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Verlander was considered a possible top-five-round talent out of high school, but his commitment to Old Dominion, strong grades and raw arm prompted him to pass through the 2001 draft untouched, much to his disappointment. He went to Old Dominion and became the No. 1 starter instantly. While his college career included several highs, such as pitching for Team USA in 2003 and setting school and Colonial Athletic Association strikeout records, he posted a modest 21-18 record and all three Monarchs teams he played for posted losing records. The Padres considered Verlander with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004 but he wasn't in their final trio of choices, leaving him available for the Tigers at No. 2. Negotiations broke off in October before his father stepped in, called the Tigers and got the contract settled. Verlander signed for a $3.12 million bonus and $4.5 million guaranteed major league contract. His late signing delayed his pro debut until 2005, when he was spectacular. Verlander led the minors in ERA (giving up only one run in 33 innings at Double-A Erie), started the Futures Game in Comerica Park and made his major league debut at Jacobs Field on Independence Day. Verlander has one of the best arms in the minors and features both the best fastball and curveball in the organization. Tall, lithe and athletic, he generates tremendous arm speed that gives him an electric fastball with both above-average velocity and life. His heater sits at 93-96 mph and touches 99. He commanded his fastball--and all of his pitches, for that matter--much better as a pro than he had in college. Most scouts had noticed that as an amateur, Verlander landed on a stiff front leg, cutting off his follow-through and leading to a tendency to leave his pitches up in the strike zone. The Tigers deemed this flaw correctable, but what impressed them most was how quickly Verlander took to his new delivery. He rarely if ever reverted to his old form. Verlander's curveball is a true knee-buckler, a power breaker with excellent depth and late bite down in the zone. He has excellent arm speed on his late-moving changeup, which also improved with his new delivery and ranks among the best in the organization. Stuff-wise, Verlander has no weaknesses. His changeup helped him shackle lefthanded hitters in the minors (.175 average, no homers in 171 at-bats). He didn't have that kind of success in his first two big league starts against the Indians and Twins, as lefties went 10-for-30 against him and drew four walks. The Tigers attribute much of that to nerves and inexperience, though. Verlander did recover from a three-run first inning in his first big league game to later retire 12 of 13 batters. As an amateur, he had the reputation of responding to adversity by trying to throw harder, and opponents thought he could be easily rattled. Neither was evident in his first pro season, however. The Tigers already have one power righty in their big league rotation in Jeremy Bonderman, who is just four months older than Verlander. He should join Bonderman full-time in the rotation in 2006, if not out of spring training then shortly thereafter. If Verlander learns the nuances of pitching to go with his electric stuff, he could supplant Bonderman as Detroit's No. 1 starter.
Zumaya has added 25 pounds to his frame since high school, when he threw in the upper 80s with a delivery charitably described as raw. Through his added strength and refined mechanics, he has become one of the minors' hardest throwers, regularly touching 100 mph. Scouts in and out of the organization no longer describe Zumaya's delivery as maximum- effort. Now they use the term strong. More under control than ever, Zumaya unleashes a plus-plus fastball and much-improved changeup with similar arm speed, helping him rank second in the minors in strikeouts and opponent average. His curveball also is a plus pitch with depth and low-80s velocity. Some scouts still believe Zumaya's delivery will force a shift to the bullpen. He missed two starts with back pain in 2005. His curve can flatten out, as he tends to drop his elbow. Zumaya is starting to believe he can dominate better hitters, and his improved changeup and less-violent mechanics give him a chance not just to start but to be a frontline starter. He'll compete with Justin Verlander for an opening in the 2006 rotation.
Maybin has been around the pro game since his early teenage days, when he served as a batboy for the Class A Asheville Tourists, his local team. He was Baseball America's Youth Player of the Year in 2004 after leading the Midland Redskins to the Connie Mack World Series title. Negotiations with the Tigers were difficult, but he signed for $2.65 million in time to go to instructional league. His cousin Rashad McCants was a first-round NBA draft pick after helping North Carolina win the national championship last spring. Maybin does it all and invites comparisons to players such as Joe Carter and Andre Dawson for his game and physique. He's a graceful runner and defender, and nearly can match Dawson's arm strength. Maybin has wicked raw power and launched a 450-blast that was the talk of instructional league. He fit right in with his new teammates, reinforcing the organization's belief in his quality makeup. He didn't face the toughest high school competition, so there were concerns that Maybin's bat might lag behind his other tools. He started to put those to rest in instructional league, where he showed the ability to make quick adjustments and use the whole field. He had hamstring issues that slowed him late in camp, but they aren't a long-term concern. The Tigers like Maybin even more after seeing him in instructional league. If his spring performance matches what he showed in the fall, he'll easily make the low Class A West Michigan roster and could move faster than initially expected.
