2010 Minor League Wrap, Part 1: Pitchers (by Nick D)

This is the first of a two part series composed by DTW member Nick D.  Look for Nick to cover the minors in detail in the upcoming season(s).

As any Detroit Tigers fan knows, most of the organization’s top prospects spent a significant amount of 2010 wearing the Old-English “D”. Names like “Rhymes”, “Boesch”, “Jackson”, and “Sizemore” surely bring back memories of summer.

While the top prospects made more news than usual this year, the rest of the farm system shied from the limelight. In fact, according to MLB fanhouse, it was in the stale, dark, depths of a cellar. http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2010/01/26/2010-farm-system-rankings/. It should be noted, however, that Detroit’s pitching prospects, headlined by Turner and Crosby, should give Tiger fans something to look forward to in the coming years.

What follows is part 1 (pitching), of a 2 part series, examining the year that was. It should be noted that the rankings below are based on scouting predictions and historical performance as well as 2010 stats. Without further ado the pitching prospects:

1. Jacob Turner, RHP

At 6’5’’ and 210 lbs. he’s got the frame of a big-time hurler. Turner pitched in 24 games for West Michigan and Lakeland with an ERA of 3.28. He logged 115.1 innings while striking out 102 and only walking 23. Turner featured a 90-94 MPH fast ball last year but has reached as high as 97-98 MPH. He’s also got a quality curveball and a plus changeup. At only 19, and just one season with professional pitching instruction, Turner’s upside is enormous. Look for him to impress during spring training and start the season with Lakeland and probably end up in Erie.

2. Casey Crosby, LHP

Crosby’s season was almost entirely lost to injury. He opened the season at West Michigan with pain in his forearm and elbow. This is especially troubling because Crosby underwent Tommy John surgery in 2007. After recovering, he was given a rehab assignment in the Gulf Coast League where he went 0-1 with an ERA of 8.76 over 3 starts. He was shut down for the season in July. Crosby still has tremendous upside. He features a fastball between 94-97 MPH, a changeup, slider, and curveball. If he can avoid the injury bug, 2011 should be a great year for the young lefty.

3. Adam Wilk, LHP

Wilk started the season in Lakeland and ended by pitching 3 quality games in Erie. He posted a cumulative record of 11-5 with an ERA of 2.74. Wilk struck out 114 batters and only walked 24. In his last three starts he pitched at least 7 2/3 innings and allowed a total of 3 earned runs on 6 hits. Wilk features a 4-seam and 2-seam fastball, a curveball, changeup, and cutter. He’s shown continuous improvement throughout his tenure on the farm and looks to continue the trend in 2011. Wilk is set to begin the next campaign in Erie, but, if Tiger injuries require a lefty at some point this season, look for Wilk to get a surprise call to the bigs. Otherwise, I imagine he’ll continue to get better and move up the ranks of Tigers pitching prospects.

4. Cody Satterwhite, RHP

Another pitcher ravaged by injury during 2010, Satterwhite sat out the entire year after undergoing shoulder surgery in May. In 34 appearances in 2009 Satterwhite averaged an impressive 9.49 K/9; however, he’s had problems with the command on his fastball giving up 4.93 BB/9 through 2009. Fans interested in the Tigers farm system should keep an eye on Erie to see how Satterwhite’s rehabbed shoulder fares this season.

5. Andy Oliver, LHP

Last year Oliver spent time between Erie, Toledo, and the Tigers. He wasn’t quite ready for the show, going 0-4 with a 7.36 ERA in the majors. Oliver features a mid to high 90’s fastball with life, a slider, changeup, and splitter. His arsenal proved effective at the AAA level as Oliver struck out 49 in 53 innings of work while maintaining a 3.23 ERA. Dave Dombrowski seems to be a fan despite Oliver’s rough trip to the majors and I look to see Oliver tested again at the Major League level at some point in 2011.

6. Daniel Schlereth, LHP

After coming over from Arizona last year, Schlereth got to work at AAA Toledo. In 38 relief appearances, he maintained an ERA of 2.37. At the big league level, Schlereth continued to have some success. He recorded 1 save and went 2-0 while posting an ERA of 2.89 over 18 2/3 innings. Schlereth needs to improve his BB rate – it’s hung around 4.5 per 9 throughout his time in Toledo and Detroit. If he can improve the command on his fastball, Schlereth will be a big-league ready middle relief pitcher.

