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Universally regarded as the top high school pitcher in the 2007 draft, Porcello slid to the Tigers at No. 27 overall because of signability concerns. A strong student, Porcello committed to North Carolina but agreed to terms with Detroit shortly before the Aug. 15 deadline. He signed a $7 million major league contract, matching Josh Beckett's record for guaranteed money for a high school pitcher and including a club record $3.58 million bonus. Porcello is rapidly justifying the investment. Just one year removed from a decorated career at Seton Hall Prep in West Orange, N.J., he led the high Class A Florida State League with a 2.66 ERA in his 2008 pro debut. The only hitch came in August, when he missed two weeks with tonsillitis. His grandfather Sam Dente played for the Indians in the 1954 World Series. Porcello has all the stuff to be a frontline pitcher in the major leagues. His four-seam fastball has reached 97 mph, but his best pitch is a heavy two-seamer that averages 92 mph and ranges up to 95, with boring action in on the fists of righthanders. With his sinker and tall, athletic body, Porcello is reminiscent of Roy Halladay. Like the Blue Jays ace, Porcello often keeps the ball on the edges of the plate and down in the zone, and he gets a lot of groundouts. Though he has little pro experience, his fastball command is already better than average. He also has shown good feel for his changeup and can throw it in any count. At the Tigers' suggestion, he shelved his slider last season in order to focus on his curveball, and the results were encouraging. Detroit placed him on a 75-pitch limit for each start, and Porcello easily adapted by enticing more swings early in the count. He had an impressive stay in instructional league, a tribute to his strength and endurance. Porcello has earned consistent praise from club officials and teammates alike for his work ethic, humility and ability to assimilate instruction. He's poised beyond his years and has strong, competitive makeup. Porcello overthrew his 12-to-6 curve at times and therefore struggled to command it. During instructional league, though, he demonstrated an ability to throw his curve for strikes. He should strike out more hitters once the curve is fully developed, but it's difficult to argue with the success he had while pitching to contact. He got nearly 2.5 groundball outs for every air out, an impressive ratio. At the time Porcello was drafted, many said he was the best high school pitcher since Josh Beckett. After one full season, it's hard to argue with that opinion. Porcello should start 2009 at Double-A Erie, and it's possible--like Beckett in 2001--that he'll reach the majors before the end of his second full pro season. The Tigers rotation was a major weakness in 2008, and their emphasis on winning now could push Porcello to Detroit by midseason. By all indications, he'll have an important role with the big league staff by 2010 at the latest.
Perry was a shortstop when he enrolled at Arizona, but left as one of the hardest throwers in the amateur ranks. He has relatively little experience as a pitcher--and missed half his sophomore season because of injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident--but his electrifying arm sets him apart. He reached 100 mph on radar guns before and after signing with the Tigers for $1.48 million as the 21st overall pick in the 2008 draft. Perry is a tall, imposing figure on the mound, with tremendous arm strength and dominant stuff. His four-seam fastball sits at 97-98 mph. He recently has developed a mid-90s two-seamer with sink and can put hitters away with a power slider in the high-80s. Loose, easy arm action adds to his appeal. He has strong makeup and wants the ball. Inconsistent command prevented Perry from succeeding as a starter at Arizona, and in his pro debut he tended to throw the ball over the heart of the plate when he fell behind in the count. His delivery is clean, but his front shoulder opens early on occasion. He has a changeup in his repertoire, though it's not fully developed. The Tigers plan to let Perry continue developing as a reliever, and he projects as a possible closer. Given the inconsistency of the Detroit bullpen last season, he could reach the majors in 2009.