After playing well in his first full season, Clevlen struggled for most of 2004, never finding a groove in high Class A. He repeated the level in 2005, however, and rarely slumped on his way to the Florida State League MVP award while helping Lakeland post the best record in the minors among full-season clubs. Clevlen learned how to grind out a season and avoid protracted slumps, allowing his confidence to remain high and his tools to come out. He fits the profile for a big league right fielder. He's athletic, has above-average power potential, runs a tick above-average and has a plus throwing arm. During his cataclysmic 2004 season, Clevlen pressed when good at-bats didn't yield good results. He needs to remember to let the game come to him. He can get pull-conscious, though like most hitters, he's best when he uses the whole field. If Clevlen makes consistent contact like he did last season, the next league he'll repeat is the American. The Tigers already are paying their right fielder (Magglio Ordonez) handsomely, so they won't rush Clevlen. He'll spend 2006 in Double-A and projects to become a full-time big leaguer in 2008.
After an intriguing debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2003, Ramirez missed the entire 2004 season after right shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. He returned to play his first full season last year, though he spent the majority of his time playing DH in deference to his defense and his shoulder. Until Cameron Maybin signed, Ramirez was the closest thing the Tigers had to a five-tool player. He has the most raw power in the organization, able to drive the ball out of any part of virtually any park thanks to excellent bat speed. His arm strength has returned to above-average, and he's one of the organization's better runners. Ramirez has good hands, enough range and plenty of arm to play third base, but his rust and poor footwork led to 26 errors in just 57 games there. The Tigers aren't in a hurry to move him, and he's athletic enough for an outfield corner if needed. His lack of plate discipline and a consistent approach resulted in him leading the low Class A Midwest League in strikeouts last season. Ramirez should start 2006 in high Class A. If the Tigers think his bat is ready for an early promotion, don't be surprised if a position switch follows soon thereafter.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Sanchez moved to New York City when he was 10. The Tigers drafted him out of a New York junior college in 2001, and he signed for $1 million as a draft-and-follow after facing better competition at Connors State (Okla.) JC. He missed the first two months of the 2005 season with muscle spasms and an oblique strain, as well as most of August with a groin injury, but he finished strong as one of the top starters in the Arizona Fall League. At his best, Sanchez has stuff just a shade behind Verlander's and Zumaya's. Sanchez' fastball often sits at 93-95 mph. His low-80s curveball is a plus pitch with excellent depth. He uses his size for power, to intimidate hitters and to keep his stuff down in the zone. Sanchez can get out of sync with his mechanics, which contributed to his early injury problems and to the fact that he was never quite right all year. He needs to keep himself in better shape and repeat his delivery more consistently. His changeup is just fair. If Sanchez puts it all together, his big fastball and power should make him a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter. He also could be a factor in the Detroit bullpen fairly soon if needed. He'll return to the Double-A rotation to begin 2006.
A two-way player at Sam Houston State, where he also played the outfield, Tata first opened the Tigers' eyes when he touched 93 mph in his first instructional league in 2003. He flew under the radar on West Michigan's 2004 championship club, before breaking out as the Florida State League's 2005 pitcher of the year. Tata has good size and good arm speed, giving him an above-average 90-93 mph fastball with excellent sink. He complements it with a cut fastball that he throws just as hard as his fastball, and one club official said he saw Tata throwing 94-mph cutters late in the year. He can pitch to all four quadrants of the strike zone using his fastball and cutter 90 percent of the time. Cleaner mechanics gave him much better control last year than he had in the past. At 24, Tata has yet to pitch above Class A. His slurvy curveball lags behind his other offerings, but when he throws it for strikes, it's usually an effective change of pace. Tata's breakout year was rewarded with a spot on the 40-man roster. The organization's faith in his sinking and cutting fastballs will be tested when he takes his first spin through Double-A this year.