7. Robbie Weinhardt, RHP

Weinhardt was one prospect who benefited from Tigers injuries during 2010. He spent time between Connecticut, Toledo, and Detroit. He impressed while in the minors, posting an ERA of 1.64 over 38 1/3 IP. His minor league WHIP of .95 surely impressed Tiger brass. Weinhardt struggled in Detroit going 2-2 with 2 blown saves and posting a bloated ERA of 6.14 over 29 1/3 IP. It will be interesting to see if Weinhardt can take the lessons learned in the big leagues into the off season and show quality improvement in spring training.

8. Alfredo Figaro, RHP

Baseball Prospectus believes that Figaro’s ceiling is an average middle-relief pitcher.
His 2010 numbers seem to support this conclusion and were somewhat pedestrian. In 23 minor league starts he went 10-6 with a 4.14 ERA. However, Figaro did manage to strike out 112 batters in 124 innings. Figaro spent some time with the Tigers last year and did not fare well: in 14 2/3 innings he struck out 5, walked 8, allowed 8 earned runs, and lost 2 decisions. Figaro’s problems with control have followed him into the winter leagues where he’s walked 5 in 12 2/3 innings of work. Figaro has the arm to be a successful big league reliever but needs to master his control issues in 2011.

9. Wilsen Palacios, RHP

Palacios posted great numbers in 2010: a 2.43 ERA over 74 innings of mostly relief work. He also struck out 67 while only walking 13. Opposing hitters only hit .206 against him, which led the Tigers’ minor league system. Palacios also led the Tigers minor league with an impressive .95 WHIP. He features a good fastball and slider and will make a quality big league reliever at some point in the future. He’s shown improvement from 2007 with his control and has also improved his strikeout total. He’s starting 2010 assigned to Connecticut.

10. Miguel Mejia, RHP

Mejia split time between Lakeland, West Michigan, and Connecticut during 2010. He posted a cumulative ERA of 2.80 over 70 2/3 innings. Mejia really showed improvement in Connecticut, his last stop of the season, where he pitched in 13 games with 2 spot starts. During this time his ERA was an impressive 1.02. Like many young players, Mejia needs to improve his control before he will really excel.

11. Charles Furbush, LHP

Furbush sat out 2008 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. His 2009 numbers were pretty solid (111 1/3 IP, 93K, 3.96 ERA for Lakeland). However, 2010 showed that Furbush has the work ethic and upside to become a pretty decent big league starter. Over 159 innings and 27 starts for Lakeland, Erie, and Toledo, Furbush struck out an impressive 183 batters while only walking 40. His cumulative 183 strikeouts led the Tigers’ minor league system. He also posted ERAs of 3.39 and 3.24 at Lakeland and Erie, respectively. Furbush faltered somewhat at Toledo, giving up 34 earned runs in just 9 starts. Furbush features a low 90’s fastball, change up, and curve. He’ll need to refine those pitches against AAA level competition before getting a crack in the big leagues.

12. Brayan Villarreal, RHP

The 6’0’’ righty pitched 129 1/3 innings between Lakeland and Erie. In 24 starts he posted an ERA of 3.55 while striking out 136 and walking 39. In the winter leagues, he’s off to a hot start with a 1-0 record, .95 ERA and 1 save over 19 innings of work. Villarreal is still a prospect with room to grow but is worth keeping an eye on in 2011.

13. Ramon Lebron, RHP

Lebron split time between West Michigan, GCL Tigers, and Connecticut. He improved somewhat from his 2009 totals, although his ERA was substantially higher in 2010 (5.57 up from 3.73). He did manage to improve his strike out to walk ratio from 1.48 in 2009 to 2.03. Lebron has got a high-ceiling and a live arm but will need to continue to work on his control issues in 2011.

