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Background: Kapler, a 57th-round pick when he signed out of junior college, no longer can be denied. After not panning out at Cal State Fullerton, he started his minor league career as a productive player and has become more productive with each passing season. He set a Southern League record for RBIs in 1998, and he's averaged 72 extra-base hits in his three full seasons in the minor leagues. He's never missed a game because of injury while moving through the New York-Penn, South Atlantic, Florida State and Southern leagues. Kapler has a weightlifter's build and has appeared as a model on the cover of nationally-distributed fitness magazines. There were concerns early in his career that he may be too muscle-bound, but he's geared his workout program more toward baseball and has proven to be a tireless worker. Kapler is a very confident player, but in a quiet way that rubs off on his teammates. He's never complained about a lack of attention; he's just kept producing to an extent that it has to be noticed. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.