Injuries hit Giarratano again last season, short-circuiting a campaign that saw him get his first big league promotion in early June when Carlos Guillen went down with a pulled hamstring. Giarratano went out with a sports hernia in August, and he was limited to rehabilitation work in Lakeland during instructional league in the fall. When he's healthy, Giarratano grades out as above-average in four tools. He has a quick bat and covers the strike zone with a compact stroke, spraying line drives from pole to pole. He's a plus defender thanks to his range and strong, accurate arm. He also runs well. Giarratano needs to get stronger to keep from getting the bat knocked out of his hands by quality inside fastballs. He figures to never hit for much power anyway. Injuries have affected him three of the last four years going back to his sophomore year at Tulane, including postseason shoulder surgery in 2004, so his durability is a major concern. His 2005 callup shows what the Tigers think of Giarratano's defense. For his offense to keep him in the majors, he'll need to stay healthy and get more at-bats. His spring performance will determine if he returns to Double-A Erie or graduates to Triple-A Toledo this year.
After an All-America season in 2003, Larish slumped as a junior in 2004 because of a wrist injury. He spurned a $650,000 offer from the Dodgers as a 13th-round pick and returned for his senior season, leading Arizona State to its first College World Series trip since 1998. He tied a CWS record with a three-homer game against Nebraska and hit six in 24 pro games after signing for $220,000. Larish generates big-time power with a swing that has excellent leverage, allowing him to drive balls to any part of the park. He can catch up to good fastballs when healthy. He has a determined approach that allows him to wait pitchers out, seeking a pitch he can drive. The Tigers raved about his work ethic after seeing him in instructional league. He has more athleticism and arm strength than most first basemen. When he struggled in 2004, Larish's swing was called mechanical by scouts, and it can get long. It's not a textbook stroke, but Larish has been effective with it. A long swing and patient approach will translate to plenty of strikeouts. It's easy to live with whiffs if a hitter mashes like Larish can. He's set to join the fast track as a college senior with an advanced approach, starting 2006 in high Class A.
Whelan took control of his career in the Jayhawk League in 2003, asking his coach to move him from catcher to pitcher, but had to move back behind the plate at Texas A&M due to injuries to the Aggies' other backstops. He exploded as a pitching prospect in the Cape Cod League in 2004 with a 0.42 ERA and a league-best 11 saves. He finally became a full-time pitcher in 2005, signed for $265,000 as a fourth-round pick and had a sterling pro debut. Whelan has classic closer stuff. His four-seam fastball tops out at 96 mph, and his two-seamer has wicked sink. When he widens his grip on the two-seamer, it morphs into a mid-80s splitter that buries hitters. His delivery has some deception as well, complicating matters for hitters even more. He's a dogged competitor. Just 6 feet tall, Whelan has to make sure he maintains his over-the-top delivery to keep his fastball from flattening out. He generally succeeds. He continues to pick up pitching nuances as he gains experience on the mound. Whelan has yet to pitch above low Class A, but few in the organization will be shocked if he reaches Detroit in a set-up role this year. With no defined closer in Detroit, he could step forward and seize the role by 2007.
Kirkland signed with Pittsburgh as a draft-and-follow out of the College of Southern Idaho and remains involved with the program, teaching hitting there in offseason camps. In a regrettable deal for the Pirates, they sent him and pitchers Roberto Novoa and Adrian Burnside to the Tigers for Randall Simon in November 2002. Kirkland was part of the talented and successful Lakeland club in 2005, though he generally batted sixth or seventh on a team that had several veteran sluggers in the lineup. His season was a vast improvement over his struggles in low Class A the year before. Detroit likes Kirkland's tools and work ethic, and can't quite put its finger on why he hasn't put it all together. He has solid-average raw power and a strong throwing arm suited for third base. He lacks consistency, however, in all phases of the game. He never has hit for average, and while his plate discipline improved last year, it still has a ways to go. His hands at third are a bit stiff despite his above-average athleticism. Kirkland made a step in translating his solid tools into consistent performance, capped by a .293 performance as a taxi-squad player in the Arizona Fall League. Now he's ready for Double-A.