14. Melvin Mercedes, RHP

He has a quality reliever’s arsenal with a power fast ball; however, the 19 year-old righty needs to demonstrate he can consistently throw strikes. In 2010 he improved his BB/9 to 8.69 from 11.57 in 2009. He also K’ed more batters, at a rate of 5.49 per nine up from 3.86 the year before. Mercedes is still young and could be a decent big league set-up man if he can get his control issues down.

15. Luke Putkonen, RHP

In 27 games for Lakeland, Putkonen threw 152 2/3 innings with an ERA of 3.18. He struck out 87 and walked 44. His ERA ranked 4th best among Tigers prospects in 2010. He finished 2010 strong, going 6 or more innings in 8 of his last 10 starts and only allowing more than 3 runs once during the same period.

16. Luis Marte, RHP

Marte spent most of 2010 in Erie but made one appearance in Toledo. For the season, he threw 49 innings of relief with an ERA of 4.96. He struck out 53 batters and walked 27. Again, control seems to be his biggest problem.

17. Jay Sborz, RHP

Sborz made his major league debut in New York last season. It went about as well as Custer’s last stand – Sborz is the proud owner of a big league ERA of 67.50 after getting two outs and allowing 5 runs in a June game against the Mets. Notwithstanding, Sborz has “good stuff” according to Ol’ Smoky and was rewarded for his work in Toledo. In Toledo, Sborz produced better results, although nothing brilliant, with an ERA of 4.74 over 43 2/3 innings pitched. However, he did manage to save 19 games for the Mud Hens. He’s had problems locating the strike zone and needs to improve his control before attempting to pitch at the next level.

18. Austin Wood, LHP

Drafted in 2009 in the 5th round from the University of Texas, Wood has had high expectation since joining the organization. In his debut in April, Wood struck out the side in one inning of work. Wood only pitched in 2 games for Lakeland and did not allow an earned run or walk.

19. Jeff Ferrell, RHP

Ferrell split time between GCL Tigers and Connecticut, although he only threw 6 1/3 innings at the latter. His cumulative ERA was 3.25 with 64 K’s and 15 BB’s. In 11 starts he also managed to throw 2 CG shut outs. At only 20 years old, Ferrell is still young and has shown that he has great potential. Watch for him to rise quickly through the system.

20. L.J. Gagnier, RHP

The 6’2’’, 210 lbs. right-hander spent most of 2010 in Toledo where he went 7-7 and posted a 3.51 ERA. Over 120 2/3 IP while in Toledo, he struck out 94 while walking 44. That ratio was off his pace from Erie where he struck out 28 and walked 8 over 35 IP. He’ll need to find his command while pitching against higher quality hitters, but could improve this year as he benefits from the Toledo coaching magic.

21. Trevor Feeney, RHP

Feeney threw 184 2/3 innings for West Michigan. His strike out to walk ratio was other-worldly as he K’ed 123 and only walked 22. His ERA of 3.46 was pretty solid. Feeney will have to test his stuff against higher level hitting competition but has obviously shown good results thus far.

Other Notable Pitching Prospects:

Jared Gayhart, RHP – Got roughed up in Erie and showed improvement after being sent to Lakeland.

Brooks Brown, RHP – Went 12-9 with a 4.15 ERA for Erie. In 18 starts he threw 4 complete games, 2 of which were shut outs.

Lester Oliveros, RHP – Saved 23 games for Lakeland and Erie. His ERA and BB’s inflated after being promoted to Erie. Watch to see if he can continue to improve against better hitting this year.

Kenny Faulk, LHP – Saved 12 games and went 5-4 for West Michigan while producing an impressive 2.16 ERA over 58 1/3 innings. He also struck out 78. Another live arm with control issues.

Mark Sorensen, RHP
In 147 1/3 IP for Lakeland, Sorenson struck out 113 while only walking 29. His ERA was slightly high at 4.03, but he clearly demonstrated an ability to generate swings and misses. Watch for continued improvement in his second year of professional baseball.

More on Victor Martinez

Despite this guy’s negativity, I really like the deal for a number of reasons.  (You really should check out that link if you want to see a good example of how to poorly build  an argument).

1) Other than his injury year of 2008, he’s had a WAR of 3.9 or higher (see Fangraphs here) in each of the past six years, and an OPS+ of at least 122 (see B-R here).

