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Baseball America's third-rated prospect for the 2005 draft, Maybin fell to the Tigers at No. 10 because other teams preferred college players or had questions about his signability. BA's 2004 Youth Player of the Year after leading the Midland Redskins to the Connie Mack World Series title, Maybin missed his first pro summer while negotiating a $2.65 million bonus. From a standpoint of both development and performance, Detroit couldn't have asked for a better 2006 debut. Maybin nearly led the low Class A Midwest League in hitting despite competing against players who were often two or three years older. He played for a league champion West Michigan team, batting .343 with six extra-base hits in nine postseason games, including a pair of clutch triples that turned around the final series. Maybin also played for the U.S. team in the Futures Game and was the second youngest player in the game, behind the Yankees' Jose Tabata. There were distractions and setbacks, too. Maybin missed a month early in the season with a bruise on his right index finger. Later, he was charged with underage possession of alcohol (a misdemeanor), but the incident didn't appear to suggest any more serious issues. By all accounts, the Tigers believe Maybin to have great character in addition to tremendous talent. Maybin has all the tools and, all the more impressive, those tools are well developed at his young age. Managers rated him the MWL's best and fastest baserunner and its most exciting player, and he also drew votes as the top hitting prospect and best defensive outfielder. Though he was considered somewhat raw and played in a tough hitter's park, Maybin hit .304 in his debut, showing more ability to make adjustments and awareness of the strike zone than expected. He has exceptional bat speed and raw power, so he'll be a home run threat as well. Seven of his nine longballs came in the season's last two months. He runs extremely well, both on the bases and in center field, and he succeeded on 27 of his 34 steal attempts. Maybin has a strong arm, and though he should have no difficulty staying in center, he also profiles well for right field. His overall ability has drawn comparisons to that of Mike Cameron and Torii Hunter. Maybin can be an elite player, with the potential to hit somewhere at the top or in the middle of the order. Maybin has few shortcomings. The most apparent is that he strikes out too often, a common trait among Tigers farmhands. He had nearly as many whiffs as he had hits in his debut, and he can take some ugly swings when he's fooled at the plate. But he's also very gifted and advanced for a 19-year-old, and his plate discipline should improve with experience. He has lost some time to hamstring problems in 2005 instructional league and to the finger injury in his debut, but his long-term health isn't a worry. After the trade deadline passed, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski declared, "I wouldn't trade Cameron Maybin straight up for Alfonso Soriano. That's how much we like him."Manager Jim Leyland later concurred and called Maybin a special talent. He'll likely start 2007 in Double-A Erie, and he could push his way to Detroit by the end of the season. Curtis Granderson played capably in center field in 2006 and starred in the postseason, so either he or Maybin eventually will have to move to a corner.
The 2006 draft's consensus top talent and Baseball America's College Player of the Year, Miller slid to Detroit at No. 6 because of signability. By early August, the sides agreed on a major league contract with a $3.55 million bonus and $5.45 million guarantee. After five innings at high Class A Lakeland, Miller made his big league debut at Yankee Stadium later that month. His season included two other thrills: his North Carolina team went to the College World Series finals, and he was on the mound in Kansas City when the Tigers clinched their first postseason berth in 19 years. Few lefthanders can match Miller's combination of size and stuff, and he projects as a frontline starter. He throws 93-95 with little effort and tops out at 98. His mid-80s slider already qualifies as a major league out pitch. He has dominated against wood bats, earning top-prospect honors in the Cape Cod League in both 2004 and 2005. Miller doesn't have much of a changeup and may need one against big league righthanders. He has preferred to dial his two-seam fastball down to the low to mid-80s. His command faded at times during his stint with the Tigers. Most scouts' concerns about him center on his arm action, as he has a slight wrap in the back of his delivery that hampers his command. Though he pitched in relief for the Tigers, Miller's future clearly is in the rotation. He'll head to Double-A as a starter and could be back in Detroit by the end of the season.