One of Detroit's above-slot signings in the 2007 draft, Iorg missed two college seasons while serving on a Mormon mission to Portugal. Iorg's tools and pedigree--his father Garth and uncle Dane played in the big leagues--made the Tigers comfortable signing him out of the sixth round for $1,497,500. Scouts like Iorg's physicality and explosiveness. His batting stance has been compared to that of a young Nomar Garciaparra, and he has the raw power to hit 15-20 homers annually. His range and arm strength are average or a tick above, and they play up because of his good instincts. His speed is solid-average. at times, the two-year layoff is evident in Iorg's play. Despite a relatively compact swing, Iorg had 111 strikeouts at high Class A Lakeland, a sign that his pitch recognition must improve. His intense makeup sometimes works against him. Iorg lost developmental time with a strained throwing shoulder in 2008 but made up at-bats in instructional league. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski already has predicted that Iorg will become an all-star, and he looks like the club's best homegrown infielder since Travis Fryman. Iorg will move up to Double-A and needs more minor league seasoning, though his raw ability could push him to Detroit by season's end.
An all-state pitcher and wide receiver at his suburban Chicago high school, Crosby has seen his pro career start slowly. It took the commissioner's office two weeks to grant final approval for his above-slot $748,500 bonus in the 2007 draft. Then he hurt his elbow in instructional league and missed virtually all of 2008 while rehabilitating from the Tommy John surgery. When he appeared in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League less than nine months after the operation, he displayed first-round stuff. Crosby has a strong, lean body and electric left arm. His fastball averages 94 mph and climbs as high as 97 mph with late life. At this point, he has better command of his four-seamer than his two-seamer. He has improved the arm action on his 84-85 mph circle changeup. His delivery offers some deception. The mere fact that he pitched at all in 2008 speaks to his athleticism. Crosby lacks polish because he has so little pro experience. He throws a curveball and sweepy, hard slider that at times he throws as hard as 87 mph, but they're mediocre, and the distinction between them is blurred. He must learn to repeat his pitches more consistently. The Tigers love Crosby's competitive fire and believe he could develop into a quality big league starter. He'll open with one of their Class A affiliates in 2009.
Larish is a polarizing player among scouts. He has made steady progress through the system, hitting 67 homers in his three full minor league seasons, and acquitted himself well in his big league debut. Larish's greatest asset is raw power to the pull field. Though there's virtually no load with his hands, he can crush fastballs over the inner half of the plate. He's not a threat to steal but has decent speed and good awareness on the bases. He's already an average defender at first base and he could become a plus defender in time. Larish tends to wait for a perfect pitch to hit, which can work against him. He finds himself in a lot of 0-2 counts, and better pitchers were able to exploit his passivity. His detractors don't like his unorthodox batting stance, in which he turns his head to face the pitcher and keeps his hands still prior to the pitch. He has yet to show that he can hit quality strikes over the outside corner, and he struggles with breaking pitches. With Miguel Cabrera entrenched as their long-term first baseman, the Tigers had Larish play third base (which he played as a freshman at Arizona State) in the Arizona Fall League. His rust showed, but his work ethic gives him the chance to become decent at the spot. Barring an injury or trade, Larish likely will start 2009 in Triple-A.
Originally signed as a third baseman, Ramirez struggled with his defense and his health before moving to left field in 2007. His intriguing tools finally translated into consistent success in 2008, as he enjoyed the best season of his career. Ramirez has a strong, muscular frame. His calling card is his combination of extra-base power and above-average speed, rare for a corner outfielder his size. He has a relatively upright batting stance, with a controlled stride and smooth righthanded swing. His arm strength is a plus tool. He's a confident player who carries himself well on the field. For all Ramirez's offensive ability, his inability to recognize breaking pitches has slowed his progress and explained a poor showing in his brief stay at Triple-A Toledo. His play in left field has improved, though he's still a subpar and, at times, disinterested defender. He doesn't have the instincts of a natural outfielder and probably won't be able to play center or right field. If he learns how to hit breaking balls, Ramirez could be an everyday player and possibly a 20-20 man in the big leagues. But if he does not make more regular contact, it will be difficult for the Tigers to overlook his defensive limitations.