Frazier has two brothers in baseball, with younger brother Todd a prime 2007 draft target as the shortstop at Rutgers. Older brother Charlie spent six years in the Marlins organization. Naturally, the Tigers like to describe their Frazier as a "baseball player" who loves the game and has an excellent work ethic. Still, they aren't sure where he fits into their future plans. He had a solid first full season in the minors, leading the Midwest League with 45 doubles while ranking third in hits and total bases. Frazier has a big frame and can get long with his swing, but he's a steady hitter who makes consistent contact. He doesn't have any tools that are significantly deficient, though his fringe-average arm and speed limit him to left field. However, none of his tools grade out as above-average, either. Frazier likely will move one step at a time, which would take him to high Class A this year. He'll have to tweak his swing to either find more power or hit for a higher average to profile as a big league regular on a contender.
Detroit got Trahern in the 34th round of the 2004 draft, thanks to good work by area scout Steve Taylor and some good fortune. A two-way star on nationally ranked and state 6- A champion Owasso (Okla.) High, Trahern committed to Oklahoma. But when the Sooners fired pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Ray Hayward, a former Tigers scout, Taylor saw an opening and signed Trahern for $160,000, the equivalent of fifth-round money. In his first full pro season in 2005, he lost five of his first six decisions before finding his groove in low Class A. Athletic and blessed with the ability to repeat an easy delivery, Trahern has two above-average pitches. His 90-92 mph fastball has run and sink, and he's improving his ability to spot it. His slider isn't a strikeout pitch but stays down in the zone and helps him produces scads of groundballs. He had a 2.4 groundball/flyball ratio last year. Trahern's changeup is solid, but like his fastball and slider, it's not quite a swing-and-miss pitch. Trahern either must continue his extreme groundball tendencies or, better yet, improve the depth on his slider to get some strikeouts. He'll move up to high Class A in 2006.
Thomas was a fifth-round pick out of high school in 2002 but didn't sign with the Twins. The Tigers were excited to get him as a sixth-rounder in 2005 because he's a college player with two tools hard to find in college--arm strength and speed. Signed for $150,000, he grades out as above-average in both area for most scouts. While Thomas played almost exclusively in right field at Auburn, Detroit believes he profiles best in center field. That's in part because of his speed, and in part because of his slashing style at the plate, as he projects to hit for just average power at best. The Tigers adjusted his hands in his swing to try to give him more of a load and more power. Detroit isn't overflowing with center fielders in the organization, though Cameron Maybin could end up there. Thomas will need to make better reads and get better jumps in the outfield, and his positioning will have to improve as he gains more experience in center. His maturity and polish should keep him a level ahead of Maybin in the short term, and Thomas is slated to start in center in high Class A this year.
While he's not as big as Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Humberto Sanchez and most of the other hard throwers in the system, de la Cruz may have the hardest fastball of the group. He has hit 100 mph out of the bullpen. The Tigers wanted him to try to broaden his repertoire in 2005, and as he moved up to high Class A, he also moved into the rotation. Roving pitching instructor Jon Matlack wanted de la Cruz to get as much work as possible, and he used the additional innings to work on his secondary pitches. De la Cruz throws both a curveball and a changeup, and while they're solid at times, he hasn't shown he can command either pitch. He can throw his fastball for strikes and that has worked for him as a reliever, a role he returned to after 10 starts at Lakeland. He posted a 5.13 ERA in the rotation, compared to 2.11 out of the bullpen last year. De la Cruz, who pitched for Estrellas in the Dominican League over the winter, was added to the 40-man roster and will advance to Double-A for 2006, most likely as a reliever. If one of his secondary pitches improves, his projection would upgrade from setup man to closer.
Jurrjens signed in 2003 out of Curacao and took his first stab at full-season ball in 2005. He was West Michigan's best starter, ranking sixth in the Midwest League in ERA as the Whitecaps had the league's third-best record and best ERA (3.63). His success has the Tigers projecting him as a No. 4 starter if everything falls into place. Jurrjens works primarily off his fastball, which has modest movement but has seen a boost in velocity to the low 90s. He has shown the ability to pound the lower half of the strike zone with his fastball, which tops out at 94 mph. Some scouts can see him throwing much harder as he fills out, particularly if he moves to a relief role down the line, which is a possibility. His second pitch is a good changeup that he throws for strikes. His curveball remains slurvy and could stand a lot of work. His feel for pitching, however, will keep him a starter for now in high Class A.
