With the minor league regular season being over, you’re going to hear a lot of talk in the offseason about the Tigers’ system being shallow and relatively weak. I agree with that idea, to a point. There isn’t a lot of blue-chip talent and most agree Jacob Turner, Andy Oliver, and Daniel Fields are all immediately among the system’s 10 best prospects.
That may be, but I also think another story needs to be told. The Tigers’ system actually performed pretty well this season in my opinion.
It gave them a starting pitcher in Rick Porcello, who has stuck the entire season and now seems to be pitching himself into the playoff rotation, if you’ll allow me to be optimistic in the middle of the Tigers’ losing streak. It’s true that may be just as much because everybody else is pitching themselves out of that rotation, but when your 20-year old prospect does what Porcello has done you don’t complain.
Similarly, Ryan Perry has filled a spot in the bullpen for most of the season. Early season struggles earned him a stint in Toledo, but he put in his time down there and came back ready to help the team. He seems to be struggling lately, but again, he’s helped the big league club and that’s a success story for most prospects.
Those are two first-round picks, though. What happens when we dig deeper into the system? To answer that, I’d like to take a brief look at every player in the system who appeared on either Baseball America’s, Baseball Prospectus’s or John Sickels’ prospect lists for the Tigers. These are going to be brief because there’s too many to go in to depth in one post. More substantial reviews should be coming over the course of the offseason.
First, the pitchers:
Casey Crosby - The Tiger prospect who had the best season, became their best pitching prospect, may have been the best pitching prospect in the Midwest League and is going to earn their Pitcher of the Year award.
Cody Satterwhite - One the Tigers’ better relief prospects, he continued to tally strikeouts but had some control problems. Nothing too concerning, though, as long as late season arm issues turn out to be minor.
Guillermo Moscoso - He was traded for Gerald Laird, so he’s already paid off more for the Tigers than most of their prospects will.
Zach Simons - He moved up to Erie this year and pitched better there than he did last season in Lakeland. I’d look for him to be on the Toledo/Detroit shuttle next season.
Brett Jacobson - He was perhaps a bit disappointing in Lakeland before being traded to Baltimore for the rental of Aubrey Huff. He had a good walk rate but not a lot of strikeouts and was prone to long balls.
Scott Green - Green was having a decent season—a victim of poor BABIP luck—before what I was told was a shoulder injury took him down after his last appearance on July 22.
Rudy Darrow - He was traded to Atlanta for Josh Anderson.
Casey Fien - He had a very good season in Toledo, but as a fly ball pitcher he’s going to need to figure out how to keep the ball in the yard. He has little left to prove in the minors.
Chris Lambert - He pitched well for Toledo but was absolutely bombed when called on by Detroit. They removed him from the 40-man and he was snatched up by Baltimore. My opinion is he’s better than what we saw in Detroit, but the Tigers didn’t lose much when he was claimed.
Luis Marte - He had another season where he seemed to break down at around 100 innings. His strikeout and walk numbers were encouraging, but he started giving up a ton of homers. If that ceiling on innings doesn’t change, he’d be another likely relief candidate.
Robbie Weinhardt - The surprise success of 2008 stayed in Lakeland and remained dominant to start 2009. Just when you had to wonder when he was ever going to get promoted to Erie, it happened. He didn’t dominate in the Eastern League like he did in the FSL—walks became a problem—but he earned an assignment to the Arizona Fall League.
Brandon Hamilton - He came into the year hoping to build on the success he had in the Gulf Coast League late in 2008. He didn’t succeed in doing so. The season was a disaster just about from start to finish and he ended it in the Whitecap bullpen.
Admittedly, there is a definite shortage of impact talent in this group. Go through the list again, though. Nearly every one of these players either took a step forward or stayed flat performance-wise despite moving up a level.
That doesn’t even take into consideration guys like Mauricio Robles, Luke French or Alfredo Figaro. The level of talent may leave us wanting, but it’s almost undeniable that progress was made with the pitching in the system this season. That’s before taking into consideration talent added through the draft.
Now, the position players:
Cale Iorg - He continues to receive rave reviews on his defense, but still hasn’t found a groove with the bat. Erie was an aggressive assignment, though, and I’m still willing to be patient with his progress.
Jeff Larish - Larish entered the season as potential help off the bench for the Tigers, but didn’t impress in limited chances. He was then sent down and put up underwhelming numbers before a wrist injury that ended his season (and hopefully suppressed his numbers) was revealed.
Wilkin Ramirez - Ramirez’s 2009 numbers may look disappointing compared to last year, but it was almost identical to his 2008 except for luck on balls in play. Since he held steady after a promotion, that’s a good sign.
Scott Sizemore - If it weren’t for Alex Avila, everybody would be talking more about the season Sizemore had. He showed he was healthy and may have shown he’s a viable candidate for second baseman of the future.
Dusty Ryan - He lost out on a big league job early, but was eventually called up. Somebody on the Tigers isn’t too comfortable with him having a significant role on the team, though. He seems likely to either be shipped out or set for a reserve role.
Ryan Strieby - Continued wrist problems are concerning, but he continued to mash when he was healthy. I mean really mash, too. He torched Eastern League pitchers and I still see him as a possible option to step in for Thames if the Tigers don’t relish paying Thames in his third year of arbitration.
Casper Wells - He fought some injuries this season, but showed good power and patience. He needs to improve on his contact rate, but as a solid defender with the previously described skills he could be valuable in the Tiger outfield soon.
Alex Avila - The crowning achievement of the Tigers’ development team this season. He handled an aggressive assignment beautifully and has come up big after a surprise promotion.
Will Rhymes - He relies on a good batting average and that didn’t happen this season. He’s one of many potential utility infielders in the system, and it’s difficult to imagine him standing out among them.
This group is a lot like the pitchers in that there isn’t a lot of talent the Tigers can hang their hat on as a future star. There were more steps forward than backward, and not a disaster in the bunch.
A lot of these guys will be able to fill bench roles that can keep the Tiger from entering free agency for reserves. That may save money and may be the difference between settling for a low-risk, low-cost veteran and getting the player they set their sights on during the offseason.
A good farm system doesn’t just provide starters when current big leaguers get too old, expensive or ineffective. It also gives a team depth in the event of injuries to established players. Having players who can do the former is nice, but the latter is valuable as well.
I don’t know how the Tigers really feel about these players. Maybe they aren’t comfortable handing big league roles to more than two or three of them. They should feel good, however, knowing the system as a whole seems to have taken another step forward in 2009.