Sizemore's strong performance in the 2007 Arizona Fall League, where he batted .356 and played solidly at shortstop, seemingly put him in line for a breakthrough season in 2008. However, he played in just 53 games before breaking the hamate bone in his left wrist in early June. Sizemore has a short, compact swing that enables him to hit singles and doubles and avoid strikeouts. He's a grinder who draws comparisons to Placido Polanco, whom he ultimately may succeed as Detroit's second baseman. Much like Polanco, he has a knack for getting the barrel of his bat on the ball. He recognizes pitches well and rarely has bad at-bats. He's an average runner who has shown the instincts for stealing bases in the lower minors. Moved to second base in 2007, Sizemore is still just a so-so defender. His arm is adequate and his range is nothing special. He's willing to work and is making progress, however. Near the end of spring training last year, the Tigers started him on a program to improve his lateral movement and first-step quickness. His line-drive stroke isn't conducive to hitting home runs. Sizemore should be ready for spring training, but lingering tenderness in the wrist has been a concern. As long as he does not suffer any more setbacks, he should begin 2009 in Double-A.
Satterwhite had first-round ability but dropped to the second round of the 2008 draft when he struggled as a starter at Ole Miss. The Tigers, who signed him for $606,000, like his power arm better out of the bullpen anyway. He has had more success in that role and closed for Team USA in the summer of 2007. Satterwhite's four-seam fastball is regularly clocked at 94-97 mph and has good movement. His arms and legs are so long that it seems as if he's on top of the hitter by the time he releases the ball. There's deception in his high three-quarters delivery. He has a lean, athletic build. Satterwhite's secondary pitches currently rate as below-average. His slider climbs up to 84-86 mph and has downward tilt, but he doesn't command it well. He doesn't locate his changeup well either. An inability to repeat his delivery is the main reason for his inconsistency, but he made improvements in that regard during instructional league. Satterwhite has the stuff to set up or close and seems likely to continue developing as a reliever. He'll probably start his first full season at Double-A. If he makes progress with his consistency, he could end the year in Detroit.
A torn meniscus in his right knee cost Ryan three months in 2007, and he batted .182 in Hawaii Winter Baseball. His big arm and questionable bat prompted a meeting with team officials last spring, when they discussed the possibility of moving him to the mound. He decided to stick with catching, had his best season as a pro and impressed during a September callup. Incorporating a toe tap as a timing mechanism and repositioning his hands resulted in a smoother, more direct swing that unleashed Ryan's prodigious raw power. He's still known for his plus-plus arm and threw out 46 percent of big league basestealers. As a tall catcher, Ryan has trouble blocking some balls in the dirt. In his 15 games in the majors, Detroit pitchers threw 14 wild pitches. His transfer on throws is also a little slower than it could be. Offensively, he looked vulnerable to the sharper breaking balls he saw in the big leagues. With improved receiving skills, Ryan could become the Tigers' everyday catcher fairly quickly. It's still possible that he could return to Triple-A for more development.
Jacobson has a tremendous arm and great pitcher's body, but he fell to the fourth round of the 2008 draft because of his uneven performance in college. He started games in each of his three seasons at Vanderbilt but finished each year in the bullpen. Signed for $230,000, Jacobson has had his greatest success as a reliever and his mentality is best suited for that role. His best pitch is his fastball, which sat at 88-91 mph when he started but jumps to 92-95 mph when he works out of the bullpen. He did a better job of commanding his heater in his pro debut than he had in college, which led to a successful summer. Jacobson's over-the-top release point creates good downward action on his fastball, and hitters have difficulty elevating it. An exaggerated leg kick and herky-jerky delivery add some deception. He had thrown a slider but had trouble locating it in the strike zone, so Tigers pitching coordinator Jon Matlack helped him install a curveball during instructional league. Jacobson came up with a hard, 12-to-6 breaker that fits his high arm slot better. His changeup is promising but still has a ways to go, and he probably won't use it much as a reliever. He has the power stuff to profile as a setup man. Jacobson will move up to high Class A in 2009 and could move quickly.
