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Porcello first was tabbed as a can't-miss prospect as early as age 15, and he maintained that status for the rest of his high school career. He entered 2007 ranking with Connecticut's Matt Harvey as the top prep arms in the draft class, then clearly separated himself. Porcello went 10-0, 1.18 with 112 strikeouts in 71 innings, leading Seton Hall Prep (West Orange, N.J.) to a 32-1 record, a state championship and a final No. 2 national ranking. Porcello was considered the best high school pitching prospect since Josh Beckett, but signability concerns caused him to drop to the Tigers with the 27th overall pick in the draft. Detroit hadn't planned to exceed MLB's slot recommendations again but decided it couldn't pass on Porcello. He and Harvey had planned to room together at North Carolina, and while Harvey became a Tar Heel, Porcello signed on the Aug. 15 deadline day. The Tigers made the decision easy for him, doling out a club-record $3.58 million bonus as part of a $7 million major league contract, matching Beckett's record guarantee for a high school pitcher. By MLB calculations, Porcello received the richest deal in the 2007 draft. Though No. 1 overall pick David Price got an $8.5 million big league contract, it's so backloaded that it's net present value was $4.8 million--which pales next to the $6.1 million present value of Porcello's pact. Now he'll try to become the second member of his family to reach the majors, following grandfather Sam Dente, who played for the Indians in the 1954 World Series. Porcello could be another Justin Verlander in the making. His clean, repeatable delivery resembles Verlander's, and his power stuff is also reminiscent of the Tigers ace. Porcello's fastball rides up on righthanders and sits at 94-97 mph. He's able to keep that velocity deep into games. He throws two breaking balls, a power slider in the low 80s and a big-breaking curveball at 70-74 mph. He also shows good arm speed on his promising changeup. For a teenager, he has very good feel of multiple pitches and mixes them effectively. He has a tall, athletic body and good mound presence. The Tigers believe very strongly in Porcello's makeup, and he reinforced all the lofty comparisons with a strong showing in instructional league. Porcello's command isn't major league average yet--but he's also 19 and has yet to throw his first official pro pitch. He harnesses his fastball better than his secondary offerings at this point. He tends to throw across his body slightly, and with better extension out front he could add more life to his pitches. The Tigers are looking forward to the day when they can pitch Porcello and Verlander in the same big league rotation, giving them two youngsters with filthy stuff. Porcello didn't sign in time to pitch in the minors last summer, but there's no reason he can't handle an assignment to a full-season club. Low Class A West Michigan would be a logical fist step, though Detroit may send him to high Class A Lakeland so he can pitch in warmer weather. While the Tigers won't rush him, it will be difficult to hold his undeniable talent back. Beckett reached the major leagues at the end of his second minor league season, and Porcello could do the same.
Iorg's father Garth and uncle Dane played in the major leagues, and his brother Eli is an outfielder in the Astros system. Cale hadn't played since hitting .280 as a freshman at Alabama in 2005, taking two years off to go on a Mormon mission to Portugal. Believing he'd blossom into a first-round pick in 2008 if he returned to school, the Tigers drafted him in the sixth round and signed him for $1,497,500. Iorg has the body frame and actions of a natural shortstop. He's an instinctive player with enough power to hit between 15-20 homers per year in the majors. He has a smooth swing and should hit for average as well. He's a plus runner who showed an average to slightly above-average arm during workouts last summer. He has the tools to be an everyday shortstop, but it's unclear how long it will take Iorg to compensate for the long layoff. The Tigers hoped he would gain experience in Hawaii Winter Baseball, but he injured his hamstring in early October. Detroit believes Iorg's bloodlines and good makeup will offset his inexperience. He should begin his first full pro season in low Class A.
Sizemore overcame a slow start last year to reinforce his projection as a sound hitter with good bat control. The most polished position player in Detroit's 2006 draft class, he played second base on West Michigan's Midwest League championship club and saw action at shortstop (where he played during his pro debut) in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .356. Sizemore demonstrated strong makeup by preventing an early slump from disrupting his confidence. He batted .311 in the second half, thanks to a short swing path, impeccable eye and sound approach. He walked more than he struck out, showed good hit-and-run ability, and generally looked like a classic No. 2 hitter. He has average speed and can steal a few bases thanks to good instincts. Sizemore's arm and hands are just adequate at second, and his range is average at best. With his line-drive, gap-to-gap stroke, Sizemore should hit his way to the big leagues, even if he becomes a utility player. He could reach Double-A Erie this year if he continues performing.
