Detroit Tigers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Pat Caputo
1. Nate Cornejo, rhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-5. Wt.: 200. Drafted: HSWellington, Kan., 1998 (2nd round). Signed by: Ray Hayward.
Background: Few doubted Cornjeos arm strength as the 1998 draft arrived. It was considered first-round all the way, perhaps the best in high school baseball that year. The questions about him centered on his knees. He blew both of them out during a high school career in which he also starred in football and basketball. Those concerns have proven unfounded because Cornjeo has been durable to this point. Considered one of the Tigers top prospects since signing, he took a dramatic leap forward last season, winning a combined 20 games in the upper minors and the majors. He dominated Double-A hitters and was even better in Triple-A before his promotion to the big leagues in August. With Detroit, Cornejo ran the gamut from very good to very bad. He comes from a baseball family, as his father Mardie pitched for the Mets and his brother Jesse pitches in the Devil Rays system.
Strengths: Both Cornjeos fastball and breaking ball are excellent pitches. His fastball has exceptional movement, breaking down and in on righthanders. During his first three pro seasons, he consistently threw his fastball at 90-91 mph. Last year, his velocity rose to 93-94 and he didnt lose any of his life on the pitch. Cornejo also has an outstanding breaking ball, which is a cross between a slider and a curveball. He has good command of it. Despite his height, his mechanics are consistent. Cornejo is athletic given his size.
Weaknesses: After throwing a lot of innings in the minor leagues, Cornejo didnt flash quite the same stuff once he reached the majors. His fastball didnt have quite the same zip and his breaking ball suffered after the big league staff ill-advisedly told him to change his grip. His changeup is not nearly as good as his other two pitches. Command of his fastball could be a problem because his ball moves so much.
The Future: Unless he doesnt pitch well during spring training, Cornjeo will start 2002 in the major leagues. Scouts compare him to Kevin Brown because of the velocity and sink on his fastball. Cornjeo could become a No. 1 starter in the future.
2. Omar Infante, ss
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 150. Signed: Venezuela, 1999. Signed by: Ramon Pena.
Background: Driven by the shooting death of his brother Astrubal, a pitcher in the Tigers organization, Infante has taken big steps the last two seasons. In 2000, he came out of nowhere to hold his own as an 18-year-old at Class A Lakeland and became the youngest player ever in the Arizona Fall League. Last season, managers rated him the best defensive shortstop in the Double-A Eastern League.
Strengths: Infante has excellent hands and smooth actions at shortstop. He was bothered by a sore throwing shoulder for most of 2001 but still threw accurately. He has a quick initial step and good range. As a hitter, he punches the ball into right field with authority and at times will turn on pitches. Hes an exceptionally intense and focused player.
Weaknesses: Infante has just average speed for a middle infielder. At this stage of his career, he might struggle if continually pounded inside with good fastballs. He doesnt walk enough and strikes out too much for the type of hitter he needs to be at the major league level.
The Future: Less than three years after the Tigers signed him, Infante could be their starting shortstop on Opening Day. Hed provide a lot more defense than Deivi Cruz, who was dumped in December.
3. Eric Munson, 1b
Age: 24. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 220. Drafted: Southern California, 1999 (1st round). Signed by: Dennis Lieberthal.
Background: A catcher in college, Munson was converted into a first baseman after signing a $6.75 million big league contract as the No. 3 overall pick in the 1999 draft. He missed most of the second half of the 2000 season with a back ailment, which also kept him from playing in the Arizona Fall League. In 2001, Munson played every day and got better as the season went on.
Strengths: Quick hands are Munsons forte. As far as hes concerned, the harder a pitcher throws, the better. Hell center the ball on his live bat regardless. When he makes contact, the ball jumps off his bat with extraordinary velocity.
Weaknesses: Like a lot of hitters with exceptionally fast hands, Munson is prone to trying to pull everything. He strikes out too much even for a power hitter. At best, hes an average defender.
