Tigers Top 10 Prospects
By Pat Caputo
Weighed down by a number of long-term contracts, Dave Dombrowski, the team president who named himself to replace Smith as GM, has decided another total overhaul is in order.
Dombrowski hasnt necessarily been unhappy with what he has seen from the Tigers system. Detroit has good depth in the minors, but Dombrowski decided the franchise lacked potential impact players who could lead the Tigers to a championship.
Thats why he was quick to trade the clubs most valuable commodity, Jeff Weaver, to the Yankees last July in a three-way deal with Oakland. Detroit landed first baseman Carlos Pena, righthander Jeremy Bonderman and closer Franklyn German.
Pena hit .253-12-36 in 75 games with the Tigers, making enough of an impression for the organization to view him as its first baseman of the future. He moves ahead of Eric Munson, the third overall pick in the 1999 draft who could move to a new position.
Bonderman, the first high school junior ever drafted when he went in 2001s first round, fared well as a teenager in high Class A in 2002, his pro debut. He jumps to the top of the Tigers prospect list and adds to the organizations strength, which is starting pitching.
German, a hard-throwing closer, ranks third and gives the Tigers an option if Matt Anderson, the No. 1 overall pick in 1997, isnt able to bounce back from a shoulder tear that sidelined him for most of 2002.
On the homegrown front, Detroit used rookies Omar Infante and Ramon Santiago as their double-play combination in late September. The Tigers havent developed their own middle-infield tandem since Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell came up in 1977.
While Detroit has drafted well in recent years, its efforts have been hindered by injuries. First-round picks Matt Wheatland (2000) and Kenny Baugh (2001), both righthanders, had shoulder surgery and missed all of 2002. Two other highlights from a strong 2001 draft, second baseman Michael Woods (supplemental first round) and third baseman Ryan Raburn (fifth), were limited to just 40 games each because of physical ailments.
Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HSPasco, Wash., 2001 (1st round). Signed by: Gary McGraw (Athletics).
Background: Bonderman was acquired from Oakland along with first baseman Carlos Pena and closer Franklyn German in a three-way trade that sent Jeff Weaver, Detroits top player and 1998 first-round pick, to the Yankees. The trade was made in July, but the Tigers couldnt officially acquire Bonderman until one year after his original signing (Aug. 22, 2001). He was in the news the previous summer as well, when he became the first player ever drafted after his junior year in high school. He was eligible because he was 18 and had received his GED diploma. Bonderman didnt make his pro debut until 2002 because he signed late, and Oakland challenged him by sending him straight to high Class A. Considering his age and experience, he was spectacular. He hadnt even pitched much in instructional league in 2001, logging just three innings.
Strengths: Bonderman has every tool to be a No. 1 starter in the major leagues. His fastball is consistently in the 92-94 mph range with movement, and there are times when he throws harder. His slider is sharp and he commands it well. Given his limited experience, Bonderman also has made excellent progress with his changeup. Hes competitive and wants the ball, displaying a bulldog mentality on the mound. He has a strong frame, which bodes well for his durability.
Weaknesses: To reach his potential, Bonderman will need better command of his pitches, particularly his fastball. When he falls behind in the count, at times he comes in with less than his best stuff over the heart of the plate. He gave up 18 homers in 157 innings in 2002. Bonderman got better each month of the season until fading in August, so hell have to get accustomed to the long grind of pro ball.
The Future: Though Bonderman is just 20, the Tigers have no intention of bringing him along slowly. Barring injury or a poor performance during spring training, hell begin 2003 at Double-A Erie. Bonderman has maturity beyond his age, three above-average pitches and a grounded and competitive makeup. Its not inconceivable that he could reach the majors late in the season, though 2004 is a more likely timetable.
Click here for prospects 2-10.
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