Since signing for $5,000 as 16th-round pick in 2005, Hollimon has demonstrated the early-round ability he showed in high school. The Tigers love his makeup, and he has performed at every stop he has made in the system. Hollimon was an all-star in the Double-A Eastern League last year, finished the season at Triple-A Toledo and served as a backup as Team USA won the World Cup in November. Hollimon is a patient hitter whose at-bats often culminate with walks, strikeouts, or extra-base hits. He swings well from both sides of the plate and could have double-digit totals in doubles, triples, homers and steals if he plays everyday in the majors. He's an average runner with decent range as an infielder. Though he's adept at hitting outside fastballs, Hollimon can be pitched to inside. The Tigers lack depth on the left side of the infield, but it doesn't appear that Hollimon has the arm to play at shortstop or third base on an everyday basis. Second base would be his best position, but the Tigers have Placido Polanco under contract through 2009. Hollimon is athletic enough to play in the outfield, but Detroit has no plans to move him there this year in Triple-A.
Bazardo already has pitched for three organizations--and he's only 23. He was a top prospect with the Marlins before being sent to the Mariners in a deal for Ron Villone in 2005. During spring training last year the Tigers acquired him from Seattle in exchange for minor league outfielder Jeff Frazier. Detroit assistant general manager Al Avila was Florida's scouting director when Bazardo signed with the Marlins, so the Tigers had a good history with him. Bazardo had a solid season in the Triple-A rotation and pitched effectively as a starter and reliever for the Tigers. His fastball ranges from 90-94 mph with good sink, and his primary out pitch is a changeup with depth and armside run. His arm action is similar on both pitches and his herky-jerky delivery keeps hitters off balance. He has good command to both sides of the plate and throws a lot of first-pitch strikes. Because he lacks a consistent breaking ball, Bazardo doesn't rack up strikeouts. Without an improved slider, his ceiling likely will be as a middle reliever. He still was able to limit righthanders to a .143 average in the majors with his fastball and changeup alone. He's out of minor league options, so the Tigers will give Bazardo every opportunity to make the Opening Day roster in the bullpen.
What was true of Larish at Arizona State remains true today. There's no consensus among the scouting community about him, yet everyone seems to have an opinion. Scouts are divided on his unorthodox stance, and many wonder whether his home runs will turn into pop-outs once he reaches the big leagues. He keeps his chin turned completely to his right shoulder and both eyes focused on the pitcher, with his hands remaining still until the ball is on its way to the plate. His style worked just fine in Double-A, as he led the Eastern League with 28 homers and 101 RBIs and was Detroit's minor league player of the year in 2007. Larish has tremendous raw power and can hit the ball out from foul pole to foul pole. He patiently waits for a pitch to hammer and won't give in if pitchers don't challenge him, as evidenced by his 87 walks last season. He has soft hands at first base and a good arm for the position. Though he's selective, Larish won't alter his approach with two strikes, leading to whiffs. He's susceptible to good breaking pitches and gets too pull-happy. The key for him is swinging hard without overswinging. He has below-average speed. There's not a lot of projection involved with Larish. He simply has to keep hitting. Detroit's new everyday first baseman, Carlos Guillen, is signed through 2011, so Larish's path to becoming a big league regular is blocked for now. Larish also played third base and left field in college, but the Tigers will keep him at first in Triple-A.
Joyce helped West Michigan win the Midwest League title in 2006, then skipped a level and helped Erie make the Eastern League playoffs. He was pulling off the ball early in the season and batted .193 during the first two months. But then he settled back into his overachieving ways, started allowing the ball to travel deeper into the zone and batted .293 with 13 homers over the final three months. Joyce has a smooth left-handed stroke and a knack for driving in runs. He generally hits gap-to-gap but possesses some home run power and has the potential to top last year's career high of 17. A well-above-average right fielder, he gets great jumps and has a strong, accurate arm. He can play an adequate center field if needed. Like many of the Tigers' top position prospects, Joyce needs to cut down his strikeouts. He chases low changeups from righthanders. He doesn't use his average speed as well on the bases as he does in the outfield. Joyce has moved swiftly since signing in 2005, and he'll move up to Triple-A this season. If all goes well, he'll challenge for a big league job in 2009.