The Future: Munson is the Tigers first baseman of the future, but there has been a logjam at his position that was only partially relieved when Tony Clark left. Whether Munson opens the season in the major leagues or at Triple-A Toledo could depend on the numbers game.
4. Kenny Baugh, rhp
Age: 23. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-4. Wt.: 185. Drafted: Rice, 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Tim Grieve.
Background: It was viewed as a reach and a signability pick when the Tigers drafted Baugh 11th overall last June. A fifth-round pick by the Athletics in 2000, he opted to return for his senior season and was Western Athletic Conference pitcher of the year. After signing for $1.8 million, he justified Detroits faith by pitching well and reaching Double-A Erie before being shut down with a tired arm.
Strengths: Baughs changeup already is an above-average pitch. His fastball, which occasionally reaches 94 mph, has good sink and he commands it well. Hes an excellent athlete, which helps him repeat his delivery and throw strikes with ease.
Weaknesses: Most pitchers drafted in the top of the first round throw harder than Baugh. While he tops out at 94 mph, he more often works at 88-91. His curveball is far from ready for the major leagues.
The Future: Baugh will begin this season in Double-A or Triple-A. If he performs reasonably well, he likely will make his big league debut at some point in 2002. Hes the frontrunner to be the first player from the 2001 draft to reach the majors.
5. Ramon Santiago, ss
Age: 20. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 150. Signed: Dominican Republic, 1998. Signed by: Ramon Pena.
Background: Santiago starred defensively during his first two years as a pro, but he tore his labrum in 2000. The injury cut short that season, and shoulder surgery relegated him to DH duty last year. He got off to an extremely slow start in high Class A as a teenager in 2001, before closing strongly and posting respectable numbers.
Strengths: Santiago made great strides as a hitter last season by shortening his stroke and making more consistent contact. Hes more quick than fast, but hes a smart baserunner who can steal bases. Before his arm injury, he was a brilliant fielder with good range, excellent hands and exceptional arm strength.
Weaknesses: Santiago needs to get stronger. He hits too many fly balls and doesnt walk enough to suit the style of player he is. His arm has regained its strength since the surgery, but he has struggled to relearn his throwing mechanics.
The Future: With Omar Infante also on hand, Santiago may be moved to second base at some point. He and Infante figure to be Detroits double-play combination of the future. Santiago will start this season in Double-A.
6. Andres Torres, of
Age: 24. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 5-10. Wt.: 175. Drafted: Miami-Dade CC, 1998 (4th round). Signed by: Greg Smith.
Background: Torres ran a lot of track and played little baseball during his youth in Puerto Rico. He didnt begin switch-hitting until he was at Miami-Dade CC North. After a breakout season in high Class A in 2000, he had an up-and-down year in Double-A in 2001 that was cut short by surgery on his sore throwing shoulder.
Strengths: Torres has excellent speed. Hes consistently timed at 4.0 seconds from the right side of home to first base, and has plenty of range in center field. He has improved as a hitter, particularly from the left side. His arm injury shouldnt cause long-term problems.
Weaknesses: To take full advantage of his speed, Torres needs to make more consistent contact. He needs better basestealing technique because he gets thrown out too often. Though he can cover a lot of ground, Torres often gets turned around or takes poor angles on balls hit directly over his head. At times, he has shown a lack of maturity.
The Future: The Tigers desperately need a center fielder at the major league level, and Torres is the prime candidate coming through the system. He likely will start 2002 at Triple-A Toledo and will get a chance in the majors as soon as his performance warrants.
7. Nook Logan, of
Age: 22. B-T: B-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) CC, 2000 (3rd round). Signed by: Gary York.
Background: Logans first full season of pro ball went about as expected. He had moments when he looked like a future star and others when his lack of experience was evident. Drafted as a shortstop in 2000, he was moved to center field during instructional league that fall. The Tigers also turned him into a switch-hitter.
