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DETROIT–When the Tigers selected righthander Joel Zumaya in the 11th round of last year’s draft out of Bonita Vista High in Chula Vista, Calif., they didn’t envision how quickly he’d make his mark in the minor leagues.

How could they? Zumaya was throwing 89 mph at the time. It’s why he lasted until the 11th round.

But he has improved dramatically since. While going 2-1, 1.93 in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last season, Zumaya started hitting 94 mph on the radar gun. He struck out 46 in 37 innings.

Now at low Class A West Michigan, the 18-year-old was off to an even more impressive start, going 2-1, 2.12 with 59 strikeouts in 34 innings.

"Not only is he throwing harder, but he has a good breaking ball and his changeup is getting better," farm director Steve Boros said. "He’s made excellent progress."

Zumaya has also made an adjustment to his delivery, moving his release point from low three-quarters more toward the top. "He still throws three-quarters, only a little higher," Boros said. "That seems to be one of the reasons he’s throwing harder."

Zumaya was removed from West Michigan’s rotation because of a pulled oblique muscle. "He should be fine," Boros said. "We don’t anticipate this becoming any sort of a long-term situation. But being that he’s so young, we’ll be cautious with it."

The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Zumaya still has room to grow.

"He’s got some size to him, but he’s got some ways to go in terms of physically maturing," Boros said. "It may mean he’ll throw even harder in the future, because he could become even bigger and stronger. He has certainly been impressive so far. He’s opened some eyes with the way he’s throwing the ball, that’s for sure."

Tiger Tales

• The Tigers were in Tampa Bay when the Devil Rays, who have the first overall pick, worked out high school outfielder Delmon Young, younger brother of outfielder Dmitri Young. The Tigers also watched the workout and were impressed. Detroit has the third overall pick in the draft and would consider Young if he is still available.

• For the first time in a long while, the Tigers received encouraging news about 2000 first-round draft choice Matt Wheatland. The righthander had scar tissue removed from his shoulder and has been throwing with much less pain. No timetable has been set for his return to the mound. Wheatland missed all of 2002 and most of 2001 because of the shoulder ailment.

• Previous organization report: Noochie Varner

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