Fien is on the cusp of the big leagues, and he has taken an uncommon route to get there. In 2003, he was in the starting rotation at William Penn, an NAIA university in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Then he returned to his native California, pitched for Golden West JC as a sophomore, and transferred to Cal Poly for his junior and senior seasons. The Tigers made him a 20th-round draft pick in 2006, and he has pounded the strike zone ever since. Fien rarely walks batters and is fearless on the mound. He made two scoreless appearances in big league springtraining games last year, though he hadn't pitched above low Class A at the time. Fien's signature pitch is a sinker that he throws at 91-92 mph. He uses the sinker both to get ahead of hitters and as an out pitch. As long as he gets good movement with it down in the zone, he's fine. The rest of his repertoire doesn't worry hitters, as he has a slurvy 82-84 mph breaking ball and a below-average changeup. Fien began 2008 as the closer at Double-A, earned a promotion to Triple-A and finished with a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. This spring, he'll compete for a spot in Detroit's bullpen.
In a span of three years, Strieby has leaped from Edmonds (Wash.) CC to status as one of the top position players in the Detroit system. The 2006 Southeastern Conference player of the year in his lone season at Kentucky, he blossomed at high Class A in 2008. He led the pitcher-friendly Florida State League with 29 homers and 94 RBIs despite missing the final 19 games because of a broken hamate bone in his left hand. The Tigers have been impressed with Strieby's ability to absorb information, and his breakthrough year illustrated why. He made some in-season adjustments to his hitting approach, including a more open stance that improved his pitch recognition. He also learned how to drive with his legs and leverage the ball. The result was a 19-homer barrage in 39 games after July 1. Strieby has a tall frame and strong build, with as much raw power to all fields as any player in the system. His swing is more fluid than that of most power hitters, though he still struggles with some breaking pitches. His value lies mostly in his bat, as he's just an adequate defender at first base and a below-average runner. Strieby should be healthy in time to participate in spring training, though hamate injuries have been known to sap a hitter's power for a while. He'll open the season in Double-A.
The Colonial Athletic Association player of the year in 2005, when the Tigers drafted him in the 14th round, Wells spent nearly all of his first three pro seasons playing for Rookie-level or short-season affiliates. But he blossomed into a legitimate prospect last year, thanks to his above-average tools and blue-collar work ethic. He and Mariners outfielder Greg Halman were the only players to amass at least 25 homers and steals in the minors, and Detroit rewarded Wells with a spot on its 40-man roster in November. If he's able to shorten his swing in two-strike situations, he could be a five-tool player. Wells has tremendous raw power, which he showed off in the regular season and in the Arizona Fall League afterward. He has a strong, stocky build and deceptively good speed. As a pitcher at Towson, he displayed a low-90s fastball, and he has a well above-average throwing arm for an outfielder. Wells has very good outfield instincts and can play all three positions well. He also played some first base in the AFL, which should expand his opportunities to reach the majors. Wells crushes lefthanded pitching, which should enable him to reach the majors as a platoon outfielder at the very least. If he can find a way to put the ball in play against the toughest righthanders, the Tigers may have an everyday player on their hands. He's ready for a move to Triple-A.
Darrow has one of the most intriguing personal stories of any player in the system, in addition to one of the best fastballs. He began his collegiate athletic career as a wrestler--in the 125-pound weight class--at Labette (Kan.) CC. He separated a growth plate in his throwing elbow as a freshman, which halted his wrestling season but didn't prevent him from playing baseball that spring. Darrow ultimately gave up wrestling, and head baseball coach Aaron Keal moved him from the outfield to the mound. He adopted a sidearm style after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2004 and blossomed as a prospect last year. He jumped from low Class A to Double- A without missing a beat, and he ended 2008 by pitching well in the Arizona Fall League. Darrow's low arm slot has made his short stature almost irrelevant, especially because his fastball reaches 94 mph with plus sink. Righthanders struggle to lift his pitches and he allowed only one home run in 62 innings last year. His sweeping slider has promise as an out pitch, though he needs to command it better. He throws an occasional changeup, but it's not a big part of his repertoire and he needs a better one to combat lefties. He has good control and a resilient arm. He has a lively personality, aggressive makeup and loves to compete. Darrow could arrive in the majors as a middle reliever sometime this year.