2) His middle name is “Jesus” and as we all know, you don’t ___ with the Jesus.

3) He’s a catcher.  And we really, really need a more than a back-up catcher.  I understand that he’s arguably a liability defensively, but what other options did DD have?  I feel that all too often people ignore the available market when talking free agents.  Alex Avila has an opportunity to be a serviceable catcher for a long time, and VMart definitely bridges that gap.

4) He’s a switch-hitter.  How great is that?  Talk about ultimate protection for Cabrera.

5) He’s durable.  In the past 7 seasons, he’s had 538+ PAs in 6 of them, and 600+ in 4 of those 6.  Not too shabby for a guy who squats for a living.

By all accounts he’s a great clubhouse guy, and it looks like he really wanted to be in Detroit.  Several outlets are reporting that Martinez turned down 3/$48 from the White Sox, and a similar offer from the Orioles.  Moreover, I agree with Lynn Henning that DD is not yet done.

Keith Law was pretty neutral on the deal (which means that he really likes it), though he did express concern over the spend to win strategy: “My main concern with the deal is neither its length nor its size, but what it says about the Tigers’ current strategy…this time around, the Tigers’ system is in much worse shape.”  (read the whole article on insider here)

Can’t wait to see what pops up next.  Hot stove is heating up.

News & Notes: 11-23-10 The Victor Martinez Edition

Lots of stuff to get to…

– Rumor is that Tigers and Victor Martinez are close to 4 yrs/$50M.   Terry Francona is already weighing in on the loss of Martinez.

– Tigers declined arbitration on Bonderman, Seay, Laird, Damon and Ordonez, and thus forego any compensation picks if any of these players are signed by another team.

– Aburey Huff resigned with the Giants today, 2 for $22M.  Which is a real indictment on what they thought of Renteria.

– AL MVP Voting coming shortly…
UPDATE: Hamilton wins in a landslide, receiving 22/28 first place votes.

(sorry for the brevity, I’m looking forward to everyone’s feedback, to be updated later)

News & Notes: 11.20.2010

– DD’s latest interview infers that a big bat is top priority now.

– Ni was sent down, and Alberto Alburquerque (not to be confused with “Albuquerque”) signed to minor league deal and added to the 40.

– Ordonez news – Boras is already doing his thing, and Jason Beck thinks this means that Maggs will sit deep into free agency before making a decision.

– Heyman furthered the notion of a Grienke deal, and ponders – why not Soria too?  Interestingly, Soria has a limited no-trade clause that gives him the right to veto deals to the Cardinals, Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox, Tigers and Yankees.

– Apparently, no trade to the Tigers clauses are popular these days.

Tigers sign Benoit (and Adam Dunn talk)

3 years at $16.5M is a hefty price tag for a setup guy who has really only had three good years over his 8 year career.  Benoit had a sick .68 WHIP last year with 75 Ks in 60.1 IPs.  Problem is, that he’s never had a WHIP lower than 1.17 in any of his other 8 full seasons (3 of them primarily as a starter), and he has a career 4.47 ERA, and 1.35 WHIP.

I’m not fond of 3 year deals for middle relievers, and I’m not fond of overpaying for a career year.  Though I will say props to DD for addressing a huge need, and doing so quickly.  I think we’ll get one more in the pen before camp next spring.

I also thought this was interesting – at least some are reporting that Phil Coke will be in the starting rotation next year.

>>>>>

Dunn – It was reported around noon central that talks were heating up with Dunn, but Jon Heyman recently sent this out via Twitter: “hearing dunn isn’t close yet with any 1 team, tho tigers are showing keen interest.”)

News & Notes: 11.15.10

Welcome to the Hot Stove – the GM meetings began today.

AJax has a nice showing in Rookie of the Year voting, but hats off to Feliz.  Feliz took 20 of the first place votes, with Jackson receiving the other 8.

Casper Wells gets hot in the Dominican Winter League, then tweaks his knee.

If anything, the Tigers are at least talking to the Marlins about Uggla.

In other news:

Kirk Gibson’s bat that took Eckersly long and created a legend sold yesterday for a measly $576k.

River Ave Blues takes a look at the long term implications for the Yankees if they sign Lee.

