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Inge was pleased in 1998 when he found out the Tigers had drafted him in the second round. His reaction was mixed moments later when he received another call from the organization, to tell him he was going to catch as a pro. Inge had been a shortstop and closer at Virginia Commonwealth, and he hadn't caught since Little League. He had little problem making the move, however. He played well defensively from the time he put on the catcher's gear. He did struggle at the plate in his first two professional seasons, hitting just .230 and .244 with little power. His breakthrough came in the now-defunct California Fall League in 1999 after he changed his stroke. He got off to a fast start in 2000 for Jacksonville, but didn't finish the first half strong and batted .221 at Triple-A Toledo. Inge is fluid, quick and instinctive behind the plate. Not only does he have a strong and accurate arm, but his feet are also quick and he gets into position to throw swiftly. He has a quick release. He gets into a low crouch and presents the pitcher with an excellent target. Inge's hands are soft and he frames pitches well. He's exceptionally strong for his size and has power. A classic aluminum-bat pull hitter coming out of college, Inge changed his stroke to stay behind the ball and drive it to right field. Many of his 49 extra-base hits last year went up the right-center field gap. He still is capable of pulling offspeed pitches with power. He runs well for the position. Inge needs to make more consistent contact and grasp the strike zone better. The more experienced pitchers he faced in Triple-A just toyed with him. As a former pitcher, Inge is hesitant to get on pitchers much, saying he remembers what it was like on the mound when things aren't going well. His coaches and team officials would like him to be more aggressive in that area, however. Inge will start the 2001 season at Toledo. Ideally the Tigers would like to keep him there the entire season. That might have been easier to do if the team had not traded Brad Ausmus to the Astros for Mitch Meluskey in December. Meluskey isn't nearly as accomplished defensively as Ausmus and might be better suited as a DH.
Santiago's 2000 season was cut short late by a torn labrum in his right shoulder. That's the only thing that has slowed him so far. He played for Class A West Michigan at just 18. In his pro debut, he batted a combined .326 for the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Tigers and short-season Oneonta. Santiago is already a major league-caliber shortstop. He rarely boots a routine play, has plus range and had a plus arm before he got hurt. He's expected to fully recover. He has above-average speed, though he's more quick than flat-out fast, and he's a smart baserunner. He makes consistent contact at the plate and is extraordinarily poised for his age. Santiago is a little guy who takes a big man's stance at the plate--and then takes a little guy's swing. His swing isn't grooved or refined. He often just flips the bat onto the ball, and he had just 17 extra-base hits in 2000. He has a long way to go as a hitter, and there are questions about his arm because of the injury. Santiago will start 2001 at high Class A Lakeland. He may have to DH to start the season until he regains strength in his shoulder.
An All-America catcher at Southern California, Munson signed a major league contract worth $6.75 million, including a $3.5 million bonus, and moved to first base. He has yet to put up overwhelming stats but has been pitched around as a pro. He was limited during the second half of 2000 because of a back injury sustained when he caught a couple of times in the bullpen. Munson has an exceptionally quick, fluid lefthanded stroke that produces a lot of power. He can pull any fastball and is capable of hitting offspeed pitches if he stays on the ball. He can drive the ball to left-center field with power. Munson is awkward defensively both fielding grounders and receiving throws. He's not a patient hitter and sometimes gets pull-happy. He ended 2000 in a back brace but is expected to be ready for spring training. He missed the Arizona Fall League and will start 2001 at Double-A Erie. The Tigers would like him to develop quickly because they need lefthanded hitters and a first baseman.
Wheatland started slowly last spring for national power Rancho Bernardo High but closed strong with several good outings in front of Detroit officials, including general manager Randy Smith. He and catcher Scott Heard, who went to the Rangers, became just the third pair of high school teammates to go in the first round of the same draft. Wheatland consistently tops 90 mph, with a sinking fastball that has been compared to Kevin Brown's. He has excellent command for a pitcher so young, walking just five batters in 46 pro innings. His breaking ball is an effective pitch and he has the makings of a good changeup. He wasn't as effective in Oneonta as in the Gulf Coast League, in part because he developed pain in his middle and index fingers while throwing his breaking pitch. The problem cleared up in instructional league but is a concern. His changeup needs improvement. Wheatland will start 2001 at West Michigan. With his poise and polish, he could advance quickly if the finger problem does not return.