Others may have received more acclaim, but no one in the Tigers' 2007 draft class made a greater immediate impact than Worth. He signed for $378,000 as a second-round pick, became the starting shortstop in high Class A and finished his pro debut with a late promotion to Double-A. He picked up even more professional experience in Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he hit .292. Worth is a consistent, confident defender with reliable hands. A natural shortstop, he has an average arm that plays up because of his quick release and above-average range. He's not flashy but makes all the routine plays. A gap hitter, he has a quick bat and a good sense of the strike zone. Worth has limited power, projecting to hit some doubles but not many homers. Like many young hitters, he's susceptible to good breaking balls. His speed is maybe a tick below average, though he looks faster on the bases because of good instincts. His ceiling is comparable to that of Jason Bartlett, as a smooth-fielding shortstop who bats in the bottom third of an American League lineup and hits around .270 without much power. Worth will return to Lakeland or Erie to begin 2008, and his polished skills could enable him to move quickly in a system that lacks depth at shortstop in the upper minors.
Cruceta already spent time in four organizations when he signed a major league contract in November with the Tigers, who believe he's ready to reach his high ceiling. He possesses above-average stuff but has performed inconsistently throughout his career because of command problems. He tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance while in Triple-A with the Rangers in 2007, and the 50-game suspension didn't help his development. Cruceta throws a sinking fastball that sits in the low 90s and tops out at 94 mph. He has featured two secondary pitches since moving to the bullpen full-time, a sharp splitter that he usually throws out of the zone and a 12-to-6 curveball that should become at least an average pitch. Cruceta has a reputation for throwing hittable pitches up in the zone, but giving up two homers in 66 innings last year suggests that he has made adjustments. His arm slot wandered in the past and his command is still erratic at times. He appears to have little confidence in his slider and changeup and has removed those pitches from his repertoire. It would be useful to bring one of them back so he could break his pattern of two-strike splitters. Detroit signed Cruceta with the idea that he'd pitch for their big league club in 2008. He's out of minor league options, so he has to clear waivers before he could be farmed out. If he throws enough strikes, he could become a reliable middle reliever.
The Tigers have rebuilt their franchise on power pitching, and Hamilton, their second pick in the 2007 draft fits the prototype. Detroit officials liked what they saw in his athleticism, durability and projectability, and signed him for $540,000 with the 60th overall pick, compensation for losing free agent Jamie Walker to Baltimore. Hamilton isn't as polished as 2007 first-rounder Rick Porcello but has the better curveball of the two. It's a power downer, and he throws it at 80-83 mph with hard, late, three-quarters break. He has shown an ability to repeat the curve and throw it for strikes, which bodes well for his long-term development. His fastball is an average pitch now, sitting in the low 90s, and more velocity should come. He has a strong, lean frame and clean mechanics. His changeup is promising but inconsistent, and his command is still below-average. The Tigers will take their time with Hamilton, but still may send him to low Class A as a 19-year-old.
After making the Tigers' 2006 Opening Day roster after an injury to Todd Jones, Tata began last year on the disabled list in Triple-A with shoulder inflammation. He joined Detroit's rotation in late July, when Kenny Rogers went on the disabled list, and earned his first big league win at Oakland. But Tata wasn't as sharp in his second start and a quick exit from the third sent him back to the minors. Still, there's hope for him to reach his ceiling as a fifth starter or long reliever. His best pitch is a natural cut fastball that runs from 89-93 mph, which he could have success with out of the bullpen. He throws it frequently, but predictability wouldn't be a problem if he commanded it better. He has incorporated a two-seam fastball, which he throws in the high 80s with some armside run, and a slurvy breaking ball at 79-80 mph. The breaking ball has good depth when Tata is throwing well but is average at best on most days. The Tigers didn't bring Tata back as a September callup last year, casting some doubt on his chances to make the club this spring.
