Detroit Tigers: Top 10 Prospects

1. Cameron Maybin, of
2. Andrew Miller, lhp
3. Brent Clevlen, of
4. Jair Jurrjens, rhp
5. Jordan Tata, rhp
6. Eulogio de la Cruz, rhp
7. Gorkys Hernandez, of
8. Dallas Trahern, rhp
9. Jeff Larish, 1b
10. Scott Sizemore, ss/2b
Best Hitter for Average Cameron Maybin
Best Power Hitter Jeff Larish
Best Strike-Zone Discipline Jeff Larish
Fastest Baserunner Cameron Maybin
Best Athlete Cameron Maybin
Best Fastball Eulogio de la Cruz
Best Curveball Eulogio de la Cruz
Best Slider Andrew Miller
Best Changeup Preston Larrison
Best Control Jair Jurrjens
Best Defensive Catcher Jeff Kunkel
Best Defensive Infielder Tony Girratano
Best Infield Arm Kody Kirkland
Best Defensive Outfielder Cameron Maybin
Best Outfield Arm Brent Clevlen
Catcher Brandon Inge
First Base Jeff Larish
Second Base Placido Polanco
Third Base Kody Kirkland
Shortstop Carlos Guillen
Left Field Curtis Granderson
Center Field Cameron Maybin
Right Field Brent Clevlen
Designated Hitter Magglio Ordonez
No. 1 Starter Justin Verlander
No. 2 Starter Andrew Miller
No. 3 Starter Jeremy Bonderman
No. 4 Starter Nate Robertson
No. 5 Starter Jair Jurrjens
Closer Joel Zumaya
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Mike Drumright, rhp Out of baseball
1998 Juan Encarnacion, of Cardinals
1999 Gabe Kapler, of Red Sox
2000 Eric Munson, 1b/c Astros
2001 Brandon Inge, c Tigers
2002 Nate Cornejo, rhp White Sox
2003 Jeremy Bonderman, rhp Tigers
2004 Kyle Sleeth, rhp Tigers
2005 Curtis Granderson, of Tigers
2006 Justin Verlander, rhp Tigers
Year Player, Position 2006
1997 Matt Anderson, rhp Giants
1998 Jeff Weaver, rhp Cardinals
1999 Eric Munson, 1b/c Astros
2000 Matt Wheatland, rhp Padres
2001 Kenny Baugh, rhp Padres
2002 Scott Moore, ss Cubs
2003 Kyle Sleeth, rhp Tigers
2004 Justin Verlander, rhp Tigers
2005 Cameron Maybin, of Tigers
2006 Andrew Miller, lhp Tigers
Andrew Miller, 2006 $3,550,000
Eric Munson, 1999 $3,500,000
Kyle Sleeth, 2003 $3,350,000
Justin Verlander, 2004 $3,120,000
Cameron Maybin, 2005 $2,650,000
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Detroit Tigers

At the close of spring training, many in the industry believed the Tigers would be an improved team in 2006. And they were right.

Few, however, could have forecast what came next. Guided by manager Jim Leyland, Detroit had the best record in baseball for a significant portion of the season, finished with the franchise’s first winning mark since 1993 and reached the postseason for the first time in nearly two decades.

The Tigers’ 95 wins concluded the greatest three-year improvement (52 games) for a 100-loss team in the modern era. On its own, that would have been enough to label the season a success. Then Detroit scored a surprise American League Division Series upset against the Yankees and swept Oakland in the AL Championship Series to earn its first pennant since 1984. A five-game loss to the Cardinals in the World Series couldn’t put much of a damper on the year.

The explanation for the runaway success was the same cause for the springtime optimism: power pitching.

The Tigers’ top prospects on this list a year ago, righthanders Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya, were two of the best rookies in baseball. Verlander won 17 games and Baseball America’s Rookie of the Year award a year after leading the minors in ERA. Zumaya became something of a Detroit rock star, routinely hitting 101 mph on the Comerica Park radar gun and topping all AL setup men with 97 strikeouts–in his first year as a reliever.

The list of the organization’s promising young arms, though, does not end with Verlander and Zumaya. Jeremy Bonderman is a four-year veteran but still just 23, and he won 14 games and lowered his ERA for a third consecutive year. Zach Miner, who wasn’t even invited to big league camp, joined the rotation when Mike Maroth (elbow surgery) went on the disabled list and won seven of his first nine decisions.

Jordan Tata opened the season in the big league bullpen and was effective as a starter at Triple-A Toledo. Humberto Sanchez and Jair Jurrjens had stellar minor league seasons before each ended the year on the disabled list.

The Tigers were elated to add Andrew Miller with the sixth pick in last June’s draft. A power lefthander, Miller was the draft’s consensus top talent but fell because of signability concerns. He signed with Detroit by early August, joined the big league bullpen later that month and finished the regular season in the majors. He’ll return to the minors to begin 2007 and could progress almost as quickly as Verlander.

All of that pitching depth helped Tigers affiliates combine for a 365-315 (.537) winning percentage in the minor leagues, capturing championships in the Triple-A International and low Class A Midwest leagues. It also allowed Detroit to add more sock to its lineup. The Tigers got Gary Sheffield from the Yankees in exchange for three righthanders who didn’t work a single inning in the majors in 2006: Sanchez and promising relievers Kevin Whelan and Anthony Claggett.

But the long-term forecast for the system’s position players appears somewhat less certain–except, of course, for outfielder Cameron Maybin. He’s among the best prospects in all of baseball and could be Detroit’s regular center fielder by 2008.

However, three key Tigers–shortstop Carlos Guillen, third baseman Brandon Inge and catcher Ivan Rodriguez–could be free agents at the end of 2007, and there are no obvious in-house successors. Detroit’s top three farm clubs led their respective hitting leagues in strikeouts, and like the big league roster, their position prospects lack patience and power, especially from the left side.