The 2005 high Class A Florida State League MVP, Clevlen batted just .230 in Double-A but stood out in two late stints with Detroit. He attributed the difference in his performance to better lighting in the majors. A natural athlete, Clevlen has above-average power and arm strength. He has the speed and instincts to handle center field, though he fits better in right field. Clevlen's defensive ability impressed Tigers manager Jim Leyland during his major league stint. Double-A pitchers learned quickly that Clevlen will chase pitches out of the zone, both up and away, so he saw few good pitches to hit and struck out often. He probably won't ever hit for a high average, but he'll need to have better command of the strike zone in order to sustain success in the big leagues. Though he has slightly above-average speed, he's not much of a basestealing threat. Clevlen could see time in Detroit again, though it's more likely that he'll at least begin 2007 in the minors with an eye toward improving his plate discipline.
Jurrjens ended 2006 with a much higher profile than he had at the beginning of the year, after pitching in the World Baseball Classic and reaching Double-A at age 20. Jurrjens also was involved in an automobile accident, which caused him to go almost two weeks between starts in late July. The Tigers thought Jurrjens might make a No. 4 starter coming into 2006, but they've revised their hopes upward. He works in the low 90s with the ability to add and subtract from his fastball, which has good life and reaches 97 mph. He has terrific control, especially considering his age. His curveball and changeup improved throughout the season, and now grade out as at least average. Jurrjens has just one plus pitch and both his curve and change still need polish. His youth is occasionally evident on the mound. He ended the season on the disabled list with right shoulder spasms. The Tigers exercised caution and scrapped plans for him to participate in the Arizona Fall League. Jurrjens probably won't be ready for the majors until 2008, but if he performs well at Triple-A Toledo he could get a late-season callup. Though the Tigers don't expect his shoulder to be an issue, there's a chance they could start him back in Double-A.
Tata hadn't pitched above Class A, but he made the Opening Day bullpen after an injury to closer Todd Jones in Detroit's final exhibition game. Tata looked comfortable in Detroit before returning to the minors in May. He rejoined the Tigers in September. Tata's fastball, usually clocked from 89-93 mph, has natural cutting action. He also throws a good knuckle-curve. A good athlete who was a two-way player at Sam Houston State, he has a nice frame and sound delivery that allow him to throw strikes. He's not overpowering, so Tata must to refine his repertoire in order to be a big league starter. The Tigers have worked with him on developing a sinker, and he also could use a better changeup to use against lefthanders. Tigers manager Jim Leyland says Tata's future appears to be as a starter, but the Tigers don't have any obvious openings and plenty of internal competition for any vacancy that arises. Tata may have to start in Triple- A or relieve in the majors for most of 2007.
Though he's short and stocky, de la Cruz has one of the biggest fastballs in the organization. He shuttled between starting and relieving in Double- A in 2006, and he was able to harness his energy more when he was in the rotation. He earned a promotion to Toledo for the Triple-A playoffs. At its best, his fastball compares favorably to those of Justin Verlander or Joel Zumaya. De la Cruz usually pitches in the mid- to high 90s and has reached 100 mph. His hard curveball is a genuine knee-buckler. Issues with control and command have put de la Cruz behind other young pitchers in the system, though he improved in those areas as a starter. His long-term role is in question because he was more effective as a reliever in 2005. His changeup can throw hitters off balance when they try to sit on his power stuff, but he doesn't have much confidence in the pitch. De la Cruz should be in Toledo this season and reach the big leagues in 2008. Though there's room in the bullpen, the Tigers may not want to jeopardize the progress he has made as a starter.
After hitting .265 in the Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League in 2005, Hernandez had a spectacular U.S. debut. Though he didn't turn 19 until after the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League schedule concluded, he topped the circuit in hitting, runs and hits while finishing second in steals and total bases (95). Well-above-average speed is Hernandez' best tool but far from his only one. He's a natural leadoff hitter with a gap-togap stroke. His raw power and arm strength are solid, and he gets very good jumps and covers significant real estate in center field. He showed off his basestealing prowess by swiping 20 in 24 tries in the GCL. As with many young players, Hernandez' biggest weakness is his plate discipline. He's advanced for his age but still needs more polish and experience in most phases of his game. He needs to get stronger and fill out his skinny frame, which should come with time. The only position player in the system with more upside is Cameron Maybin. Hernandez may follow the same path and play in low Class A as a 19-year-old. He could become a special prospect if he continues to mature.
