Detroit Tigers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Pat Caputo
1. Brandon Inge, c
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 186. Drafted: Virginia Commonwealth, 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Rob Guzik.
Background: Inge was pleased in 1998 when he found out the Tigers had drafted him in the second round. His reaction was mixed moments later when he received another call from the organization, to tell him he was going to catch as a pro. Inge had been a shortstop and closer at Virginia Commonwealth, and he hadnt caught since Little League. He had little problem making the move, however. He played well defensively from the time he put on the catchers gear. He did struggle at the plate in his first two professional seasons, hitting just .230 and .244 with little power at the short-season and low Class A levels. His breakthrough came in the now-defunct California Fall League in 1999 after he changed his stroke. He got off to a fast start in 2000 for Double-A Jacksonville, but didnt finish the first half strong and batted .221 at Triple-A Toledo.
Strengths: Inge is fluid, quick and instinctive behind the plate. Not only does he have a strong and accurate arm, but his feet are also quick and he gets into position to throw swiftly. He has a quick release. He gets into a low crouch and presents the pitcher with an excellent target. Inges hands are soft and he frames pitches well. Hes exceptionally strong for his size and has power. A classic aluminum-bat pull hitter coming out of college, Inge changed his stroke to stay behind the ball and drive it to right field. Many of his 49 extra-base hits last year went up the right-center field gap. He still is capable of pulling offspeed pitches with power. He runs well for the position.
Weaknesses: Inge needs to make more consistent contact and grasp the strike zone better. The more experienced pitchers he faced in Triple-A just toyed with him. As a former pitcher, Inge is hesitant to get on pitchers much, saying he remembers what it was like on the mound when things arent going well. His coaches and team officials would like him to be more aggressive in that area, however.
The Future: Inge will start the 2001 season at Toledo. Ideally the Tigers would like to keep him there the entire season. They feel they can afford to because big league starter Brad Ausmus is a solid player who caught 140 games in 2000.
2. Ramon Santiago, ss
Age: 19. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 150. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998. Signed by: Ramon Pena.
Background: Santiagos 2000 season was cut short late by a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Thats the only thing that has slowed him so far. He played for Class A West Michigan at just 18. In his pro debut, he batted a combined .326 for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Tigers and short-season Oneonta in 1999.
Strengths: Santiago is already a major league-caliber shortstop. He rarely boots a routine play, has plus range and had a plus arm before he got hurt. Hes expected to fully recover. He has above-average speed, though hes more quick than flat-out fast, and is a smart baserunner. He makes consistent contact at the plate and is extraordinarily poised for his age.
Weaknesses: Santiago is a little guy who takes a big mans stance at the plateand then takes a little guys swing. His swing isnt grooved or refined. He often just flips the bat onto the ball, and he had just 17 extra-base hits in 2000. He has a long way to go as a hitter, and there are questions about his arm now because of the injury.
The Future: Santiago will start 2001 at high Class A Lakeland. He may have to DH to start the season until he regains full strength in his shoulder.
3. Eric Munson, 1b
Age: 23. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Southern California, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Rob Wilfong.
Background: An All-America catcher at Southern California, Munson was the third overall pick in the 1999 draft. He signed a major league contract worth $6.75 million, including a $3.5 million bonus. He has yet to put up overwhelming stats but has been pitched around as a pro. He was limited during the second half of 2000 because of a back injury sustained when he caught a couple of times in the bullpen.
Strengths: Munson has an exceptionally quick, fluid lefthanded stroke that produces a lot of power. He can pull any fastball and is capable of hitting offspeed pitches if he stays on the ball. Munson can drive the ball to left-center field with power.
Weaknesses: Moved to first base immediately after signing, Munson is awkward defensively both fielding grounders and receiving throws. Hes not a patient hitter and sometimes gets pull-happy.
The Future: Munson ended 2000 in a back brace but is expected to be ready for spring training. He missed the Arizona Fall League and will start 2001 at Double-A Erie. The Tigers would like him to develop quickly because they need lefthanded hitters and a first baseman.
4. Matt Wheatland, rhp
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 215. Drafted: HSSan Diego, 2000 (1st round). Signed by: Rob Wilfong.
Background: Wheatland started slowly last spring for national power Rancho Bernardo High but closed strong with several good outings in front of Detroit club officials, including general manager Randy Smith. He and catcher Scott Heard, who went to the Rangers, became just the third pair of high school teammates to go in the first round of the same draft.
Strengths: Wheatland consistently tops 90 mph, with a sinking fastball that has been compared to Kevin Browns. He has excellent command for a pitcher so young, walking just five batters in 46 pro innings. His breaking ball is an effective pitch and he has the makings of a good changeup.
Weaknesses: Wheatland wasnt as effective in Oneonta as in the GCL, in part because he developed pain in his middle and index fingers while throwing his breaking pitch. The problem cleared up in instructional league but is a concern. His changeup needs improvement.
The Future: Wheatland will start 2001 at West Michigan. With his poise and polish, he could advance quickly if the finger problem does not return.
5. Nate Cornejo, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSWellington, KS, 1998 (1st round supplemental). Signed by: Ray Hayward.
Background: After having surgery on both knees in high school, Cornejo slid from a projected first-rounder to the second round of the 1998 draft. He has been durable in his two full professional seasons, starting a total of 54 games. Sixteen of those came in 2000 in Double-A at age 20. His father Mardie is a former big league reliever.
Strengths: Cornejo consistently sits between 90-92 mph with sinking action on his fastball. He throws a heavy ball. His slider has late break when its working. It could be an effective pitch in the major leagues if he develops more consistency with it. Hes an excellent athlete who moves exceptionally well for someone his size.