Ken Rosenthal writes that the Brewers may be putting their infield on the block (including Prince Fielder), and expresses concern that 4 years would be too much for Victor Martinez.

Jon Heyman just tweeted that Kuroda signed a 1 year deal with the Dodgers for $12M.

Cabrera Wins Silver Slugger Award, and Hot Stove Talk (really Victor Martinez talk)

Miguel Cabrera won his third Silver Slugger award today, and joined Albert Pujols in the distinction of winning it at three positions (remember he predominantly played OF for the Marlins when he first came up).

But on to the more pressing issues at hand:

The Tigers are being routinely mentioned as the team most who will make the strongest bid for Victor Martinez (for four years, surmises Peter Gammon), but does Manny Ramirez make sense in Detroit?  Apparently Battlestar has the inside scoop on Martinez, telling Morosi that the Tigers’ Venezuelan faction could help.

I agree that Carl Crawford is the crown jewel of the hitters, but the rumors put him at $100MM over 5 years, and I don’t think that we can do that, and fill our C need.

Note that Casey Fien signed with the Astros today.  He had a career 8.36 ERA and 1.643 WHIP with the Tigers.

2010 Offseason: Outfield (and DH)

With SS and 3B done, OF and Catcher remain the biggest needs for the boys.  I think it is safe to say that AJax will be starting in center, and the corner positions are up for grabs.

In May and June of last year, Boesch in Left and Maggs in Right helped to form a respectable outfield, and a formidable lineup.  But Boesch’s collapse and Maggs’ constant injuries cast doubt on a Boesch, Jackson, Maggs trio for 2011.

Ordonez had his $15M option turned down by the Tigers, but they are still expected to negotiate with him in the coming weeks.  Keep in mind that he will be 37 next year (older than any of the full time OFers listed below), and his games played have been on a steady decline since 2007, bottoming out at 84 last year.  Boras is already playing his games.

John Lowe wrote on Sunday that the three big bats that the Tigers will chase will be Adam Dunn, Jayson Werth, and Carl Crawford.  Crawford in the outfield with Jackson would be lethal, but Crawford is expected to receive big offers from a number of teams.  Werth and Dunn will not come cheaply either, though at least one MLB.com writer is predicting Dunn to the Tigers.

I’ve seen more than one baseball writer hint that the Tigers might make a play for Jeter, though this was written before the Peralta signing.  Would Jeter play LF?

Damon is a free agent, but I can not imagine a repeat of him at DH, at least not as a first option.  I was shocked to read that Damon was coming off of a “pretty solid season” on ESPN insider yesterday.  Damon hit 8 HR with 51 RBA and a .756 OPS last year.

Another reason why I pass in Damon, is that once you get past the big boys who are DH/OF combos, there are plenty of good options left at DH.  Thome, Matsui, Vlad, Sweeney.  Heck, could Brad Hawpe resurrect his career?  He’s only 31…

Hopefully Ilitch will have some money left after his next purchase.

In the feel good story of the day – the Tigers resigned Max St. Pierre to a minor league contract. Terms were undisclosed.

What do you think?

2010 Offseason: The 2011 Rotation

Here’s what I see as set in stone, and what’s on the books for 2011:

1) JV – $12.75M

2) Scherzer – $~1.5M, arb eligible

3) Porcello – $1.536M, club option

4/5) Galarraga – under club control, but note that he’s Super-2 eligible thanks to a rather generously low hurdle this year (2 yrs, 122 days).

Down on the farm the future looks bright, but it might be a few years.  Jacob Turner, Andy Oliver, and Casey Crosby are all expected to be solid rotation guys, but Turner and Crosby are likely two years away.  Remember that Crosby was shut down last July with recurring elbow problems after a few bad starts on a rehab stint in the GCL (he started the year on the DL as well coming off of Tommy John).  2011 will be an important year for Crosby.

Turner split the year between Western Michigan and Lakeland last year, and was dominant in both.  Overall he posted a 3.28 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and struck out 102 in 115 IPs.  The kid is only 19, and his age is probably the only reason why we wouldn’t see him in 2011.

