Detroit Tigers Top 10 Prospects
Index of Top 10 Prospects for all 30 Major League Teams
By Pat Caputo
1. Gabe Kapler, OF
Strengths: Kapler is exceptionally strong and drives the ball well, especially up the gaps. He makes good contact for a power hitter. He's a good two-strike hitter who waits out the pitcher and seems to smell RBI chances. He is relentless in his work habits and approach to the game. He's solid defensively with average range and an accurate arm that is average-to-slightly above average.
Weaknesses: There are times when Kapler tries to pull the ball too much and falls into bad habits. His tools have improved since he signed, particularly his speed, and he's more fluid since changing his workout routine. But Kapler doesn't have one tool that stands out above all others. All his tools grade average to slightly above average for a major league corner outfielder.
The Future: Kapler will get a shot to win a spot on the major league club out of spring training. However, it would not be a surprise if he began the season at Triple-A Toledo because outfield is one of the rare areas where the Tigers have depth at the major league level.
2. Jeff Weaver, RHP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 175
Drafted: Fresno State, 1998 (1st round) Signed by: Jack Hays
Background: The White Sox selected Weaver in 1997 as a draft-eligible sophomore after he led NCAA Division I with 181 strikeouts but he didn't come to terms and returned to college, where he was a second-team All-American. The Tigers drafted him 14th overall--and would have selected him sooner. That faith proved justified when Weaver pitched well for short-season Jamestown, even better for Class A West Michigan and better yet in the Midwest League playoffs, when he didn't allow an earned run in 16 innings of work.
Strengths: Weaver tops 90 mph consistently and has a lot of sinking action on his fastball. He throws an effective late-breaking slider. Weaver's excellent command landed him on the U.S. Olympic Team in 1996--the only freshman on the team.
Weaknesses: Weaver is tough on righthanded hitters, but will need to come up with a more effective changeup to combat lefthanded hitters.
The Future: If Weaver does well in spring training, he may start the year at Triple-A Toledo. Some Tigers club officials feel he will be pitching in the major leagues by midseason.
3. Francisco Cordero, RHP
Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 200
Signed: Dominican Republic, 1994 Signed by: Ramon Pena
Background: Cordero emerged as a bona fide prospect in 1997 with 35 saves and a 0.99 ERA at West Michigan. He was Double-A Jacksonville's closer until suffering a stress fracture just below his right elbow in June. He missed the remainder of the season.
Strengths: Cordero was clocked as high as 98 mph this season and in 1997. He has a good slider and a better-than-average changeup. He throws both pitches for strikes. He has good feel for what he's doing on the mound and doesn't flinch under pressure.
Weaknesses: Obviously Cordero's health is a concern at this point. He's supposed to be 100 percent for spring training and beyond. Sometimes when he gets his fastball up in the strike zone, it straightens out.
The Future: Although Cordero missed most of his Double-A season because of the injury, there is no ready-made Triple-A closer in Detroit's organization. If he's healthy, Cordero may begin the season at Toledo instead of repeating at Jacksonville.
4. Nate Cornejo, RHP
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-5 Wt: 200
Drafted: HS--Wellington, Kan. (1st round supplemental) Signed by: Ray Hayward
Background: There was a time when Cornejo's arm was considered among the best, if not the best, available from the high school ranks in the 1998 draft. He dropped to a supplemental first-round pick primarily because of concern about his knees. Cornejo has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in both his knees. He's the son of ex-major league pitcher Mardie Cornejo; his older brother Jesse also began his pro career this season in the Devil Rays' system.
Strengths: Tigers scouts clocked Cornejo as high as 97 mph in high school, but he's thrown mostly in the 91-93 range since signing. What makes him so nasty is that he throws a heavy ball that dives. He has a good, hard curveball. Cornejo is big and strong with potential to throw harder and is a good athlete for his size.
Weaknesses: The knees could be a problem though they haven't been so far. Everything Cornejo throws is hard. He needs to come up with a better changeup.
The Future: Cornejo will likely begin the 1999 season at Class A West Michigan.
5. Robert Fick, C/DH
Age: 25 B-T: L-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 189
Drafted: Cal State Northridge, 1996 (5th round) Signed by: Dennis Lieberthal
Background: Fick was a first-team All-America catcher in 1996 and won the 1997 Midwest League batting title at West Michigan, hitting .341. He played mostly first base that season, but was moved back behind the plate in 1998 and continued to swing the bat well. He had an impressive September callup, homering off Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens. Fick's brother Chuck is a Cardinals scout.
Strengths: There is little doubt Fick is a major league hitter. He is patient at the plate, has power and hits to all fields. Fick is supremely confident and not afraid to express that confidence.
Weaknesses: While he's an adequate receiver, Fick doesn't throw consistently well. He needs to improve his footwork while throwing and show consistent arm strength if he's going to be a major league catcher.
The Future: If he has a good spring and shows improvement defensively, Fick could start the 1999 season in the major leagues. A lot depends on whether the Tigers acquire a veteran catcher.