Thomas' tools began to take shape during a productive 2007 season in Double-A. He demonstrated better plate discipline and made more contact than he had the year before. He's a smart, determined hitter from the left side who uses the whole field. He still strikes out a little too much because he doesn't handle breaking balls well from either lefties or righties. Thomas probably won't be a double-digit home run hitter but has some power to the gaps and his pull side. He runs very well but must do a better job of picking his spots to steal after getting caught 11 times in 29 tries last season. Thomas takes good angles and routes and can play all three outfield positions with a slightly above-average arm. At this point, his ceiling appears to be as a platoon outfielder. He would need to cut down on his strikeouts and perform better against lefthanders in order to be an everyday player in the major leagues, but his defensive ability and baseball instincts could make him a valuable extra outfielder for the Tigers. Brett Clevlen and Matt Joyce also will be pushing for big league jobs, so Thomas has his work cut out for him. He'll likely begin this season in Triple-A.
The Tigers faced scrutiny from the commissioner's office after signing some of their top draft picks for well above MLB's slot recommendations. But if Crosby becomes a top-of-the-rotation starter--and they believe he will--it will be well worth the trouble. Detroit ranked him among the draft's top 25 players, so it was happy to sign him for $748,500 when he dropped into the fifth round because of a high price tag. However, the Tigers will have to wait for returns on their investment, as Crosby required Tommy John surgery after coming down with an elbow injury in instructional league. There aren't many 6-foot-5 lefthanders who reach 95 mph as high school seniors like Crosby did. He's raw, but the Tigers love his athleticism. He was an all-state wide receiver in football and played center field before moving to the mound full-time in 2006. His delivery has some deception, and the ball jumps on hitters because of his long limbs. He has broad shoulders, a good body and a high three-quarters arm slot. While the success rate for Tommy John surgery is strong, it's not a given that his stuff will come back. When healthy, he hasn't shown good command with his tailing fastball. He throws an inconsistent, slurvy breaking ball and has yet to develop a changeup. His mechanics need polish, too, but that's common among young pitchers from cold-weather states. The Tigers believe Crosby has great potential, which is one reason they'll be cautious with him coming back from his injury. If he throws in instructional league in 2008, he'll be ahead of schedule.
Ramirez was struggling at third base and had played more than 70 games only once since signing with the Tigers in 2003. Last year, the Tigers decided to solve both issues by moving him to left field, where his defense would be less of an issue and he wouldn't suffer as much wear and tear. It worked, as Ramirez wasn't as much of a liability with the glove and nearly established a new career high with 122 games. He has plus power and a high ceiling, but he must improve his pitch recognition in order to have consistent success at the upper levels. Because of a tendency to chase breaking pitches, he has more strikeouts than games played in his career. Still, he has a good work ethic, which bodes well for his chances to make the necessary adjustments. Ramirez possesses plus speed but had difficulty judging balls in the outfield because of inexperience. He has a strong throwing arm that has bounced back from labrum surgery that cost him the entire 2004 season. His athleticism should enable him to be a close-to-average defender once he has more repetitions in the outfield. Ramirez has an intriguing blend of power and speed but lacks polish. He seems likely to return to Double-A for 2008.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland has often said that he would like to have more speed on his team, and Guzman is among the fastest players in the game. The Tigers are eager to see what Guzman can do after acquiring him from the Rangers in exchange for first baseman Chris Shelton during the Winter Meetings. Guzman is an older prospect, but he still has plus-plus speed and very good baserunning instincts. He stole 90 bases during the 2003 season, when he played for three San Diego affiliates, and led the Pacific Coast League in 2007 with 56. Guzman has become a free swinger over time and must make more consistent contact in order to stick in the big leagues. He has a quick bat and some doubles power to the pull field but isn't strong or physical. His bunting ability is only average. He has good range in the outfield but his arm is erratic. He fits best in center field and profiles as a useful bench player. Guzman could force his way into the competition for a reserve role in Detroit if he has an impressive spring.
