raburn is making progress at second base but must get more consistent on routine plays. He strikes out in bunches, and pitchers at higher levels may be able to exploit him. He has below-average speed and his maturity has been questioned at times.
The Future: The Tigers have a greater need at third base, but Raburn will stay put at second. He’ll begin 2005 in Triple-A.
Background: Beattie topped NCAA Division II with 15 victories in 2003, but he really caught scouts’ attention that summer. He led the Cape Cod League with a 0.39 ERA, the second-lowest in league history, and won pitcher-of-the-year honors. After a strong junior year at Tampa, he went in the second round and signed late in the summer for $800,000.
Strengths: Beattie has excellent command of an 88-92 mph sinker, locating it at will and keeping it down in the zone. He backs it up with an effective slider that he also throws for strikes. His mechanics are clean and there’s still room for projection with his lanky build. He’s not afraid to pitch inside.
Weaknesses: His changeup lags behind his sinker and slider. The Tampa defense let him down in 2004, and Beattie would get frustrated and overthrow. He’s better off when he doesn’t worry about velocity and lets the natural sink on his two-seamer take over.
The Future: Though he looked rusty in instructional league, Beattie could be the first member of Detroit’s 2004 draft class to reach the majors. He has much more feel than Justin Verlander, and there’s no reason he couldn’t make his debut in high Class A.
Background: West Michigan won the low Class A Midwest League championship without a can’t-miss prospect on the playoff roster. De la Cruz has the best future among the Whitecaps and emerged as their closer in June. He faded in August, however, and served as a setup man in the postseason.
Strengths: De la Cruz routinely blows his heater in the high 90s and occasionally touches triple digits on the radar gun. In one outing, he hit or topped 100 mph with four straight pitches. His control is good for someone this young who throws this hard.
Weaknesses: His strikeout totals belie his velocity because de la Cruz essentially operates with one pitch. He lacks deception in his delivery, in part because he has a small build and his pitches arrive on a flat plane. His fastball is straight and his curveball hasn’t progressed as quickly as expected.
The Future: The Tigers desperately need bullpen help, and de la Cruz made a positive first impression on big league manager Alan Trammell in instructional league. They could rush him, but he needs to develop a second pitch and will work on that in high Class A in 2005.