Trahern was headed to Oklahoma out of high school, but when the Sooners fired pitching coach Ray Hayward, he changed his mind. Trahern signed for $160,000 as a 34th-round pick and has made steady progress. He has had tough luck, ranking in the top 10 in each of his Class A leagues in ERA and losses the last two years. Trahen's best pitch is a low-90s sinker that he throws for strikes. Hitters have trouble lifting it, as evidenced by his 3.3 ground/fly ratio in high Class A. His slider is an average pitch that he also keeps down in the zone to get ground balls. A two-way star on an Oklahoma 6-A state championship team, he's athletic and repeats his delivery well. He hasn't shown the ability to get hitters to consistently swing and miss, averaging just 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings as a pro. Trahern will throw a four-seamer with more velocity up in the zone but does so infrequently. His changeup needs more work after lefthanders hit .289 against him in 2006. The consistency of his sinker and quality of his makeup bode well for Trahern's chances to reach the majors. He'll probably spend much of 2007 in Double-A.
Expected to be one of the first college hitters drafted in 2004, Larish slumped instead and turned down a $650,000 offer from the Dodgers in the 13th round. He finished fourth in NCAA Division I with 23 homers (including a College World Series-record tying three in one game) in 2005 before signing for $220,000 as a fifth-rounder. He ranked third in the Florida State League in both extra-base hits (54) and walks in his first full season. Larish has strength and leverage in his swing, enabling him to hit the ball out of any part of the park. He's also patient at the plate, willing to take a walk if a pitcher won't give him something he can drive. For a first baseman, he has good athleticism and arm strength. Larish's swing can get long and he can get too pull-conscious. As with many hitters on Detroit's current roster, strikeouts and a lower average will be the tradeoff for his power. He has trouble with changeups away and sliders at his back toe. He's a below-average runner. The Tigers re-signed Sean Casey to a one-year deal, but they have no long-term solution at first. Larish could fill that hole in 2008, but for now he's headed to Double-A.
Sizemore has had more success with wood bats than metal. He hit .303 in the Cape Cod League in 2005 and .327 in his pro debut--but just .300 at Virginia Commonwealth in between. That slump dropped him to the fifth round last June, but the Tigers were glad to sign him for $197,500 after a strong workout at Comerica Park. Sizemore, who led the short-season New York-Penn League in runs and hits, projects as an offensive second baseman in the mold of Mark Loretta. He's at his best when he uses a short swing and a gap approach, and he went back to that after trying too much to hit for power last spring. He has average speed and arm strength. Though he played surprisingly well at shortstop when the Tigers needed him there at Oneonta, Sizemore is more likely an adequate second baseman who needs to improve his footwork and range. Some scouts have projected him defensively as a third baseman, which would put more pressure on his bat. Sizemore's strong summer makes him the system's top middle-infield prospect for now. He may open 2007 in low Class A with a chance for a promotion at midseason.
Scouts are divided on Kirkland. They either love his athleticism or doubt whether he'll ever be able to refine his impressive tools to become a major league regular. Acquired in the trade that sent Randall Simon to the Pirates in November 2002, Kirkland has raw power, a strong arm and a high ceiling. But he strikes out too much and has hit just .239 in full-season leagues. His swing has holes, but its length allows him to pulverize breaking pitches low in the zone. He chases pitches and is particularly susceptible to high, hard stuff. Kirkland runs well for his size. Defensively, he has the arm for third base and shows good range at times. However, his hands are somewhat stiff and he's prone to errors. Kirkland is facing a critical season in 2007. He'll return to Double-A, and if he's truly a legitimate prospect, he should crush pitchers on his second tour of the Eastern League.
Vasquez played a major role in West Michigan's Midwest League championship, winning his last 10 regular-season decisions and two more in the playoffs. He has a live, electric fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and tops out at 96. He throws with a bullwhip motion that can be tough for hitters to pick up. He's aggressive and wild in the strike zone. Though he was old for low Class A, Vasquez is still unpolished. His career got off to a late start because he was nearly 21 when he signed out of the Dominican Republic. His changeup and tight slider are in the early stages of their development, though he showed an increased ability to command them late in the season. The Tigers will continue to move him one level at a time, though he could see Double-A at some point in 2007.