Clevlen's performance fell decidedly short of his tools again last year, the continuation of a disappointing trend. His shortcomings are almost exclusively at the plate, as Detroit manager Jim Leyland has said Clevlen might be the best outfield defender in the organization. Clevlen has tremendous raw power but has struggled with plate discipline and pitch recognition for much of his pro career. He has good speed but doesn't steal many bases. He can play all three outfield positions, and his strong, accurate arm plays well in right. Clevlen's window to earn playing time may have reopened a bit after top prospect Cameron Maybin went to the Marlins in the Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis deal, as his defense could make him a valuable reserve. Unless he learns to make more consistent contact, a reserve role is his ceiling.
The Tigers appear to have found a late-round gem in Gerbe, who had a local-boy-does-good season. He grew up in suburban Detroit, was a senior sign from Michigan State in 2006 and excelled while pitching for the club's lone in-state affiliate last year. Shoulder tendinitis had limited him to eight starts in his pro debut, but he was quickly noticed. Gerbe commands a sinking fastball that tops out around 94 mph and features plus movement. He gets a lot of ground balls and also can miss bats with his slider. His changeup has also improved. He's a competitor who showed tremendous makeup by pitching well in two spot starts at Double-A Erie and was one of the most reliable pitchers on a West Michigan team that won the Midwest League title. Gerbe spent some time on the disabled list with more shoulder inflammation, but the Tigers believe they have resolved the issue. They were confident enough in his health that they sent him to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, where he mixed in four scoreless outings with five putrid ones, posting a 9.42 ERA overall. He projects as a middle reliever and could return to Double-A in that role this year.
After an attention-getting performance in the 2006 Arizona Fall League and a steady start to his 2007 season in Triple-A, Vasquez made his big league debut in 2007. He was called up to make three starts and pitched twice out of the bullpen in September. Detroit lost each time he started, and he was hit especially hard in his debut at Minnesota, but Vasquez still could develop into a fifth starter. His biggest problem was that he left too many pitches up and allowed seven home runs in just 17 innings pitched. The quality of his breaking balls and location on all his pitches must improve in order for Vasquez to succeed in the majors. He's not a hard thrower, which makes command that much more important. His fastball is consistently at 90 mph, and he throws a sinker in the upper 80s. Both are good pitches when Vasquez keeps them on the corners, but they become hittable when he doesn't locate. His low-to-mid 80s slider has some potential, and he mixes in a slower curveball and a changeup. His pitches have some late movement in on righthanders. He'll start the season in Triple-A unless he has an overwhelming spring.
Giarratano ranked No. 8 on this list as recently as two years ago, but injuries have sidetracked his promising career. Giarratano was limited to 67 games in 2006 because of a wrist injury and surgery on a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. His rehabilitation from the knee injury went well and Giarratano reported early to spring training. Even before the Grapefruit League opened, though, he felt pain in his throwing shoulder. He had surgery to repair a torn labrum soon afterward and missed the entire 2007 season. At this point, it's impossible to know how much the shoulder and knee injuries will compromise a good throwing arm and above-average defensive tools. Giarratano had projected as an everyday shortstop because of his brilliant glove and plus range, and might have been a candidate to start for the Tigers in 2008 if he had remained healthy. He makes good contact from both sides of the plate and runs well enough to turn some doubles into triples and steal some occasional bases. He's expected to participate in spring training this season, a good sign. More than anything else, he needs to stay healthy.
Dlugach impressed some of the Tigers' top officials--including manager Jim Leyland--with his smooth, confident play at shortstop last spring. He also acquitted himself well at the plate, with a .316 average during his first big league camp. He got off to a strong start in Double-A, hitting .304 in his first 20 games, and appeared on his way to a breakthrough season. On May 2, however, he jarred his shoulder while diving for a ball. He attempted to play in two games after that, but the pain persisted. He had rotator-cuff surgery in August, and Detroit doesn't expect him to be quite ready when the 2008 season begins. Dlugach's glove looked big league-ready last spring, and he showed above-average arm strength before the injury. There were some questions about his bat before the injury, and the missed time certainly won't help his development as a hitter. He has good bat speed but doesn't project to hit for much power. His defensive ability could allow him to play every day on a team with good production at other key positions. His 2008 role hinges on his health, but with Edgar Renteria's arrival, Dlugach has time to recooperate after his injury.