Prior to last season, Dolsi was a hard-throwing 25-year-old who had one inning of experience above Class A. He pitched well in big league camp and earned his first callup in early May, after injuries and inconsistencies created an opening in Detroit's bullpen. He adapted to the majors quickly, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland called upon him to protect leads in the seventh and eighth innings. But then Dolsi struggled in late June and through most of July, precipitating a return to the minors. He experienced some fatigue in his throwing shoulder but was never placed on the disabled list. Dolsi throws a lively, four-seam fastball that maintained plus velocity (94-96 mph) and movement throughout the season. He also has a two-seamer that averages 87-89 mph and rides in on the hands of righthanders. The downside with his fastball is that his command of the pitch is average at best. He's confident enough in his slider to throw it in almost any count, but it's inconsistent. Dolsi is small and generates his velocity with a lot of effort in his quick delivery, which hampers his control. He spins off the mound, which leaves him in an awkward fielding position. Dolsi probably could use some more development in the minors, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he made the Opening Day roster.
Figaro originally signed with the Dodgers, but when Los Angeles released him after his first pro season, Detroit grabbed him the following spring. He has been a starter but seems destined to move to the bullpen--the same career path traveled by his cousin, Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney. Figaro has a strong, wiry body and an arm that works well. He's capable of whipping fastballs at 93-96 mph and has touched 98. He seems to have his best velocity when he focuses on throwing strikes rather than lighting up radar guns. Figaro is animated on the mound, which makes it difficult to predict how he'll perform over the course of each start. Shorter relief stints would give him a better chance to repeat his delivery. His effective changeup bears a slight resemblance to Rodney's signature pitch, though it doesn't have the same devastating movement. Figaro has a pair of hard breaking balls but struggles to throw either his curveball or slider for strikes. In many respects, he has a similar profile to Freddy Dolsi, who performed well for the Tigers in 2008 despite little prior experience in the high minors. Figaro had a strong showing in instructional league last year, which could allow him to open 2009 in Double-A. Detroit added him to its 40-man roster in November.
Marte had been an off-the-radar prospect prior to his up-and-down 2008 season. In early May, based on a series of strong performances at high Class A, he was regarded as one of the best pitchers in the system. He was regularly reaching 93-94 mph with his four-seam fastball and showing good secondary stuff. Then he came down with a sprained right elbow after a slider-heavy start at Double-A. He missed two months, returned in late July and wasn't as consistent over the remainder of the season. Marte ended his year in the Arizona Fall League, where his fastball velocity was down in his first two starts there before spiking to an average of 92 mph and peak of 95 in his third. At the very least, it appears that his arm strength has returned. When healthy, Marte has a well-developed repertoire, with a low-90s fastball, an 81-84 mph power slider and a changeup. He throws more four-seam fastballs than running two-seamers, but he's at his best when he mixes the two. He has good command and is eager to challenge hitters. He also has shown an ability to make adjustments. Marte's injury history and short stature lead to concerns about a lack of durability that could prevent him from reaching his considerable ceiling. But he's only 22 and has time on his side. He'll likely start this season back in Double-A.
Green gambled and lost when he turned down an $800,000 offer from the Red Sox in the summer of 2007. He had missed all of 2006 after Tommy John surgery and pitched just 18 innings at Kentucky in 2007 before Boston drafted him in the 15th round. He pitched well in the Cape Cod League, piquing the Red Sox's interest, but opted to return to school in hopes of becoming a first-round pick. Instead, he had had a disappointing spring, lost his job in Kentucky's rotation and dropped to the third round, where he signed for $373,000. After turning pro, Green showed quality stuff as a reliever. He sat at 94-95 mph and touched 97 mph with his fastball, and he hit 87-88 mph with his slider. His 6-foot-7 frame and high arm slot allow him to drive his pitches down in the strike zone. However, he has significant effort in his delivery, costing him life and command on his pitches. His slider is inconsistent and his changeup is less reliable. The Tigers are considering returning him to the rotation, but that may be a stretch because he has yet to show much durability. Besides blowing out his elbow, he had a series of minor injuries in college and he missed two weeks in August with a right forearm strain. One scout who saw him in the Midwest League described Green's upside as becoming another Mike Timlin. Green figures to open 2009 in high Class A.