Ramirez' tools have never been in doubt. His health, however, has been a constant issue. Ramirez missed the 2004 season after surgery to repair a torn labrum, spent much of 2005 as a DH, and then played just 66 games last year. He got into one game after June, when a foul ball caused a deep bruise and severe swelling in his shin. Even before the injury, though, Ramirez wasn't having the season Detroit had hoped for. Though he has one of the highest ceilings in the system, his poor plate discipline undermines his offensive potential. He has excellent bat speed and the ability to drive the ball out of any part of any park, but that won't matter much if he chases pitches and can't make consistent contact. His speed and arm strength are both above-average, giving him the tools to play in the outfield if he continues to struggle at third base. He has a career .857 fielding percentage at the hot corner, where he made 22 errors in 65 games in 2006. Ramirez probably will repeat high Class A this year, with a focus on remaining healthy and improving his hitting approach.
For the third time in four pro seasons, Giarratano couldn't stay healthy. He got hot in June, injured his wrist, came back and lasted five games before suffering a season-ending tear of the anterior-cruciate ligament in his right knee. He had surgery and probably won't be ready for the start of spring training. He also had shoulder trouble that necessitated postseason surgery in 2004 and hamstring troubles in 2005. At his best, Giarratano is a smooth, athletic defender with a good arm. His biggest asset is an ability to save runs with his glove, and he also can run and hit for average. Prior to the knee injury, he had big league range and profiled as an everyday shortstop. He hits well from both sides of the plate and fits in the No. 2 hole or the bottom third of a major league lineup. He doesn't have much power, but he has a short stroke, hits line drives and uses the entire field. He also plays with an energy and enthusiasm that the Tigers love. The surgery's toll on his athleticism is unclear for the time being, and he may have to spend a third season in Double-A.
Though he has been old for his leagues in two years as a pro, Hollimon has a chance to hit his way to the big leagues. A potential first-round pick out of high school, he went undrafted because he reportedly wanted a $2 million bonus. After a lackluster three years at Texas, he transferred to Oral Roberts and had a solid senior season, signing with the Tigers for $5,000 as a 16th-rounder. Hollimon topped the Midwest League in triples and ranked in the top five in walks, extra-base hits, total bases and slugging last season. West Michigan manager Matt Walbeck was so impressed with Hollimon's makeup that he named him as the team's captain. He repeats his swing well from both sides of the plate, though he's much more effective hitting lefthanded. The tradeoff for Hollimon's power and patience is strikeouts, as he has fanned 200 times in 200 pro games. He's an adequate defender at shortstop, though not as good as Tony Giarratano, who could be his double-play partner if Hollimon skips a level and goes to Double-A. In that case, Hollimon would move to second base, a better fit for his range and arm strength. In the long run, he could wind up as an offensive-minded utilityman. He'll be 25 this year, so the Tigers will try to accelerate his development.
Boesch entered 2006 as a candidate to go in the first round of the draft, but an inconsistent junior season dropped him to the third round, where the Tigers signed him for $445,000. He was steadier in his pro debut, leading Oneonta in homers and the New York- Penn League in RBIs. The key for Boesch is maintaining a sound stroke. He shows plus bat speed and catches up to good fastballs at times, and a longer, slower swing at others. If he can load his hands better and generate more power, he could become a 20-25 homer threat without sacrificing his ability to hit for average. Boesch's other tools aren't overwhelming, so his ceiling might be no higher than a productive fourth outfielder. He has average speed that plays better in the outfield than on the bases, and a slightly above-average arm. He played mostly right field at Oneonta but also logged time in center field. Boesch has good baseball instincts and could flourish with the proper instruction and developmental plan. He'll open his first full season at one of Detroit's Class A affiliates.
In 2006, the Tigers received contributions from three players they had acquired through the major league Rule 5 draft: Wil Ledezma, Chris Shelton and Chris Spurling. The club went the Rule 5 route again in December, paying the Brewers to select Campusano on its behalf. He'll get a chance to replace departed lefty reliever Jamie Walker, who signed as a free agent with the Orioles. Managers rated Campusano the best relief prospect in the Midwest League last season, and he had no problem jumping to Double-A in late June. He has better stuff than most lefties, with a lively 92-93 mph fastball and a knockout 82-85 mph slider. He showed some feel for a changeup in 2006, and his command also improved. The Cubs didn't protect Campusano because he hasn't been able to stay healthy. He set a career high last year with 55 innings, but he didn't pitch after Aug. 12 because of elbow soreness. He has had shoulder problems in the past as well. While his long, loose body gives him some funk to his delivery, it hasn't given him any durability. To retain Campusano, the Tigers have to keep him on their big league roster all season or send him through waivers and offer him back to the Cubs. His elbow woes may allow Detroit to stash him on the disabled list, but Campusano still must spend 90 days on the active roster in 2007.