After having surgery on both knees in high school, Cornejo slid from a projected first-rounder to the second round of the 1998 draft. He has been durable in his two full professional seasons, starting a total of 56 games. Sixteen of those came in 2000 in Double-A at age 20. His father Mardie is a former big league reliever. Cornejo consistently sits between 90-92 mph with sinking action on his fastball. He throws a heavy ball. His slider has late break when it's working. It could be an effective pitch in the major leagues if he develops more consistency with it. He's an excellent athlete who moves exceptionally well for someone his size. Cornejo's changeup needs a lot of work before he reaches the majors. He throws too many pitches about the same speed. His breaking ball often lacks crispness. When he gets his fastball up, it flattens out and he gets hit hard. Cornejo will start 2001 back in Double-A and likely will remain there for the entire season. There's no need to rush him.
Loux turned down a scholarship to Arizona State to sign with the Tigers out of high school and promptly dominated the Gulf Coast League in 1997. During the next two seasons, he struggled with his conditioning and his poise. He started putting it all together in Double-A in 2000. Loux throws hard, usually in the low 90s and sometimes going a bit higher. But it's the movement on his fastball that makes him effective. He also has a good curveball and an excellent feel for pitching. He's a competitive kid who makes a good pitch when he really needs one. He has been durable as a pro and is advanced for a 21-year-old. Loux needs to improve his changeup if he's going to be an effective pitcher in the major leagues. He'd be wise to continue harnessing his emotions on the mound as well. He will start 2001 in Triple-A. It's possible he will reach the major leagues later in the season if he performs well.
Raised in Puerto Rico, Torres was still raw when drafted by the Tigers. He didn't hit well his first two seasons but broke through in 2000. Torres has better than average speed, getting from home to first in 4.0 seconds from the right side of the plate. He starts quickly and has developed a good feel for stealing bases. He didn't start switch-hitting until he was in junior college and has made progress from the left side. He has good range as a center fielder and throws adequately. Torres needs to get stronger and drive the ball with more authority. He can be overpowered by a good fastball and isn't selective enough, given the threat he presents on the bases. He runs himself into outs sometimes on batted balls. On defense, he has a tendency to turn the wrong way on fly balls. Juan Encarnacion isn't anything special as a center fielder, so Detroit is looking forward to putting Torres in center and Encarnacion in right in a couple of years.
Because Ramon Santiago was ticketed for West Michigan in 2000, Infante was pushed to Lakeland out of necessity. He held his own despite having just 75 pro at-bats entering the year. Eric Munson's back problems opened a spot for Infante in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .218 as the youngest player in league history. An adroit fielder, Infante has better range than his speed would dictate. He shows a good, accurate arm and makes the backhanded play in the hole particularly well. He doesn't mess up routine plays and has good instincts for the game. The best thing about his offensive game is that he puts the ball in play, but he is much more advanced defensively than he is offensively. He needs to get stronger because he doesn't drive the ball much. He swings at too many bad pitches. For a shortstop, he has average speed. Infante may return to Lakeland or start 2001 in Double-A, again depending on where Santiago goes. When both of them are ready for Detroit, Infante probably faces a move to second base.
The Mariners surely regret the trade that sent VanHekken to Detroit for speedster Brian Hunter in 1999. VanHekken led the Midwest League in wins and ranked second in ERA in 2000. He is a good athlete with an exceptional feel for pitching. He sets up his fastball with his other pitches, which include a curveball with nice bite and a changeup. He's poised on the mound and always seems to be in control. He works the outer half of the plate well, often expanding the strike zone on the hitter. He allowed just three homers in 2000. VanHekken's fastball doesn't register well on the radar gun, usually around 87 mph without exceptional movement, and he may not have enough velocity to pitch in the strike zone at the major league level. He needs to develop more consistency with his offspeed pitches and must pitch inside more, especially against righthanders. VanHekken is a prototype crafty lefthander. He'll start 2001 at Lakeland and could reach Erie by season's end.