In each of the past three seasons, the Tigers' minor league pitcher of the year has been a late-round pick from a Midwestern college: Burke Badenhop in 2006, Duane Below in 2007 and Kibler in 2008. Kibler, who pitched at Western Carolina and Dundalk (Md.) CC before transferring to Michigan State, has the highest ceiling of the group. He led the low Class A Midwest League in wins (14) and ERA (1.75). Kibler has an easy, repeatable, straight-ahead delivery and spots his fastball to both sides of the plate. His trademark is a sinker that averages 89 mph and tops out at 92. It jumps on hitters because of deception in his delivery. He doesn't have plus velocity but he can get outs up in the strike zone because of his superior command. His secondary pitches are an effective 77-81 mph slurve and a usable 76-79 mph changeup. Kibler's stuff is just average at best, raising some concern about his long-term projection. Though his strong frame should enable him to be a workhorse, shoulder fatigue forced him to the disabled list late in August. The injury isn't serious, and he went to instructional league to address his fielding deficiencies. Kibler was the unquestioned ace at West Michigan in 2008, but he's not likely to have that role in the majors. He should get there, very possibly as a steady No. 4 or 5 starter. This year, high Class A awaits.
Alabama head coach Jim Wells made Avila a full-time catcher prior to the 2008 season, and his draft stock improved greatly as a result. Avila batted .343 with a team-leading 17 home runs, numbers that looked even better considering he was a lefthanded hitter playing a premium position. When Detroit took him in the fifth round of last year's draft, it was Avila's father--Tigers assistant GM Al--who called to tell him the news. Detroit also drafted Avila's other son, second baseman Alan in the 47th round, though he opted to attend Nova Southeastern (Fla.). Alex signed quickly for $169,000 and reported directly to low Class A, where he gained valuable experience behind the plate. He's a natural hitter who should contribute enough offensively to profile as an everyday catcher. He has below-average running speed but will get his share of doubles thanks to his line-drive stroke. A .305 average in his pro debut showed that he had little trouble adjusting to wood bats. Avila is a very intuitive player, thanks in part to his bloodlines, and his feel for the game should help him develop into a big league catcher. Though he needs to refine his receiving skills, he made strides in that department during instructional league. His throwing arm has a chance to be average, and the threw out 33 percent of basestealers in his debut. He handles a pitching staff well. Avila will open 2009 in high Class A.
Thomas hadn't played above Double-A prior to 2008 but caught the eye of Tigers manager Jim Leyland in spring training. Soon after the team learned Curtis Granderson would begin the regular season on the disabled list, Thomas was plucked from minor league camp and placed on the 25-man roster. His first big league at-bat was an 11th-inning double on Opening Day, which reflected his quick bat and competitive calm. He uses the whole field and has gap power, but he strikes out too much because he has trouble with breaking pitches. Thomas runs well and is an above-average defender. Capable of playing all three outfield positions, he takes good routes on flyballs and throws well. He had two stints with Detroit in the first half then slumped at Triple-A after the all-star break, for a reason that became clear only after the season was over. Thomas tore a ligament in his throwing elbow prior to a June 21 game in San Diego but played through the injury for more than two months. He underwent Tommy John surgery in September, and it's likely that he'll begin this season on the disabled list. The injury will cost him development time and hurt his chances to contribute in the majors this year. His tools and grit should make him a big leaguer in the long run, perhaps as a platoon outfielder.
In Weinhardt, the Tigers got a steal for $15,000 in the 10th round of the 2008 draft. While he can't match the pure velocity of the pitchers Detroit took at the top of the draft, he throws plenty hard and has the pitchability to reach the big leagues quickly. His fastball ranges from 90-93 mph and has touched 94. More important, he can throw it to both sides of the plate and it has great movement, boring in on the hands of righthanders. He baffled hitters in his pro debut and didn't allow an earned run in his first 28 innings. Batters simply do not get good swings against Weinhardt because of the late life on his fastball and some deception in his delivery. He throws mostly two- and four-seam fastballs, and he has a good understanding of when to use each of them. He also commands a circle changeup that has some sink. His hard slider has a chance to be average but looked flat at the end of last year. His strong frame gives the Tigers reason to believe Weinhardt can develop into a resilient middle reliever. He could spend his first full pro season in Double-A.