The late-season trade of 2005 third-round pick Chris Robinson to the Cubs left Rabelo as Detroit's only legitimate catching prospect. Rabelo has shown significant improvement over the last two seasons and had a breakthrough year with the bat in 2006. He had a solid season at Double-A, earned a promotion to Triple-A and finished the year with the Tigers as a September callup. He has all the hallmarks of a late-blooming catcher. Rabelo only began switch-hitting during his final season of college baseball, after he struggled to hit sliders from righthanders. Now his ability to hit from either side of the plate is helping his big league marketability. He doesn't have a lot of power but he showed a more respectable amount last year. Much of his value comes from being an athletic catcher who calls a good game, throws well and blocks balls. He threw out 39 percent of basestealers last year. He also has experience catching the Tigers' young power pitchers, many of whom are in the big leagues or will be soon, which should ease his transition to the majors. He projects as a big league backup, but he may not get that chance in Detroit soon. The Tigers signed Vance Wilson to a two-year extension, so it's likely that Rabelo will return to Triple-A in 2007.
A two-way star who won the Missouri Valley Conference batting title with a .388 average in 2005, his draft year, Finigan has flourished as a full-time pitcher in pro ball. He reached Double-A at the end of his first full season, throwing harder at the finish than he did at the start. Finigan came down with a tired arm at the end of his pro debut and pitched in the high 80s in early 2006. As the year progressed, he righted his mechanics and got stronger. His fastball sat at its usual 91-92 mph, jumping occasionally to 93-94. His best pitch is a plus slider, and he'll mix in some changeups. Finigan isn't a strikeout pitcher, but he avoids hard contract and gets groundballs. He has a good feel for pitching and is a tough competitor. Though he'll return to Double-A at the outset of 2007, he could join Detroit's bullpen in the near future.
The Tigers were full of surprises on draft day in 2006. In the first round, they had consensus top prospect Andrew Miller fall to them in the second round. In the second round, they grabbed Bourquin, who had projected as a fourth- to eighth-rounder. Detroit loved his tools and grit so much that it decided not to wait, signing him for $690,000. The 2006 Big Ten player of the year, Bourquin led the conference in hitting (.416), hits (91), RBIs (66), total bases (134), on-base percentage (.492) and slugging (.612). He followed that up with a solid debut during which he walked as much as he struck out. He handles lefthanders and righthanders equally well. It's unclear how much power Bourquin will develop, though he does drive the ball well during batting practice. A good athlete for his size, he runs OK and has a strong arm. He must improve defensively, however, as his sluggish footwork leads to errors. With Kody Kirkland and Wilkin Ramirez stalling ahead of him, Bourquin could pass them on the Tigers' third-base depth chart with a strong first full season. He'll open 2007 at one of their Class A affiliates.
Frazier is one of three baseball brothers in his family. Older brother Charlie spent six years in the Marlins organization as an outfielder. Younger brother Todd, who followed Jeff to Rutgers, is a potential first-round pick for the 2007 draft. Todd was the star of the Toms River (N.J.) team that won the 1998 Little League World Series, while Jeff played in the 1995 event. He slumped after a strong start in high Class A last year, prompting questions as to whether his good baseball sense and durability will do enough to augment his modest tools. Frazier makes reasonably consistent contact and drives in runs, but he also doesn't show much power or draw many walks. He does have a long, lean frame and should have more pop once he gets stronger. Frazier has a solid arm but his so-so speed and range make him a better fit in right field. The Tigers have no shortage of righthanded-hitting outfield prospects--Cameron Maybin, Brent Clevlen and Gorkys Hernandez rank well ahead of him--so Frazier could use a breakout year in Double-A to solidify his status.
