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Top Ten Prospects: Detroit Tigers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By John Manuel
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2006.
The Tigers haven’t had a winning season since 1993.The only members of that team who were active major leaguers in 2005 were Chris Gomez and David Wells.
So it’s understandable if owner Mike Ilitch wants to spend free-agent money to find a short-term fix for his big league. That worked in 2004, when Detroit improved to 72 victories and respectability after establishing an American League record for futility with 119 losses in 2003.
The Tigers didn't make further progress in 2005, however, winning just 71 times as they couldn't keep key players such as Carlos Guillen and free-agent signees Magglio Ordonez and Troy Percival healthy. After a smashing Detroit debut in 2004, catcher Ivan Rodriguez slumped badly. His 11 walks were part of a team-wide problem, as the Tigers drew just 384 free passes, the lowest total in the majors since 2002, and ranked 12th in the AL in on-base percentage.
The stagnant offense, as well as a stagnant clubhouse, cost manager and former club icon Alan Trammell his job after three seasons. For the second time in his career as a general manager, Dave Dombrowski turned to Jim Leyland to manage his high-payroll team. While the Tigers perhaps have lower expectations than the 1997 Marlins—a winning season would be a good start—they have the kind of veteran talent Leyland is accustomed to working with. He did cause a stir at his introductory press conference when he said he wasn’t too familiar with Detroit's roster, but familiarity didn’t help Trammell and the Tigers win.
A poor season had some bright spots, and many of them were provided by a rebounding farm system. Chris Shelton, whom the Pirates somehow left unprotected in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, was Detroit's most consistent hitter and a much-needed potent righthanded bat. Outfielder Curtis Granderson, last year’s No. 1 prospect, got a chance at consistent playing time and seized it, slugging eight home runs in 162 at-bats and playing a competent center field.
The Tigers, who entered 2005 slotted 29th in Baseball America’s farm-system rankings, had their best year in the minors since winning BA's Organization of the Year award in 1997. The only real downers were injuries and poor performances by top draft picks Kyle Sleeth (third overall pick, 2003), who had Tommy John surgery, and Eric Beattie (second round, 2004), who has major control problems.
The organization’s affectation for hard throwers finally paid off as Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya had breakout seasons. Verlander, the No. 2 overall pick in 2004, took off after the Tigers altered his delivery slightly, started the Futures Game at Comerica Park and pitched in the big leagues three months into his pro career. Zumaya reached Triple-A as a 20-year-old and helped Toledo win the International League championship.
Verlander began the year at high Class A Lakeland, and even though he spent barely half a season there, Lakeland still piled up 85 wins to lead the minor leagues. In fact, the Tigers topped all organizations in minor league winning percentage at .555.
Now the Tigers' hope is that, with Leyland’s help, they can bring
some of that winning feeling back to Detroit. In Ilitch's 13 full seasons
as owner, his club hasn't climbed back over .500 since his first. The
Tigers also haven't made the playoffs since 1987, a streak exceeded
by only the Royals in the AL.
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