Oliver had 5 not so flattering starts last year for the big league club, though he did pitch two quality starts before being sent back down, posting a 3.00 ERA.  Oliver spent the rest of the year in Toledo, where he struck out 49 in 53 IPs, and posted a 3.23 ERA.  Oliver turns 23 next month and I see no reason why he wouldn’t have a legitimate shot at the rotation in spring training.

This year’s free agent class includes Bonderman, Carl Pavano, Chris Young, Aaron Harang, Hiroki Kuroda, Javier Vazquez, and Justin Duchscherer.  I really like Kuroda, but I feel that the Tigers’ free agent dollars would be better spent elsewhere.  Anyone think they’ll make Bonderman an offer?

James Shields and Zach Grienke are also rumored to be available.  I don’t think we have the chips for Grienke, and I’m not sure that I’d want James Shields.

Sparky Anderson Passes Away

My baseball consciousness arose in the mid-80’s, and Sparky was Tiger baseball.  I consider myself fortunate.

I’d love for some of you to share your favorite Sparky memories.

2010 Offseason: Catcher

(shout out to Vince in MN)

Yorvit Torrealba: 32/.271/.343/.378

Victor Martinez: 31/.302/.351/.493

A.J. Pierzynski: 33/.270/.300/.388

John Buck: 30/.281/.314/.489

Alex Avila: 23/.228/.316/.340

Buck is the cream of the crop, but he’s going to be pursued by quite a few teams, and 30 may be a little old for the long term deal that I’m guessing he’ll be looking for.  I don’t think Martinez makes any sense because he’s primarily 1B/DH these days, and we’ve already got Guillen penciled in at DH.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love Martinez, but we already have a DH who will spend 1/3 of the season on the DL.  I think I could deal with Pierzynski on a one year deal (though it would need to be less than the $6.75M he made last year) if he could help to groom Avila, or provide a bridge to whomever is next in line.

Bryan Holaday looks to be the only promising player in the farm system, and he’s likely a few years away from being ready to compete for the big league job. (He spent all of last year at Lakeland.)

What are your thoughts?  Can you figure out a way to make Martinez work?  Who’s in the John Buck hunt?  White Sox, Rangers and Mets come to mind.

2010 Offseason: SS

I write this amidst a backdrop of Edgar Renteria headlines…Did you know that Thursday was his first 3 RBI game of the season…

The short list for 2011 SS starts and ends with Jhonny Peralta.  The Tigers are sitting on a $7.25M club option, but they are leaning towards declining it (there is a $250k buyout…what a racket).  Note that he made $4.85M last year.  They have until 5 days after the WS ends to make a decision.  Peralta has a career .748 OPS, .703 last year (.710 with the Tigers).  He’s been above .800 twice, but he really has not come close to hi 2005 season which saw him hit 35 doubles, slug 24 homers, and end with an .886 OPS.  According to Fangraphs, he was in the middle of the AL defensively (though he had a negative fielding rating) with a 1.4 WAR.  His ZR and RF are middle of the pack as well, at SS, though he didn’t qualify for a full season at either SS or 3B.

Beck wrote a few days ago that the Tigers are working on a two-year deal with him, for a little less than Inge’s deal.

If somehow the Peralta deal does not get done, here’s a list of free agent short stops (thank’s to Cot’s for the list), * means that either the player or the team have a 2011 option.  Any interest?

Orlando Cabrera CIN *
Craig Counsell MIL
Alex Gonzalez ATL *
Cristian Guzman TEX
J.J. Hardy MIN
Jerry Hairston Jr. SD
Omar Infante ATL *
Cesar Izturis BAL
Derek Jeter NYY
Jhonny Peralta DET *
Edgar Renteria SF *
Jose Reyes NYM *
Jimmy Rollins PHI *
Juan Uribe SF
Ramon Vazquez HOU
Chris Woodward SEA

This are pretty bare down on the farm.  Cale Iorg has headed up the Tigers SS prospects for a few years, though at 25, the clock is ticking on him.  Gustavo Nunez had a promising 2009, only to recess in 2010.  Nunez is 22 and worth keeping an eye one.  Unfortunately, that’s about it.  (Note that 19 year old Daniel Fields, a Detroit native, came up as a SS, but was moved to CF over the summer.)