A 19th-round pick in 2005, Badenhop had a good pro debut at short-season Oneonta in 2005 and emerged as a genuine prospect with a surprise, standout season in low Class A. He led the Midwest League in victories and ranked second in innings, helping West Michigan win the championship. Afterward, the Tigers honored him with their minor league pitcher of the year award. He's a product of Perrysburg, Ohio, as is Detroit manager Jim Leyland. Though Badenhop is 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he's more about polish than power. His high-80s sinker doesn't miss a lot of bats, but he uses his frame to drive it down in the strike zone and get ground balls. He can reach back and hit 92 mph with a fourseamer, but mostly pitches off his sinker with his slider and changeup, two solid if unspectacular pitchers. Badenhop gets ahead of hitters and isn't afraid to pitch inside. He's durable and his ceiling is as an innings-eater at the back of a rotation. Because he signed as a college senior he has been older than most of his competition, so the Tigers may try to push him in 2007. He'll open in high Class A with a chance to reach Double-A if he continues to pitch well.
Joyce isn't an attention-grabber, but he gets the most out of his average tools. He was the leading run producer on the Midwest League champion West Michigan club. The Tigers first noticed him when he homered against them in a scrimmage while with Florida Southern, which is based right down the street from the club's Lakeland spring-training base. Joyce has a good approach at the plate, with quiet swing mechanics and good plate discipline. He controls the strike zone and uses the entire field, and he has more power than his 2006 numbers indicate. Like most of the Whitecaps, he was hurt by pitcher-friendly Fifth Third Ballpark, where he hit just .238 with four homers. He can get pull-conscious at times. Joyce has average speed, a strong arm and good range for a right fielder. He and Brennan Boesch are the only lefthanded-hitting corner outfielders of note in the organization. Joyce will advance to high Class A this year.
Vasquez boosted his stock with an impressive Arizona Fall League performance. Though he nearly led the Eastern League in innings pitch, he showed he had plenty left in his tank by topping the AFL in ERA (2.81), finishing the season with 24 consecutive scoreless innings and winning the clinching game in the playoffs. The Tigers made him the last player added to their 40-man roster in November. Vasquez' ceiling isn't terribly high and his stuff is just average, but his command and durability could make him a back-of-the-rotation starter in the majors. His high-80s sinker and slider are his two best pitches, and he tops out at 93 mph at times, even late in the season. He also throws a curveball and changeup. Vasquez is vulnerable when he doesn't keep his pitches down, and he surrendered 21 homers in 2006. Improving his changeup would help him against lefthanders, who batted .288 and slugged .434 against him. While Vasquez has had consistent success as a starter, he may find it difficult to crack a Toledo rotation that should include several of the organization's top pitching prospects.
Nickerson threw 323 pitches in an eight-day span during the College World Series, earning Most Outstanding Player honors as Oregon State defeated Andrew Miller's North Carolina team for the national title. After the Beavers lost their CWS opener, Nickerson beat Georgia while allowing two runs in seven innings and then put them in the final round by defeating Rice with 7 2/3 shutout innings on two days' rest. In the CWS finale, he got a nodecision after allowing just two unearned runs in 6 2/3 frames. Because of that workload and the 137 innings he totaled in the spring, the Tigers kept a close watch on his workload after signing him for $150,000 as a seventh-round pick. Nickerson's competitive makeup and his command overshadow his pure stuff. At his best, he has an 89-91 mph sinker, though he pitched in the mid-80s toward the end of his college season and in his pro debut. His curveball is his No. 2 pitch, and he also throws a cutter and changeup. He knows how to set up hitters and refuses to give in to them. Nickerson likely will reach high Class A at some point in his first pro season.
Larrison pitched well in his first two pro seasons, ranking right behind Jeremy Bonderman as the top prospect in the system. His progression has been mostly disappointing ever since. He has gone 19-32 in the last four seasons, had Tommy John surgery in August 2004 and dropped his last eight decisions and spent time on the disabled list with forearm stiffness in 2006. He did excel after two late-season callups to pitch relief in Triple-A, which may be his calling. As a starter, Larrison never came up with an effective breaking ball, allowing hitters to sit on his sinker and changeup. Both are quality pitches, but they arrive on the same plane and he gets in trouble when his sinker flattens out. Working out of the bullpen, he threw in the mid-90s after showing more average velocity as a starter. Whatever his role, Larrison needs to do a better job of repeating his delivery so he can throw more strikes as well as more quality strikes. In turn, that would help him miss more bats. He hasn't fared well under pressure in the past, failing to live up to first-round draft expectations in college and pressing when he got close to making the Tigers. Detroit thinks highly enough of Larrison that they kept him on the 40-man roster throughout the 2006 season and sent him to the Arizona Fall League afterward. He most likely will open the year back in the Triple-A bullpen, and he has to distinguish himself in an organization that has rafts of righthanded pitching.