Furbush was a fine NCAA Division III pitcher but relatively unknown, then had two strong seasons in the Cape Cod League, winning pitcher-of-the-year honors in 2006. He transferred to Louisiana State as a junior, but a modest 3-9, 4.95 season dropped him out of first-round consideration. A hard-throwing lefthander, he rekindled memories of his outstanding Cape League effort with his strong pro debut. Signed for $153,000 as a fourth-rounder, he seemed to regain his velocity after the draft, touching 92 mph while helping West Michigan to a second consecutive league title. His fastball sits at 89-90 mph, and his slurvy breaking ball is more advanced than those of many lefthanders his age. His changeup is still in the developmental stages. Furbush has a tall, lean frame and showed good poise in low Class A, especially considering his lack of pro experience. He has sound mechanics, good balance in his windup and a nice angle to his three-quarters release. Furbush has major league average command, and, if he gains strength, he could move quickly through the system. He'll open 2008 with one of the Tigers' Class A affiliates.
It took about one calendar year, but it seems Nickerson has finally recovered from his 323-pitch marathon at the 2006 College World Series, where he was the most outstanding player after leading Oregon State to the national championship. He returned to form near the middle of his first full season as a pro, and his ERA dropped from 5.80 before the all-star break to 2.95 thereafter. His overhand curveball had been slow and loopy during the first half, but it became sharper down the stretch. He battled back stiffness at times but was a vital part of West Michigan's championship run. Nickerson showed plus command with his fastball and spotted it at the knees and on the corners at 89-90 mph. Terrific control enabled Nickerson to be efficient with his pitches, and he finished as the team leader with 151 innings. When he misses with a pitch, he tends to do so down in the strike zone, which limits home runs and big innings. Great makeup and sound mechanics should aid his development, but Nickerson is a back-of-the-rotation starter at best as he lacks a true plus pitch. He'll move up to high Class A this year.
The Tigers wanted Laster to repeat low Class A last year so he could play more often. The plan worked to perfection, as he had by far his most consistent pro season. He has a long uppercut swing that continues to result in high strikeout totals, but last year he produced 16 homers while playing his home games in a pitcher-friendly park. He followed that with an impressive showing in Hawaii Winter Baseball, where he ranked among the league leaders with six homers. He still didn't control the strike zone in Hawaii, with a 36-3 K-BB ratio in 82 at-bats. The ball jumps off Laster's bat, and he has tremendous raw power to all fields. He's adequate in the outfield, with average speed and arm strength. Even after the breakthrough season, Laster has plenty of untapped potential and must continue improving his pitch recognition. The Tigers could have something special with Laster if he continues developing at this rate, and his ceiling and early-career development path resembles that of Marcus Thames. Laster will start the season in high Class A with the chance for a midseason promotion.
Boesch wasn't as impressive over his first full season as he had been in his 2006 pro debut, but he showed flashes of his potential as a run-producing outfielder. He has long arms and a tall frame to help leverage a promising-yet-inconsistent line-drive swing. He has shown power to his pull side, thanks to good bat speed, but his swing does get long from time to time. Boesch started taking pitches the other way late in the year and needs to do so more often. He runs into trouble when he extends his arms too much and tries to pull outside pitches. Boesch has average speed and arm strength. He isn't graceful in right field, though he does hustle after balls. Boesch currently projects as a reserve because he lacks the plus power expected from a corner outfielder. He'll play in high Class A this year.
The Tigers dealt struggling outfielder Craig Monroe to the Cubs in August, and received Rapada as the player to be named. The sidearming Rapada profiles as a lefty specialist and struggled to retire righthanders with any regularity during a brief callup to Detroit at the end of the season. He has a quirky, scissors-like delivery, which hinders his ability to hold runners but also adds deception. Keeping hitters off balance is key for Rapada, who sits in the upper 80s with his fastball, which has some cutting action. His fastball command is average at best, but it gets on hitters quickly. He has had some success throwing his heater up in the zone. Rapada throws a sweeping 76-79 mph slider and he's in the early stages of developing a changeup. He'll start the season in Triple-A, but a return to the majors during the year is very possible.