Francia had two games to remember in 2005. On May 24, Francia collected his first three extra-base hits of the season--two homers and a double. After a promotion to Double-A, he hit safely in 17 of 20 games and hit for the cycle Aug. 9. His improvement last season prompted the Tigers to re-sign the six-year free agent before instructional league. Francia has shown some plus tools throughout his career, most notably his well above-average speed, and he has made small strides in becoming a more efficient basestealer. He'll never hit for much power and fits the Luis Castillo profile as a leadoff or No. 2 hitter who runs well, handles the bat and draws an occasional walk. Francia still plays out of control at times and has to learn to maintain his concentration throughout both a game and the long season. He's settled into being a second baseman. He can play shortstop in a pinch, but his arm fits much better at second. He'll head back to Double-A for 2006 but could reach Detroit soon as a utility player thanks to his speed.
Raburn achieved one key goal in 2005 by remaining healthy. Raburn stayed off the disabled list and played a career-best 130 games, then had enough left to help Toledo win the International League title. He batted .348 in the playoffs during the Mud Hens' Governor's Cup run. Otherwise, Raburn didn't have a tremendous season, and with the arrival of Placido Polanco in Detroit, his window of opportunity with the Tigers is closing. He was outrighted off the 40-man roster prior to the Winter Meetings. Raburn, whose brother Johnny was a utilityman in the Devil Rays system last year, always has been a player who will only go as far as his bat will take him. He's not a gifted defensive player, and while he's athletic, he has lost some athleticism since dislocating his hip in an all-terrain vehicle mishap that sidelined him for most of 2002. He doesn't run well and isn't fluid at second base, where he led the IL with 21 errors. The Tigers are considering moving him to the outfield, and he has enough power to make the switch. He was hitting .197 in late May but came on in the second half to finish third on the Mud Hens in homers and RBIs. Just a solid bat, though, won't do it for Raburn. He'll return to Triple-A and try to be more consistent in order to earn a big league look.
Kelly won't be an impact big leaguer unless his power spikes significantly, but he can be a valuable utilityman with a solid bat and the ability to play all over the field. Kelly had his best year as a pro in 2005, raking his way through Double-A before finishing up playing shortstop for Toledo's International League championship club. He hit .300 with seven RBIs in the IL playoffs to cap his first full year above Class A. He missed most of the 2004 season with a nerve injury in his right shoulder that required surgery but played injury-free in 2005. He also played in the Arizona Fall League at shortstop after Tony Giarratano's injuries precluded him from going there. Kelly lacks the range, quickness and agility to be an everyday shortstop and is better suited for third base with his solid arm and good hands. Offensively, Kelly sprays line drives to the gaps, has shown pull power and covers the plate well, making him tough to strike out. He has a chance to open the season as a big league utilityman, but more likely will head to Triple-A as the everyday third baseman.
When Sleeth was drafted the Tigers hoped he would never rank this low on a prospect list, but the No. 3 overall pick in the 2003 draft hasn't worked out as expected. Sleeth signed for $3.35 million after winning an NCAA-record-tying 26 consecutive decisions during his decorated career at Wake Forest. In college, he flashed a fastball that touched 96 mph, two average to above-average breaking balls and excellent athleticism and poise. Scouts who questioned Sleeth didn't like that he threw across his body, but the majority felt he was strong enough physically and athletic enough to avoid injury despite his less-than-perfect mechanics. They also believed his delivery gave his pitches movement. Sleeth's pro career got off to a solid start at high Class A in 2004, but when he struggled in Double-A later that year, the Tigers decided to smooth out his crossfire finish. Sleeth had trouble adjusting to his new delivery, and last year came down with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in June. If his rehab goes well, he'll start throwing on the side in spring training. His 2006 season will be about getting healthy. Detroit won't know how his elbow and stuff will bounce back until 2007.
Finigan was Southern Illinois' most important player for three seasons, working as both the team's starting shortstop and as a pitcher. After two years as a reliever, Finigan moved into the Salukis' rotation in 2005 and went 9-3, 3.24 with four complete games. He also had his best offensive season, winning the Missouri Valley Conference batting title at .388 while ranking second with a .461 on-base percentage. The consensus was that the MVC player of the year's pro future was on the mound, and the Tigers concurred after signing him for a low-end $27,500 bonus as a seventh-round pick in June. He came cheap because he was a college senior, and it was the first time that Finigan had been drafted. He has athleticism that produces a fluid, easy arm action that he repeats. He pounds the strike zone with 89- 93 mph fastballs. Detroit believes he'll develop more velocity as he focuses on pitching and hones his mechanics. His slider is an above-average offering that showed improved depth and movement after he turned pro, and he has shown a feel for a solid-average changeup. Finigan's athleticism, two-way background and MVC roots earn him comparisons to Blue Jays farmhand Shaun Marcum, though the Tigers want to keep Finigan in the bullpen instead of moving him to the rotation as Toronto did with Marcum. Finigan projects as a solid setup man and should start 2006 in high Class A.