Logan was drafted as a shortstop and played there in the Gulf Coast League, where he used his exceptional speed to steal 20 bases in 23 attempts. But he was selected with the idea of converting him to center field, where he excelled in instructional league. The athletic Logan has been clocked in less than 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash. Team officials drool when they see Logan shagging fly balls because he covers ground so effortlessly. He also offers arm strength. He is about as raw as they come, however, and miles away from being refined enough to be a major leaguer. He has no previous outfield experience. Offensively, he's all about speed. He has little power, though he has a body that could allow him to develop some in time. If Logan continues to progress during spring training, he'll open the 2001 season at West Michigan. If not, he'll head to extended spring until the short-season New York-Penn League schedule starts in June.
After little success as a draft-and-follow sign of the Mariners, Heams switched from being an outfielder to pitching, then decided to leave the game near the end of spring training in 1998. Tigers scout Clyde Weir remembered him from Lambertville High in western Michigan and signed him. After solid years in Jamestown and West Michigan, Heams finally got attention at Jacksonville before joining the U.S. Olympic team last year. He has been used strictly in relief and primarily as a set-up man. He hits 97 mph at times, and his fastball has good sink. His slider is either excellent or awful, and it often dictates his effectiveness on a given night. Heams sometimes lets his emotions overwhelm him on the mound, though there's hope his Olympic experience will help him. He'll start this season in Triple-A.
Until last season, Keller was an enigma. He can reach as high as 98 mph on the radar gun and is consistently in the mid-90s, but his coaches and club officials often complained about his lack of maturity. After three years in short-season leagues, he started to emerge at West Michigan in 1999 and broke through last season at Jacksonville. Keller's breaking ball has improved but needs to get better before he reaches the major leagues. He also needs to develop more consistent command. Keller is the type of pitcher who will strike out the side two innings in a row and get shelled in the third. He's at his best when he keeps the ball down in the zone. He'll be at Toledo to begin the 2001 season.
Marx was on the verge of dominating the Midwest League last season when he was shut down because of a shoulder ailment. It's not expected to be a long-term problem. At 6-foot-7, Marx cuts an imposing figure on the mound. His fastball consistently tops 90 mph and he has good rotation on his breaking ball. Marx was raw when Detroit drafted him in the second round in 1998, signing him away from the University of Miami. There are times when the rough edges still show, but he has come a long way in a short period of time. His mechanics are solid for a pitcher his size. Marx is a hard worker who's just starting to learn how to compete. He may return to West Michigan to start 2001.
Ross isn't particularly big or fast, but he's a scrappy player with a strong arm and power potential. Playing right field last season, Ross was consistent with his effort and production. He hit seven home runs playing in one of the bigger home parks in the Midwest League, and had nine triples. He's a rare player who bats righthanded and throws lefthanded. He has a good, compact stroke and a clue about the strike zone. Ross pitched in high school and some Tigers scouts still believe his future would be brighter on the mound. Ross has thrown on the side for minor league pitching coaches but hasn't shown the same potential as a pitcher he did before he was drafted. He's ticketed for Lakeland in 2001.
On the verge of being demoted to Lakeland after going 0-9, 6.35 to start the 2000 season, Maroth recovered to have a remarkably good performance at Jacksonville. He accented his strong finish by pitching well in the Arizona Fall League. Maroth has a good fastball, the best among Detroit's advanced lefthanded pitching prospects, often hitting 90 mph. He likes to work the outer half of the plate, so he hasn't pitched inside effectively to righthanders. As a result, he worked on a cut fastball in Arizona. Maroth had minor arm problems early last year, but mostly it just seemed he was in some sort of malaise. As his attitude improved, so did his results. He'll work out of Toledo's rotation to begin this season.
Bernerdo signed for an $8,000 bonus, using a napkin at a Denny's restaurant as a contract. As a fifth-year college senior, he was eligibile to sign with any club before the draft. A year later he reached Detroit, becoming the first Armstrong Atlantic alumnus to make it to the majors. Bernero doesn't throw particularly hard, topping out in the low 90s and usually pitching in the high 80s. But his fastball has good sinking action that makes it effective. His slider and splitter are adequate, but he could use a straight changeup because he throws too many pitches at the same speed. While his stuff isn't overwhelmning, Bernero helps himself by being stingy with walks and home runs, and it's hard to argue with his success as a pro. He'll get a shot at making Detroit's rotation this spring, but might fit better in long relief because of the makeup of the major league staff.
