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Tigers Top 10 Prospects

By Pat Caputo
December 13, 2002

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Prospect Handbook
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The Tigers keep waiting for their minor league system to become the foundation of a resurgence at the major league level. Detroit went into a complete rebuilding mode in 1996 when general manager Randy Smith was hired, and the effort bogged down to the point that Smith was fired after the team lost its first six games in 2002.

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 hasn’t 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.

That’s why he was quick to trade the club’s 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 2001’s 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 organization’s 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, isn’t 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 haven’t 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.

Top Prospects
Of The Past Decade

1993 Greg Gohr, rhp
1994 Justin Thompson, lhp
1995 Tony Clark, 1b
1996 Mike Drumright, rhp
1997 Mike Drumright, rhp
1998 Juan Encarnacion, of
1999 Gabe Kapler, of
2000 Eric Munson, 1b/c
2001 Brandon Inge, c
2002 Nate Cornejo, rhp

Prospect Archives

1999 Top 10 Prospects
2000 Top 10 Prospects
2001 Top 10 Prospects
2002 Top 10 Prospects
• Top 10 Prospects Since 1983
• Top Prospects for all 30 teams
1. Jeremy Bonderman, rhp

Age: 20. B-T: R-R. Ht.: 6-0. Wt.: 210. Drafted: HS–Pasco, 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, Detroit’s top player and 1998 first-round pick, to the Yankees. The trade was made in July, but the Tigers couldn’t 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t 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. He’s 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 he’ll 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, he’ll begin 2003 at Double-A Erie. Bonderman has maturity beyond his age, three above-average pitches and a grounded and competitive makeup. It’s not inconceivable that he could reach the majors late in the season, though 2004 is a more likely timetable.

2002 Club (Class)














Modesto (A)














Lakeland (A)














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