Raburn has hit 39 homers in Triple-A during the last seasons, but it's unclear whether he can play well enough defensively to find a role in the major leagues. Signed as a third baseman in 2001, he moved to second base in 2004 and played mostly in left field last year. The Tigers needed an extra bat several times in 2006, but opted for other outfielders such as prospect Brent Clevlen and journeyman Alexis Gomez over Raburn. The younger brother of Devil Rays minor league utilityman Johnny Raburn, Ryan has natural power. He looks to drive the ball at the expense of making contact, so he piles up strikeouts and hits only for a decent average. He's a below-average runner and lost some athleticism when he dislocated a hip in an all-terrain vehicle accident that cost him most of the 2002 season. Raburn has some arm strength but doesn't have a lot of range in the outfield. Still, that's a better fit for him than second base, where he lacks the actions to get the job done. Barring a trade, he may be looking at a third straight year at Triple-A.
The Tigers like Ciriaco's tools. He's an intriguing yet unpolished athlete, with a long frame, strong arm, athletic actions and a high ceiling. Signed for $175,000 at age 17, he went straight from the Dominican Republic to extended spring training and then the Gulf Coast League. He repeated the GCL last season and didn't do as well offensively in his encore. Ciriaco has a quick bat and some strength, but he'll have to make adjustments to handle breaking pitches in order to realize his power potential. He made some modest gains in terms of plate discipline last year, which was encouraging. He's quick but doesn't projects to steal many bases. Defensively, Ciriaco has the range, hands and arm to stay at shortstop despite his size. He was more consistent defensively in his second season in the United States. He'll make the jump to low Class A this year, where he'll be one of the youngest players in the Midwest League.
The Tigers have moved Thomas quickly since signing him as a sixth-round pick in 2005. He spent most of his pro debut in low Class A, and all of his first full season in high Class A. His all-around tools led Detroit to believe Thomas could handle being on the fast track, but he struck out in droves, struggled mightily against lefthanders (.217 with one homer) and didn't hit for much power. The Tigers have tried to improve the load in his swing to give him more pop, but his slashing style may not be conducive to more than average power. Thomas stands out most right now for his pure speed and terrific baserunning instincts, which enabled him to rank fourth in the Florida State League in stolen bases. He's a plus defender in center field with quality range and a strong arm. But the presence of Curtis Granderson and Cameron Maybin in the organization will make it difficult for Thomas to make the Tigers as a center fielder. His bat doesn't profile well on the corners, either. If Maybin goes to Double-A, it's possible that Thomas could repeat high Class A.
Sleeth is one year older and was a Tigers first-round pick one year before Justin Verlander. Yet while Verlander was Baseball America's 2006 Rookie of the Year, Sleeth was posting an 11.90 ERA in high Class A while coming back from Tommy John surgery. The No. 3 overall choice in 2003, Sleeth won an NCAA record-tying 26 straight decisions at Wake Forest and signed for $3.35 million. When he struggled in Double-A in his first pro season, the Tigers tried to modify his crossfire delivery. His stuff wasn't as crisp and he eventually blew out his elbow. In college, Sleeth had a mid-90s fastball to go with two quality breaking pitches. After the surgery that knocked him out for the entire 2005 season, he's still trying to regain that velocity, and his command and secondary pitches are even further behind. His mechanics have been adjusted further and now more closely resemble how he threw at Wake Forest. Sleeth made some progress but was still inconsistent in instructional league, and Detroit will try a different approach in 2007. He'll operate out of the bullpen on shorter pitch counts at the beginning of the year, with a return to the rotation and a promotion to Double-A possible if things go well. The Tigers have kept him on their 40-man roster but he'll have to earn that spot in 2007.