This much is certain about Jenkins, even at this early stage of his professional career: He'll go only as far as his bat takes him. He made 46 errors in 99 games at third base in 2000 while displaying next to no range. His future probably lies at first base. Hitting is a different story. Jenkins is strong and has an exceptionally live bat. When he lays the bat on the ball, it carries. He was the only player at West Michigan, which has a spacious home ballpark, to reach double figures in home runs last season. But he doesn't consistently lay the bat on the ball, as his 151-38 strikeout walk ratio indicates. Jenkins was considered the best power-hitting high school prospect in the 1999 draft. Depending on how he performs this spring, he'll either return to West Michigan or move up to Lakeland.
Long considered a disappointment, Miller pulled his career together in 2000. He displayed the command that was envisioned when he was picked in the second round of the 1996 draft. Elbow problems, severe enough to require major surgery, sidelined Miller for all of 1997. He didn't regain his form until the second half of 1999, when he was pushed to Jacksonville. He pitched in relief in the Arizona Fall League after being used exclusively as a starter, and he pitched well. He doesn't throw hard, usually working in the 88 mph range, and has a good breaking ball but a below-average changeup. If Miller is going to be a starter in the major leagues, conventional wisdom says he'll have to develop that third pitch. If he doesn't, his best chance may be as a middle reliever. Miller will be part of the Toledo rotation in 2001.
The good news about Rodney is that he's the hardest thrower in Detroit's system. The bad news is that his fastball is straight as an arrow. Even so, 98 mph is 98 mph. Rodney is difficult to hit, limiting opponents to a .238 average last season. He started 10 games, but that was so he can get innings and develop more pitches. The fear was that his fastball is so good that he would use it to overpower Class A hitters and wouldn't throw his breaking ball and changeup if he was used only an inning at a time. He's viewed as a potential closer because of his fastball, and his presence made it easier for the Tigers to include Francisco Cordero in the ill-fated Juan Gonzalez trade with the Rangers in November 1999. Rodney probably will move up a level to Lakeland in 2001.
The 2000 season was close to being a washout for Pettyjohn because of a shoulder injury. After being on the fast track to the major leagues, he made just 15 starts and got shelled in Triple-A as his usually sharp control deserted him. And control is paramount for Pettyjohn. He doesn't throw hard, usually in the neighborhood of 86 mph. He must be precise with the location of his fastball or he gets hit hard. His release point is three-quarters, so he cuts across through ball, producing a fastball that tails away from righthanders. His out pitch is a curveball that he often induces hitters to chase out of the strike zone. Pettyjohn was a teammate of Detroit righthander Jeff Weaver at Fresno State and was taken one round behind him in the Tigers' 1998 draft. If all goes well in the spring, Pettyjohn will be back at Toledo to open 2001.
Despite missing most of his college season at Texas Tech because of chronic hamstring pulls, Durham was selected in the fifth round. The reason: speed. Durham consistently runs from the left side of the plate to first base in 3.9 seconds. He missed almost all of his first professional season, playing just the final three games of the Gulf Goast League's schedule. The idea was to get his legs 100 percent healthy. Durham played nearly every day during instructional league last fall. He has a sleek frame and a relatively short hitting stroke that produces line drives. He played center field in college and during instructional league but could see time on an outfield corner depending on what the organization does with Exavier Logan, who is moving to center field. Durham likely will start the 2001 season at West Michigan.
Though he isn't nearly as refined as first-rounder Matt Wheatland, second-rounder Petty has plenty of upside. He already tops out at 94 mph, though most of the time he pitches in the 88-90 mph range. Petty has the making of a good curveball and is a good athlete who moves well for his size. At times his command is good and he doesn't seem quite as raw. At other times his command is poor and his inexperience is obvious. He lacks a changeup and needs one. Petty will start the 2001 season at West Michigan.
Because Chipperfield isn't tall and doesn't throw very hard, he's the type of righthander scouts often take one look at before they pack up their radar guns and head home. But his 2000 performance was too good to be ignored. He led the Midwest League in ERA and shutouts (three) while fanning more than a batter an inning and limiting opponents to a .186 average. His fastball usually is in the 87 mph range, so he has little margin for error. But he has excellent command and a curveball that he uses effectively as a strikeout pitch. A native of Australia, Chipperfield will be 23 this season, so he likely will be pushed to Double-A. That would be a huge step from low Class A, and a level where hitters aren't nearly as prone to chase curveballs out of the strike zone. The 2001 season figures to go a long way in determining whether Chipperfield has enough savvy to compensate for his physical shortcomings.