Much like Jeff Gerbe and since-traded Burke Badenhop--two fellow pitchers from the Midwest--Below has moved quickly to prospect status. The Tigers named him their minor league pitcher of the year in 2007, after he led the Midwest League with 13 wins and 160 strikeouts. Below's fastball averages 89-90 mph and tops out in the low 90s with armside run. It seems to jump on hitters and force late swings. When he's on, righthanders foul high fastballs toward the first-base side. His arching curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch that he throws at two different speeds. His changeup remains a work in progress. A mechanically sound pitcher, Below has shown the durability to take a regular turn in the rotation and last deep into games. He works quickly and controls the running game, thanks to a good pickoff move and athleticism on the mound. Even though he didn't turn 22 until after the season, he seemed comfortable in his role as a staff ace. He showed great makeup, stamina, and work ethic, and the result was a 2.31 ERA in the second half. Below projects as a back-end starter and should begin this season in high Class A.
For an organization with little catching depth, Skelton has been a revelation--and a lefthanded-hitting one at that. Skelton was rarely mentioned among the Tigers' top prospects during his first three years in the system, but he put together a 2007 season that was too impressive to ignore. With a pure swing, sound approach and good eye, he finished fifth in the Midwest League batting race at .309. He hasn't hit for much power but takes pitches the other way and gets the most out of his below-average speed. The Tigers aren't sure about Skelton's defensive projection, and he did play briefly at first base last year. Given the catching shortage across baseball today, though, Skelton will likely have every chance to continue at the position. He has a slender build, which raises questions about his durability. His arm strength is average at best, but his throws have good backspin and he erased 43 percent of basestealers last year. He needs to improve on blocking balls, though he has soft hands and calls a good game. Skelton is a smart player whose physical tools should improve over time. He'll advance to high Class A in 2008.
Strieby didn't sign with the Dodgers when they drafted him in the 29th round out of Edmonds (Wash.) CC in 2004, and a year later he transferred to Kentucky. It turned into a wise move, as he was the Southeastern Conference player of the year in 2006, leading Kentucky to a surprise regular season title before the Tigers made him a fourth-round pick. He has continued his winning ways as a pro and was one of the most consistent players on a West Michigan team that won the 2007 Midwest League championship. Strieby has a polished, sound approach that enables him to work the count and take walks. He's rarely fooled by breaking pitches, a rare trait among power hitters in the low minors, and his actions are fluid for a player his size. He stays on the ball very well, but at 6-foot-5, his lengthy swing probably will prevent him from hitting for a high average. Strieby has plus raw power and hit 16 home runs last year in a pitcher-friendly park. He grew accustomed to swinging with a wood bat during his junior college career, which seems to have helped his adjustment to pro ball. He has good baseball instincts but is a below-average runner. He'll likely continue moving one level at a time and should begin this season in high Class A Lakeland.
He may be short in stature, but Dolsi has a big arm and projects as a late-inning reliever if his command and one of his offspeed pitches can become at least average. He spent almost all of the 2007 season in high Class A, where he was an effective closer for a last-place Lakeland team that didn't give him many save opportunities. Dolsi throws a four-seam fastball from 92-96 mph with late life in the zone, but his secondary pitches are iffy. His 85-87 mph slider lacks depth. He tends to get under it, making the pitch spin more than break. He's still working on his changeup, which he throws around 84 mph with good arm speed. Dolsi has below-average command but comes at hitters with a quick, three-quarters delivery. He may lack size and polish, but his quick arm and plus fastball give the Tigers something to work with. He's headed to Double-A for 2008.
Once a promising starter, Larrison never reached his middle-of-the-rotation ceiling because of lack of command and Tommy John surgery in 2004. Moved to the bullpen in 2006, he has taken to the role. Larrison became a minor league free agent after the season but elected to re-sign with Detroit. He has very good life on his sinking fastball, which sits in the low 90s and touches 94 mph. He allowed just two home runs last season and had an excellent 3.0 groundout/airout ratio, thanks to the movement of his heater. He relies on the power sinker to the exclusion of his other pitches, but he's effective when he changes speeds. Larrison could re-emerge as a prospect, but only if he improves his command and refines his mechanics. He's still walking and hitting too many batters. He also uncorked a Toledo-high 12 wild pitches last year. His release point is very inconsistent, especially with his slider, which he rarely throws. Larrison ended the year on the disabled list with a sore shoulder but should be ready for spring training.
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