6. Alan Webb, LHP
Age: 19 B-T: L-L Ht: 5-10 Wt: 165
Drafted: HS--Las Vegas, 1997 (4th round) Signed by: Rob Wilfong
Background: Webb was considered among the most polished high school pitchers available in the 1997 draft, and that evaluation has proved correct. Webb's calling card has been striking out hitters. He fanned 46 in 33 innings in 1997 for Rookie-level Lakeland and led the organization in strikeouts this season at West Michigan.
Strengths: Scouts say Webb's changeup and breaking ball are already major league caliber. And he throws them for strikes, too. He also has excellent command of his fastball.
Weaknesses: Webb will always be knocked for his size, and he doesn't light up the radar gun, either. His fastball, clocked between 87-89 mph for most of the year, doesn't have a lot of movement.
The Future: The higher up the ladder Webb goes, the more debate there will be about him. Does he have enough of a fastball? Is he strong enough? He may be pushed to Jacksonville in 1999, which would provide a good test.
7. Shane Loux, RHP
Age: 19 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-2 Wt: 205
Drafted: HS--Gilbert, Ariz., 1997 (2nd round) Signed by: Jack Hays
Background: Loux, drafted 53rd overall in '97, turned down a scholarship to Arizona State University to sign with the Tigers for $390,000. He subsequently dominated the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, going 4-1, 0.84 and allowing just 19 hits in 43 innings. Loux didn't miss many bats at West Michigan in '98, though he pitched better during the second half of the season.
Strengths: Loux' velocity was down at the start of this season, but it was back up to the 92-mph range by the end of the season. His fastball has good movement, usually downward. He also has the makings of a major league breaking ball and changeup.
Weaknesses: Loux has a stocky build and tends to put on weight. He needs to get himself in better shape. He also didn't bounce back well when hit hard.
The Future: After getting hit so hard at West Michigan, Loux will likely climb one step to Class A Lakeland in 1999. He probably needs three full minor league seasons before he's ready for Detroit.
8. Brandon Inge, C
Age: 21 B-T: R-R Ht: 5-11 Wt: 185
Drafted: Virginia Commonwealth, 1998 (2nd round) Signed by: Rob Guzik
Background: Inge was a second-team All-American as a shortstop/closer at Virginia Commonwealth, but the Tigers drafted him specifically as a catcher. He made six errors in 35 games at the position for short-season Jamestown. He also rapped 19 extra-base hits and slugged .418 in an impressive debut.
Strengths: Inge has a strong, accurate arm, soft hands, good throwing actions and a solid body. That's why Detroit saw him as a potential catcher. He has taken to the position well. He's had little problem with his footwork and is a surprisingly good receiver given his inexperience. Inge can turn on the ball and hit it a long way.
Weaknesses: Inge has a long swing with a lot of holes in it and strikes out too much. He also needs experience behind the plate to learn the mental aspects of calling a game.
The Future: Tigers officials are very impressed with Inge. He'll start the 1999 season at West Michigan, but will pushed upward quickly.
8. Dave Borkowski, RHP
Age: 22 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-1 Wt: 200
Drafted: HS--Sterling Heights, Mich., 1995 (11th round) Signed by: Glenn Murdock
Background: Borkowski has proven he can win. In his three full minor league seasons Borkowski has a 41-21 record, though his 1998 ERA was a full run worse than his career high. In the last two seasons, Borkowski is 31-10 combined for clubs which won regular-season titles.
Strengths: At one point, there were people in Detroit's organization who felt Borkowski might make a good closer. He's very competitive and does his best work in the tightest spots. His fastball is excellent. It usually hits 90 mph and has a lot of sink to it.
Weaknesses: Borkowski has a good fastball and that's about it--making him a candidate to close. His breaking ball is below average and his changeup is inconsistent. He has yet to develop anything to keep major league hitters, especially lefthanded ones, off-balance.
The Future: Borkowski will start the 1999 season at Triple-A Toledo, but his long-term future is dependent on his off-speed pitches developing.
10. Carlos Villalobos
Age: 24 B-T: R-R Ht: 6-0 Wt: 170
Signed: Colombia, 1993 Signed by: Fernando Arguelles (Mariners)
Background: Detroit acquired Villalobos with righthanders Scott Sanders and Dean Crow for righthanders Omar Olivares and Felipe Lira in July 1997 from Seattle. Though he's hit for a high average before, Villalobos never hit the ball as consistently hard as he did in 1998. He had surgery to repair a damaged labrum in his right shoulder following the season but was added to the Tigers' 40-man roster in November.
Strengths: Villalobos uses his inside-out swing effectively on pitches to the outer half of the plate. He's starting to show more power as he matures physically.
Weaknesses: Villalobos doesn't turn on pitches the way you expect from a corner infielder. He's a below-average runner and hasn't played consistently well in the field. He made 28 errors this season and is coming off major surgery to his throwing shoulder.
The Future: Villalobos is stuck on the third-base depth chart behind $36 million free agent Dean Palmer and Gabe Alvarez. The Tigers are mulling a position move to increase his value.
Rest of the Best:
11. Adam Pettyjohn, lhp
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