Weaknesses: Cornejos changeup needs a lot of work before he reaches the majors. He throws too many pitches about the same speed. His breaking ball often lacks crispness. When he gets his fastball up, it flattens out and he gets hit hard.
The Future: Cornejo will start 2001 back in Double-A and likely will remain there for the entire season. Theres no need to rush him.
6. Shane Loux, rhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSGilbert, Ariz., 1997 (2nd round). Signed by: Jack Hays.
Background: Loux turned down a scholarship to Arizona State to sign with the Tigers out of high school and promptly dominated the Gulf Coast League in 1997. During the next two seasons, he struggled with his conditioning and his poise. Loux started putting it all together in Double-A in 2000.
Strengths: Loux throws hard, usually in the low 90s and sometimes going a bit higher. But its the movement on his fastball that makes him effective. He also has a good curveball and an excellent feel for pitching. Hes a competitive kid who makes a good pitch when he really needs one. He has been durable as a pro and is advanced for a 21-year-old pitcher.
Weaknesses: Loux needs to improve his changeup if hes going to be an effective pitcher in the major leagues. Hed be wise to continue harnessing his emotions while on the mound.
The Future: Loux will start 2001 in Triple-A. Its not out of the realm of possibility he will reach the major leagues later in the season if he performs well.
7. Andres Torres, of
Age: 22. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Miami-Dade CC, 1998 (4th round). Signed by: Greg Smith.
Background: Raised in Puerto Rico, Torres was still raw when drafted by the Tigers. He didnt hit well his first two seasons but broke through in 2000 with a very good year in high Class A.
Strengths: Torres has better-than-average speed, getting from home to first in 4.0 seconds from the right side of the plate. He starts quickly and has developed a good feel for stealing bases. Torres, who didnt start switch-hitting until he was in junior college, has made progress from the left side. He has good range as a center fielder and throws adequately.
Weaknesses: Torres needs to get stronger and drive the ball with more authority. He can be overpowered by a good fastball and isnt selective enough, given the threat he presents on the bases. He runs himself into outs sometimes on batted balls. Torres has a tendency to turn the wrong way on fly balls.
The Future: Torres will move up to Double-A in 2001. Juan Encarnacion isnt anything special as a center fielder, so Detroit is looking forward to putting Torres in center and Encarnacion in right in a couple of years.
8. Omar Infante, ss
Age: 19. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 150. Signed: Venezuela, 1999. Signed by: Ramon Pena.
Background: Because Ramon Santiago was ticketed for West Michigan in 2000, Infante was pushed to Lakeland out of necessity. He was able to hold his own despite having just 75 pro at-bats entering the year. Eric Munsons back problems opened a spot for Infante in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .218 as the youngest player in league history.
Strengths: An adroit fielder, Infante has better range than his speed would dictate. He shows a good, accurate arm and makes the backhanded play in the hole particularly well. He doesnt mess up routine plays and has good instincts for the game. The best thing about his offensive game is that he puts the ball in play.
Weaknesses: Infante is much more advanced defensively than he is offensively. He needs to get stronger because he doesnt drive the ball much. He swings at too many bad pitches. For a shortstop, he has average speed.
The Future: Infante may return to Lakeland or start 2001 in Double-A, again depending on where Santiago goes. When both of them are ready for Detroit, Infante probably faces a move to second base.
9. Andy VanHekken, lhp
Age: 21. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Drafted: HSHolland, Mich., 1998 (3rd round). Signed by: Ken Madeja (Mariners).
Background: In a trade the Mariners surely regret now, they dispatched VanHekken and minor league outfielder Jerry Amador to Detroit for speedster Brian Hunter in 1999. VanHekken led the Midwest League in wins and ranked second in ERA in 2000.
Strengths: VanHekken is a good athlete with an exceptional feel for pitching. He sets up his fastball with his other pitches, which include a curveball with nice bite and a changeup. Hes poised on the mound and always seems to be in control. He works the outer half of the plate well, often expanding the strike zone on the hitter. He allowed just three homers in 2000.
Weaknesses: VanHekkens fastball doesnt register well on the radar gun. Hes usually around 87 mph without exceptional movement. He may not have enough velocity to pitch in the strike zone at the major league level. He needs to develop more consistency with his offspeed pitches and must pitch inside more, especially against righthanders.
The Future: VanHekken is a prototype crafty lefthander. Hell start 2001 at Lakeland and could reach Erie by seasons end.
10. Exavier Logan, of/ss
Age: 21. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) CC, 2000 (3rd round). Signed by: Gary York.
Background: Logan was drafted as a shortstop and played there in the Gulf Coast League, where he used his exceptional speed to steal 20 bases in 23 attempts. But he was selected with the idea of converting him to center field, where he excelled in instructional league.
Strengths: Very athletic, Logan has been clocked in less than 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash. Team officials drool every time they see Logan shagging fly balls in the outfield because he covers ground so effortlessly. He also offers arm strength.
Weaknesses: Logan is about as raw as they come. Hes miles away from being refined enough to be a major leaguer, and now hes changing positions. He has no previous outfield experience. Offensively, hes all about speed. He has little power, though he has a body that could allow him to develop some in time.
The Future: If Logan continues to progress during spring training, hell open the 2001 season at West Michigan. If not, hell head to extended spring until the short-season New York-Penn League schedule starts in June.
Rest of the Best:
11. Shane Heams, rhp
Copyright 1998-2000 Baseball America. All rights reserved.|
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.