Four years ago, Hollimon was a freshman at Texas, undrafted after a ballyhooed high school career. He was considered a potential first-round pick, but went undrafted amid reports that he wanted a $2 million bonus. Hollimon was the Longhorns' top recruit, roomed with 2005 Rookie of the Year Huston Street, and was expected to be a college star. He started most of the 2002 season at shortstop but hit just .276 and lost his job to junior college transfer Brandon Fahey as Texas won the College World Series. Hollimon's confidence plunged as he struggled defensively on Texas' artificial-turf infield and offensively with a steady diet of breaking balls. After two more seasons of part-time duty, he transferred to Oral Roberts, where he had a solid senior season in 2005. Area scout Steve Taylor stuck with Hollimon, and the Tigers are glad he did after signing him for $5,000 as a 16th-round pick. He led the short-season New York-Penn League in runs and triples in his pro debut, showing solid tools across the board. Hollimon is athletic enough to repeat his swing from both sides of the plate, though he has more leverage and power from the left side. He has the speed and arm to be an average defender at shortstop in the big leagues. He's not overly physical and will need to work to keep his strength up over the course of an entire season. Hollimon is already 23, so the Tigers probably will accelerate his timetable to see if he can be an everyday player. More likely, he profiles as a utilityman, still excellent value for where he was drafted.
Most top Dominican players who turn into stars sign as teenagers. Vasquez was nearly 21 when he signed in 2003, however, and he fell further behind when he spent most of his first two seasons in the Gulf Coast League. He won all seven of his decisions at short-season Oneonta last year, tying for second in the New York-Penn League in wins. Vasquez' calling card is a mid-90s fastball. He has excellent arm speed that provides his fastball velocity, and he maintains the same arm speed on his changeup. He has shown some feel for his changeup and flashed the ability to spin a breaking ball. His secondary stuff and his control have a lot of improvement to make, so the Tigers took a calculated gamble that they wouldn't have to protect him on their 40-man roster this offseason. After slipping through the major league Rule 5 draft, Vasquez could skip a level and jump to high Class A.
The Tigers have a few young Latin American players they have hopes for, none more so than Ciriaco, who signed for $175,000 last February. He struggled at first in extended spring training, then made enough adjustments to earn an assignment to the Gulf Coast League. He got off to a hot start in the GCL before fading, and how he develops physically in the offseason will determine where he starts the 2006 season. Ciriaco's skills could land him on a full-season roster. He has a long, lanky frame closer to that of Shawon Dunston or fellow Tigers farmhand Brent Dlugach, rather than the typical waterbug Latin American shortstop. He has fluid actions with good quickness, soft hands and an above-average arm that plays well at short. He has good bat speed, a sound stroke and some strength, though he needs more. The Tigers project him to hit for power in the future. Ciriaco remains raw and undisciplined at the plate, and he needs to prove he can maintain his play over a long period of time. Nevertheless, the Tigers are excited about his future.
Detroit hasn't needed great catching depth recently after developing defensive stalwart Brandon Inge and signing all-star Ivan Rodriguez as a free agent. After Rodriguez' horrid 2005 season and Inge's improvement offensively after a move to third base, the Tigers have started to think harder about their future behind the plate. To that end, they used their second pick in the 2005 draft, a third-round selection, to pick Robinson. A native of Canada who played on several junior national teams, Robinson led Illinois to the 2005 Big Ten Conference regular-season title, its first since 1998, before signing for $422,000. His pro career get off to a horrible 2-for-34 start before a four-hit game July 11, after which he batted .299. He has a solid approach and projects as a fringe-average hitter who handles the bat well, with the ability to make consistent contact and hit-and-run. Defensively, he has a plus arm and average receiving skills. His leadership ability also earns praise from scouts. Robinson could earn a job in high Class A this year considering the organization's lack of depth at catcher.