If last summer was an indication of things to come, Douglas might have been among the best late-round picks in the 2008 draft. A natural hitter who has been compared to fellow Iowan Casey Blake, Douglas made four stops in the system, performing well at each level and finishing in Double-A. Not bad for an 11th-round pick who signed for $65,000. A good athlete, Douglas uses a compact swing to pull a lot of base hits into left field. He can be a free swinger but still has a knack for putting the bat on the ball. Once he becomes more selective, he could hit 25-30 doubles and 10-15 homers over a full season. His speed is a tick above average and he has the instincts to steal bases. Douglas spent most of last summer as a shortstop, but average range and arm strength may make him a better fit at second base. He'll need to become a more sure-handed fielder in order to stay in the middle of the diamond. A super-utility role could also be in his future. The Tigers won't be afraid to challenge Douglas with an assignment to high Class A or perhaps Double-A in 2009.
The Tigers fielded a Rookie-level Venezuelan Summer League team for the first time in 2007, and Robles became the first player from that roster to reach a full-season affiliate. He was among the youngest starters in the low Class A Midwest League last year, when he had a remarkable run of success at pitcher-friendly Fifth Third Ballpark. He allowed only one earned run in 51 innings--for a 0.18 ERA. Inconsistent command and fastball velocity was an issue on the road, where he had a 5.80 ERA with 39 walks in 40 innings. Reports vary on Robles' fastball. When he's on his game, he has a 91-94 mph heater with tailing life. When he's not, it sits at 88-91 mph with less movement. His velocity has been known to fluctuate even from inning to inning, though he peaked at 95 during instructional league. Short but athletic, Robles was an outfielder before signing in 2006. His inability to repeat his delivery is a significant concern. His curveball averages 82-83 mph and has some depth but lacks a consistent shape. He throws the curve with a noticeably slower arm speed. He has below-average command across the board, and his changeup isn't well developed. Robles remains very raw but he could rise through the system once he learns to harness and trust his stuff. First-pitch strikes will be vital to his development this year in Class A.
After an uneven college career, Hollimon has exceeded expectations as a 16th-round pick in the 2005 draft. He has made a steady climb through the farm system, earning high marks for his offensive tools and makeup. An injury to Ramon Santiago brought Hollimon to the majors last year, and he homered off Mark Lowe during his brief stint with the Tigers. But issues with his left shoulder, which he dislocated in spring training, sidetracked Hollimon after that. The pain returned in June and was so severe that he had to change his batting stance. He slumped badly at Triple-A in the second half and underwent surgery in September to repair a torn labrum. He's expected to miss roughly half of the 2009 season. That will make it challenging for him to return to the majors in 2009, but there's little doubt that Hollimon has big league talent. His body is strong and compact, and he offers raw power and average speed. His swing can get long, however, leaving him vulnerable to inside fastballs and resulting in an abnormally high number of strikeouts for a switch-hitter. Hollimon has seen time at second base, third base and shortstop, and he fits best at second with his average range and fringy arm. He's already 26 and unlikely to get much better, but he could provide value as a super-utility player capable of moving around the infield and outfield.
The Tigers love Hamilton's power stuff and high ceiling, even if he struggled during his first full season as a pro. They gave the 2007 supplemental first-rounder the chance to start at low Class A in mid-May after he opened the year in extended spring training, but he overthrew and struggled with his control. He regained his footing after a demotion to the Gulf Coast League, and by the end of instructional league, Hamilton had made progress with his secondary pitches. At this point, he has better command of his plus power curveball (82-83 mph) and changeup (79-80 mph) than his fastball. He has developed confidence in his changeup, which has sinking movement. Hamilton's four-seam fastball averages 91-92 mph and peaked at 96 in his final outing of the instructional league. He also has learned to blend in some two-seamers. His fastball command will have to improve in order for him to succeed at upper levels. He also needs to work on repeating his delivery, which has a lot of effort and moving parts. Hamilton has the raw ability to pitch in the major leagues and will get a second chance at low Class A this year.
