With the Detroit Tigers success, comes a price.
The Detroit farm system has been depleted in the last two years as General Manager Dave Dombrowski has needed to trade away the organization’s top prospects to win. The moves have paid off and the Tigers are as strong as ever but the farm system lacks elite talent.
This year’s Toledo Mud Hens squad does feature three of the Tigers top 10 prospects in Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, and Jose Ortega, but most of the squad is filled with minor league veterans. The Hens on paper look like a .500 club with a chance to contend, but as always, much of their success will depend on what happens in Detroit and how injuries affect the squad.
Starting pitching – This could be a strong spot for the Hens. Adam Wilk doesn’t have the flash of some of the other Tiger prospects. His fastball rarely reaches 90 miles-per-hour. However, he’s had success at every level and was 8-6 with a 3.24 earned run average with Toledo last year. In 2011, he was rated as having the best control in the Tigers’ organization.
Lefty Andy Oliver is ranked as the Tigers’ fourth best prospect but he has struggled with his control and was 8-12 with a 4.71 ERA in Toledo. Casey Crosby was rated as the Tigers’ fifth best prospect by MLB.com and was 9-7 with a 4.10 ERA at Erie. Thad Weber returns after starting 27 games for the Hens last year. He was 5-11 with a 5.65 ERA.
It’s also possible top prospects Drew Smyly, Jacob Turner and Duane Below could see time in the rotation depending how things go in Detroit. Grade — B+
Bullpen – It will be interesting to see how they use Fu-Ti Ne. He saw time as a starter last year and went 6-3, 3.24 for the Hens. In 2009, he had a 2.61 ERA in 30 games with the Tigers in relief. They could be grooming Ni for a role as a possible back-up plan starting option in Detroit or he could stay in his normal role in long relief.
Left-handed reliever Matt Hoffman returns after a solid season last year where he went 2-5 with a 3.18 ERA. Brooks Brown and Luke Putkonen have both been starters and will likely see time in the rotation and bullpen. Both struggled at Double A Erie last year with Brown going 3-9 with a 5.67 ERA and Putkonen going 1-7 with a 7.57 ERA.
Darin Downs is another long time minor leaguer who has seen time in the rotation and the bullpen. He played with two teams and finished with a 4.66 ERA. Austin Wood saw a lot of action in the Erie bullpen last year going 5-5
with a 3.16 ERA. Rob Waite is also moving up from the Erie bullpen where he was 4-4 with a 4.56 ERA.
Chris Bootcheck, 3-2, 3.57 at Triple A, has closer experience. In 2009 he had 20 saves. Jose Ortega was rated the Tigers 10th best prospect, but struggled with Toledo going 1-3 with 6.30 ERA. These two have the best chance at closing. Grade — C
Offense - The top of the line-up features something the Tigers’ system hasn’t had a whole lot of, speed. Center fielder Quintin Berry has never shown much power, but the 27-year-old has stolen over 50 bases twice in his career and hit .297 last year in the minors.
At 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, outfielder Matt Young is also light on power but has had consecutive seasons of 43 and 39 stolen bases and usually hits around .280. Second baseman Eric Patterson is a Triple A veteran. He’s seen time in the majors the last five years but has never been able to stick in the big leagues. He also has speed, posting 43 SB in 2009. Ryan Strieby was the Tigers 2008 Minor League Player of the Year. The power hitting 6-5, 235 pound DH/1B, hit .255 with 19HR 76 RBI for the Hens. Thirty-one-year-old Triple A veteran Brad Eldred, 1B/DH, hit .278 23 HR 57 RBI in the PCL. At 6-6, 270, Eldred, and Strieby give the Hens the Triple A version of Cabrera and Fielder.
Third baseman Audy Ciriaco has seen short stints with the Hens the last three seasons. Last year he spent most of his time at Erie hitting .277 with 5 HR and 57 RBI. Justin Henry, 3B/OF, is another light hitting speedster. He has never hit more than one HR in any season. He hit .309 at Erie with 21 SB.
Shortstop Argenis Diaz is known for his defense. He was rated the best defensive player in both the Boston and Pittsburgh systems. He hit .279 with 25 RBIs for Toledo. Catcher Omir Santos briefly saw some time with the Tigers, hitting .227 in 22 AB. He hit .245 for Toledo.
Sixth-round pick Bryan Holaday, a catcher, has moved quickly through the Tigers organization. He hit .242, 7 HR, 42 RBI at Erie. Outfielder Jerad Head hit .284 with 24 HR and 70 RBI playing in Triple A. He gives the Hens some much needed power. Brent Dlugach, 2B/SS, returns to Toledo after a brief stint in the Red Sox organization where he struggled offensively. Dlugach had two strong seasons with the Hens in 2009 and 2010.
Clete Thomas and Danny Worth are also candidates to see time with the Hens once all the Tigers are healthy. Grade — B
Overall – The lineup is an interesting mix of light hitting speedsters and a couple big strong power hitters in the middle. The Hens roster is mostly filled with Triple A veterans, which should keep them competitive.
Interestingly, the Tigers two weaknesses, speed and starting pitching, are the Hens’ strengths. Look for the Hens to put on a good show and hover around .500 most of the season. I don’t think they have the elite talent to win the division, but in baseball you never know, it’s a team game. My prediction — 74-70