Vasquez was a Rangers seventh-round pick out of high school in 2000 but didn't sign, instead attending UC Santa Barbara. Known at Matt Vasquez in college (Matthew is his middle name), he went in the seventh round again in 2003. He was part of a strong Lakeland pitching staff in 2005, joining fellow starters Justin Verlander, Jordan Tata, Eulogio de la Cruz and Nate Bumstead on this Top 30 list. Several other Lakeland pitchers, including lefthanders Lucas French and Danny Zell and righthanders Randor Beird and Preston Larrison, also are on the organization's radar screen. Vasquez moved up to Double-A after just eight starts in high Class A. While he threw eight one-hit innings in his first Erie outing, he won only once thereafter. The Tigers see him as a pitchability righthander, a No. 5 starter with control as good as any pitcher in the system. His stuff remains fringy, though, as he owns an upper-80s fastball, a solid curveball and a decent changeup. He must live down in the strike zone, because when he leaves his stuff up, he gets punished for extra-base hits. He'll return to Double-A in 2006.
The Tigers first noticed Joyce when they played against his Florida Southern team, which is based down the street from Detroit's Lakeland spring-training complex. In a scrimmage before spring-training exhibitions began in 2004, Joyce homered against the Tigers. He went on to have a strong sophomore season but struggled as a junior as the Moccasins won the Division II College World Series. Joyce recoved to have a fine pro debut, showing athleticism, a solid bat and good plate discipline. He's still young for his draft class and has room to fill out physically. Joyce has average tools across the board to go with a quiet approach that lets him make consistent contact while using the whole field. His arm might be a tick above average. He also has excellent makeup and a strong work ethic. Joyce has a thin frame that could stand to add muscle, and he'll need more power to play right field, his best position, at higher levels. He'll start his first full year in low Class A.
Dlugach is best summed up as atypical. While he's tall and lanky, he's often described as a smooth-fielding shortstop. Though he has fringy speed and range, has a knack for being in the right place, getting good hops and making plays. He soaked up the experience of his coach at Memphis, former big league shortstop Dave Anderson, who managed at the Triple- A level in the Tigers system as recently as 2000. Dlugach's best assets defensively are his extreme athleticism and exceptional hands. He also has a strong arm and is adept at making accurate throws from different arm angles. Offensively, Dlugach has some potential but his bat probably will never equal his glove. His long frame lends itself to a long swing, and while he has some strength and power, he's not likely to hit for a consistent average. If he makes enough contact to bat .250-.260, he could contribute 10-15 homers. His best-case profile is to become a Kevin Elster. Ticketed for high Class A, Dlugach will move as fast as his bat dictates.
Bumstead is the classic case of a pitcher who will have to prove himself at every level, but so far the former 32nd-pound pick has reached high Class A while going 15-5, 2.43 in two pro seasons. He had an uneven career at Louisiana State after transferring from the College of Southern Idaho, where he played with Detroit farmhand Kody Kirkland. Bumstead went 21-7 in two seasons at LSU but his strikeout rate fell, and his draft stock dropped along with it. He has a fringy 86-89 mph fastball and comes nearly straight over the top in his delivery, which makes it hard to project much more velocity. However, his delivery helps Bumstead's best pitch, a 12-to-6 curveball. He also locates his changeup and made great strides in his fastball command in 2005, helping him rank third in the Florida State League in ERA, second in wins and third in innings. Bumstead tired late in the season and the command of all his pitches faltered. He profiles as no more than a fifth starter, and he could become a solid middle reliever because his curveball helps him attack righthanders. They hit just .209 against him in 2005. Bumstead will move up to Double-A for 2006.
One of the best defensive outfielders in the system, Blue was an all-state performer in Texas in 2001 along with Brent Clevlen, whom he played beside in the Lakeland outfield last year. Blue has progressed slowly with the bat and didn't make it to full-season ball until his fourth pro season, but he made significant progress in 2005. He'll never hit for much power and compares to current Tigers center fielder Nook Logan. Blue has top-of-the-line speed, getting down to first base in as quick as 3.8 seconds from the left side. Blue isn't afraid to go deep in counts and work a walk, but his slap-hitting approach doesn't scare pitchers either. He can be handled with hard stuff inside and lacks bat speed. While he can fly, he's an inefficient basestealer who must improve his reads and jumps after leading the minors last year with 29 caught stealings in 69 tries. He also needs to become a better bunter to take even more advantage of his speed. Blue stands out defensively with good range and a fearless approach, though his arm is below average. He's ready for his first taste of Double-A in 2006.