I expect the Tigers to name their Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year soon. In my mind, the Pitcher of the Year is a slam dunk for Casey Crosby. He had a dominant season that saw him do well whether you go with traditional stats or dig deeper into the stats we use to determine whether a player has potential.
The traditional stats are what win players these awards, though, and a 10-4 record with a 2.41 ERA should be enough to get him the award. Throw in 117 strikeouts in 104.2 innings and an opponent's batting average of just .195 and you write this one in ink.
I think the Player of the Year award comes down to two players—Alex Avila and Scott Sizemore. Yes, Don Kelly hit .331 and stole 27 bases and Brennan Boesch clubbed 28 home runs. Ryan Strieby also had a great season but it was limited due to injury and he won the award last year.
Down in West Michigan you had Billy Nowlin and Gustavo Nunez turning in good seasons but the run environment leaves there leaves their overall stats looking pedestrian in comparison.
Those players probably all deserve mention—and I'll give each plenty later this offseason—but I can't imagine this isn't a two horse race. Alex Avila was drafted last season and given a bit of an aggressive assignment when the Tigers sent him to West Michigan. He more than held his own but there were some concerns about him not hitting for a lot of power.
In 2009, he earned another surprising assignment when the Tigers made him the starting catcher for the Erie SeaWolves. This was a nice challenge for the relatively inexperienced catcher—he only moved behind the plate in his final season at Alabama—and he responded wonderfully. In 329 at bats (387 plate appearances), he hit .264/.365/.450 with 12 home runs and had 36 of his 87 hits go for extra bases.
He had some contact problems in tallying 77 strikeouts, but also showed pretty good knowledge of the strike zone while notching 52 walks. These would be good numbers for any 22-year old in Double A ball, but they were eye-opening for a catcher.
His ability at the plate and progress behind it earned him a shocking promotion to Detroit in early August that had many of us wondering if the Tigers had grown desperate in their search for an offensive spark.
He has put up good numbers since getting the call, though, and ironically that could work against him in the Player of the Year considerations. The promotion leaves him with incomplete minor league numbers and I wonder if his success will leave decision-makers thinking of him as more of a major leaguer.
That would be good news for Scott Sizemore, but Sizemore doesn't need a quirk of perception in order to be a strong candidate for the award. Coming into 2009, he had lost some luster after a disappointing 2008 campaign in Lakeland was ended by a wrist injury. He needed to prove he had recovered from the injury and re-establish himself as the Tigers' best second base prospect.
He did both to an extent that probably surprised just about everyone. He started the season in Erie and tore up Eastern League pitchers to the tune of .307/.402/.535 with nine homers, 30 extra base hits, 35 walks and 46 strikeouts in 228 at bats (269 plate appearances). He was clearly back and the Tigers decided to challenge him with a promotion to Toledo.
He spent the rest of the season with the Mud Hens and his numbers didn't dip too much after the promotion. In T-Town, he hit .308/.378/.473 with 8 more homers, 31 extra base hits, 29 walks and 49 strikeouts. He also stole 14 bases in 15 tries.
That gave him a 2009 total line of .308/.384/.500 with 17 homers, 61 extra base hits, 64 walks, 90 strikeouts and 21 stolen bases in 25 attempts. It's pretty clear that is better offensive production than what Avila put up in Erie, but it's a lot closer when you consider what Avila has done with the Tigers.
This is, however, a minor league award and I think that will end up tipping the scale in Sizemore's favor. He played a full season in the minors and put up great numbers that showed well-rounded talent. I have a feeling the people in charge of giving out this honor probably think Avila has already received his reward for a great 2009 season. That's why I think when the Tiger Minor League Pitcher and Player of the Year awards are announced, they will be given to Casey Crosby and Scott Sizemore.