Strengths: Logan is long, lean and exceptionally fast. He stole 67 bases in 86 attempts last year and is capable of being more prolific in the future. He took to center field well. Considering his lack of experience at the position, he misplayed few balls.
Weaknesses: Logan needs to get stronger and continue to develop as a switch-hitter. A natural righthander, he hit just .254 from the left side in 2001. He strikes out way too much for a player with his speed, and though he draws walks he will need to get on base more often. He seemed to wear down toward the end of last season.
The Future: Logan is scheduled to spend all of this season in high Class A. If Torres eventually cant handle the center-field job, Logan could get the next opportunity.
8. Andy Van Hekken, lhp
Age: 22. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 6-3. Wt.: 175. Drafted: HSHolland, Mich., 1998 (3rd round). Signed by: Kenny Madeja (Mariners).
Background: A year after drafting him in the third round, the Mariners traded Van Hekken to the Tigers for outfielder Brian Hunter. Van Hekken has done nothing but win games, going 41-15 as a pro and 35-12 in the Detroit system. His 31 victories over the last two years are the most among minor league pitchers.
Strengths: Van Hekken has excellent command of his fastball and works the outside half of the plate exceptionally well. His fastball tails in on lefthanders and away from righthanders, making it difficult to hit with authority. His curveball is sharp and he also can spot it where he wants.
Weaknesses: Van Hekken doesnt throw hard. He pitches in the high 80s most nights and doesnt appear to have enough pop on his fastball to challenge big league hitters near the heart of the plate. His changeup isnt a quality pitch yet.
The Future: To start 2002, Van Hekken will return to Double-A, where he went 5-0 last year but didnt pitch particularly well. He could reach Detroit quickly if he continues to experience success.
9. Cody Ross, of
Age: 21. B-T: R-L. Ht.: 5-11. Wt.: 180. Drafted: HSCarlsbad, N.M., 1999 (4th round). Signed by: Jim Olander.
Background: There were scouts who liked Ross better as a lefthanded pitcher coming out of high school, but the Tigers zeroed in on him as an outfielder. He started to display power in 2001, hitting 15 home runs in the spacious stadiums of the high Class A Florida State League. Twelve of those 15 longballs came in the second half of the season.
Strengths: A very competitive player, Ross never takes at-bats off, runs the bases hard and hustles as a corner outfielder. His bat is surprisingly live and he consistently drives the ball. Ross doesnt strike out as much as most power hitters. As might be expected from a former pitching prospect, his arm is both strong and accurate.
Weaknesses: Ross size is a concern, especially given that he has only average speed. His power is good but not great, and he doesnt have one extraordinary tool which stands out. Hell need to show a little more patience at the plate as he advances.
The Future: Ross could be in for a big Double-A season in 2002. Eries Jerry Uht Park is friendly to righthanded hitters and could magnify his numbers.
10. Jack Hannahan, 3b
Age: 22. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-2. Wt.: 205. Drafted: Minnesota, 2001 (3rd round). Signed by: Jerome Cochran.
Background: Like Joe Mauer, the No. 1 overall pick in last Junes draft, Hannahan starred in baseball and football at St. Pauls Cretin-Derham Hall. The 2001 Big Ten Conference player of the year, Hannahan also had a huge pro debut, as Mauer did. He impressed Midwest League managers with his all-around game.
Strengths: Hannahan has good bat control and looks capable of hitting for a high average. He stays behind the ball well and can lace line drives into the gap. Hes also an above-average third baseman, showing steady hands and an accurate arm. He was considered Minnesotas best defensive third baseman since Terry Steinbach.
Weaknesses: Hannahan will have to hit for a high average if he is going to be an effective major league player, because he doesnt have home run power. His other shortcoming is that he doesnt run well.
The Future: Some scouts think Hannahan could follow Steinbachs path to the majors as a catcher, but third base is a position of need for the Tigers. They think he can move fast at the hot corner, possibly reaching Double-A quickly in 2002.
Rest of the Best:
11. Preston Larrison, rhp
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