After reaching Double-A within months of signing in 2007, Worth had a somewhat disappointing first full season of pro ball. He has been billed as a plus defender but committed 18 errors in 80 games. Bursitis behind his throwing shoulder limited him to just six games in the final two months. The bursitis, which affected his shoulder and back, likely explains why his offensive production dropped late in the season. It also raised concerns about Worth's overall durability. He's slightly built and wore down in the second half. He entered the offseason knowing that he must add more strength in order to make it as an everyday player. Worth has limited ceiling at the plate. He doesn't have great bat speed or much power, so while he may hit for a decent average with his share of walks and a few doubles, that's about it. He has below-average speed, though he does show good instincts on the bases. Defense is where Worth stands out. He has good range, reliable hands and a smooth transfer. Though his arm strength is just average, he enhances it with a quick release. With a solid spring, Worth could break camp as the Tigers' everyday shortstop at Triple-A. He needs to have a strong 2009 season in order to remain one level ahead of Cale Iorg.
Despite being a former second-round pick, Simons wasn't among the Rockies' top relief prospects at the start of last season. On April 30, Colorado sent him to Detroit in a trade for Jason Grilli. Simons embraced the fresh start and pitched impressively in high Class A. After initially struggling with his command, he allowed only 20 hits over his final 44 innings. Simons throws a four-seam fastball that sits in the low-90s, tops out at 95 mph and seems to have a burst of life as it nears the batter. His heater's explosiveness causes hitters to jam themselves, resulting in a lot of weak flyouts. His out pitch is a power curveball with good depth. When he commands it well, it's a plus pitch. His changeup pales in comparison to his other two pitches, but it could become an adequate third offerings. He tends to struggle when he speeds up his delivery, resulting in more effort and less control. The Tigers are pleased with the manner in which he has absorbed instruction during the short time he's been with the organization. As long as he can locate his fastball and curve, Simons should reach the big leagues as a middle reliever. He'll advance to Double-A in 2009.
Bloom has yet to pitch above Double-A in five pro seasons, but he intrigued the Tigers enough that they took him in the major league Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings. Now he has to stick on their big league roster in 2009, or else they have to put him on waivers and offer him back to the Pirates for half of the $50,000 draft price. Bloom's strengths are that he's lefthanded and has learned how to command his 88-91 mph fastball to all four quadrants of the strike zone with decent movement. He throws his changeup with good arm action, making it hard to distinguish from his fastball, and also has a serviceable slider. Though he commands his fastball, he often gets himself into trouble with walks. Bloom primarily has been a starter during his career, though he did see some relief action last season and seems better suited to that role at the major league level.
Often overlooked because of his small stature, Rhymes has nonetheless made himself into a prospect. He'll never be mistaken for a toolsy middle infielder, but his peskiness has earned him praise as a lefthanded-hitting version of David Eckstein. Rhymes brings one element--speed--that the Tigers have sorely lacked on their big league roster. His plus speed and instincts have allowed him to steal bases at an 81 percent clip in the minors. Though he'll need to be a contact hitter to stick in the majors, he has been known to take huge swings and will chase pitches outside the strike zone. His superb hand-eye coordination allows him to overcome those shortcomings much of the time. Rhymes should develop into a solid defender at second base, his most natural position, though his footwork around the bag needs to improve. He has good hands and solid range at second base. He doesn't have enough arm to be a regular shortstop, but he could fill in there for a few days if needed. Rhymes offers enough on both sides of the ball that he profiles as an Aaron Miles-type utility player. He helped his cause by hitting .287 in the Arizona Fall League and will open 2009 as Detroit's starting second baseman in Triple-A.
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