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Top Ten Prospects: Detroit Tigers
Complete Index of Top 10s
By Pat Caputo
Baseball America's Top 10 Prospects lists are based on projections of a player's long-term worth after discussions with scouting and player-development personnel. All players who haven't exceeded the major league rookie standards of 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched (without regard to service time) are eligible. Ages are as of April 1, 2005.
While the Tigers made a comeback to moderate respectability at the major league level in 2004, improving from 43-119 to 72-90, the farm system may have hit a new low. Given the organization’s dismal track record in player development over the past quarter century, that’s quite a statement.
Detroit won Baseball America’s Organization of the Year award in 1997, but only one time since has BA rated the Tigers system in the top half of baseball. They entered 2004 ranked No. 22, then saw the bottom fall out.
Instead of their best prospects stepping forward, most of them headed in the other direction. Righthander Kyle Sleeth, No. 1 on this list a year ago after going No. 3 overall in the 2003 draft, did well early in his pro debut, only to get tattooed for a 6.30 ERA after a midseason promotion to Double-A.
At least Sleeth had first-half success. Outfielder Brent Clevlen, second on this Top 10 after 2003, hit .223/.300/.349 in high Class A. Most of the rest of the players on last year’s list also were at least somewhat disappointing.
Righthander Joel Zumaya had one of the better years, but his ERA was 4.63. Lefty Rob Henkel, who has fended off injuries throughout his career, had shoulder surgery and missed all of 2004. Righty Jay Sborz showed his control still has a long ways to go. Oft-injured 2001 first-round pick Kenny Baugh pitched a career-high 143 innings but ended the season in the trainer’s room.
There were plenty of setbacks among the hitters. While outfielder Curtis Granderson and shortstop Tony Giarratano enhanced their standing within the organization, the other position players on last year’s Top 10 took a nosedive. Besides Clevlen, third basemen Kody Kirkland (.236/.276/.401) and Scott Moore (.223/.322/.384) also floundered, combining for 274 strikeouts in 247 games.
Making all that failure more difficult to stomach is that the Tigers have been picking near the top of the draft each year. Their first selection has come no lower than No. 14 each year since 1995, and they’ve chosen eighth or earlier seven times during that span.
To this point, only Jeff Weaver has panned out among that group of top picks—and he has yet to have a winning season and was traded in mid-2002. One member of that group played in Detroit in 2004: Eric Munson, who got a club-record $3.5 million bonus as part of a $6.75 million big league contact when he signed as the No. 3 pick in 1999. Munson hit .212 in 2004.
The perennial draft disappointments led to the hiring of former Red Sox scouting director David Chadd in November. Detroit reassigned Greg Smith, scouting director since August 1996, to a special-assignment scout focusing on independent leagues and the Pacific Rim. In Smith’s defense, he doubled as farm director from 2000-02 and had his hands tied at times during former general manager Randy Smith’s tenure. The change came days after Smith finally signed righthander Justin Verlander, the No. 2 pick in the 2004 draft.
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