Clark hit well over .300 in each of his first three professional seasons, moving steadily up the ladder despite a perceived lack of tools. He was off to a tremendous start last year at Double-A New Haven, hitting .400 through mid-May before tailing off late. Clark has a quick swing, but he typically uppercuts and pulls off the ball. He has made the swing work for him at every stop, despite predictions that better pitching would overmatch him. Somehow he keeps getting on base, and he's a threat to run when he gets there. Defensively, Clark has held his own, though he's not the rangiest infielder around. Detroit selected him in the major league Rule 5 draft, so he has to be kept in the majors of offered back to Seattle for half the $50,000 draft price. Damion Easley has declined in each of the last two seasons, but Clark doesn't project to take his starting job at this point
Being a lefthanded hitter in an organization that needs help from the left side of the plate gives Wakeland a chance to make it to the major leagues, perhaps as soon as this year. He has a smooth stroke with power. He drives the ball up the gaps with authority, particularly to left-center field, where there's lots of room at Comerica Park. But he is an older prospect who hasn't been as consistently productive as Tigers officials have desired. He's also suspect defensively, not so much because he doesn't have adequate ability but because his mind tends to wander. The lack of concentration sometimes hinders him on the bases as well. Wakeland will get a look in big league camp but figures to begin the season back in Triple-A. He must hit to contribute.
That Ust struggled offensively for Jacksonville last season wasn't a shock. It was a reach to jump him from short-season ball to Double-A, at least in terms of offense. Defense is another story. Ust played shortstop at Notre Dame and was moved to third base by the Tigers. He has excellent hands and plus range to go with a strong, accurate arm. He also has strong makeup, which is why there was little hesitation about pushing him up the ladder so quickly. He's mature enough to understand what was happening. Ust needs to refine his swing, be more patient at the plate and make more consistent contact before he progresses as a hitter
After having a breakout season in Double-A in 1999, Cardona dropped off in 2000. He may have been trying too hard, and Jacksonville is a hitter's ballpark. Making matters worse, he hardly played when he was summoned to the major leagues. And on the few occasions when he saw action, he didn't do much. Cardona does have power and makes consistent contact. He isn't going to win a Gold Glove, but he's adequate across the board defensively. Brandon Inge, the organization's top prospect, will be at Toledo this season, making Cardona the leading candidate to back up Mitch Meluskey in Detroit. He has to make more of that opportunity than he did last year.
Pineda has been in pro baseball since 1995 without pitching above Class A. He was released by both the Rangers and Diamondbacks before hooking on with the Tigers. So what gives him a chance? His fastball. He throws 98 mph consistently and has nice life to go with his velocity. He also throws a slider and a curveball, and both are effective pitches. Though hindered by arm problems, Pineda averaged 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings last season. He carries a reputation for having a lot of personality--a little too much at times for his managers, teammates and club officials. He also needs better command of his fastball. The Tigers are leaning toward putting Pineda at Double-A to start the 2001 season.
The Tigers went off the beaten path to find Woodyard. He was mostly a position player at tiny Bethune-Cookman until last spring, when he began pitching and impressed Detroit's scouts enough to get drafted in the fourth round. He obviously is raw, but not as much as might be expected. His mechanics come and go, and as they do so do his radar-gun readings, which fluctuate from the high 80s to as much as 94 mph. His breaking ball isn't bad given his lack of experience, and he's a good athlete with solid work habits. Woodyard didn't get totally overwhelmed during his first pro season, showing the ability to battle through innings, but he was fairly wild and still needs a lot of work on his changeup. He has a good chance of starting this season at West Michigan.
If this were track instead of baseball, Gomez might be the Tigers' top prospect. He's a big strong outfielder who runs the 60-yard dash in 6.4 seconds. He got a late start, not signing out of the Dominican Republic until he was 19, and is still raw in many areas. While he has learned to use his speed effectively, his power has been slower to develop. He has a long swing and doesn't turn on pitches well. His bat is slow, so good fastballs give him problems. Defensively, Gomez is awkward and doesn't throw well. Given his speed, he doesn't cover a lot of ground. He will be at Double-A this season, which should provide a stern test.