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Post-2006 Prospect Review: Detroit
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

Detroit's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007
Roster Filler and Long-Term Prospects
Team Overview and Organization Rankings

Detroit's Top 15 Fantasy Prospects for 2007

1. Cameron Maybin, 19, OF-R
117/385 for .304/.387/.487 with 9 HR, 69 RBI, 59 R, 27/34 SB%,
and a 50:116 BB:K for A West Michigan(Mid).

I wasn't particularly wowed by this performance given that a few seventeen-year-olds posted comparable numbers in the Sally League, but Maybin's overall output still suggests far more upside than almost anyone in the minors. Hitting .300, posting a .13 walk rate, and stealing bases at nearly an 80% success rate are all marks of a far more advanced player. With his minimal platoon split and defensive acumen, Maybin's development remains the key to Detroit's continued success over the next decade, so expect the organization to advance him at a fairly brisk pace. With one more year of seasoning almost certainly necessary, he could join the Tigers as soon as the summer of 2008, adding more youth and speed to a squad surprisingly full of graduated prospects. Treat Maybin as one of the best long-term prospects in the game, a virtual certainty to exceed $30 by the end of the decade.

2. Brent Clevlen, 22, OF-R
11/39 for .282/.317/.641 with 3 HR, 6 RBI, 9 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 2:15 BB:K.
91/395 for .230/.313/.357 with 11 HR, 45 RBI, 47 R, 6/8 SB%,
and a 47:138 BB:K for AA Erie(EL).

Despite AA stats that virtually demand a return to Erie, his stunning slugging percentage in Detroit makes him a solid candidate to break camp in the majors next spring. His patience and power still make him the logical successor to Magglio Ordonez in right field, and if he follows his pattern of alternating solid seasons with disasters like his minor league numbers this summer, Clevlen should emerge as an unquestioned member of the 2008 Tigers. He remains one of the riskiest prospects in the organization, albeit with as much fantasy upside as any position player shy of Cam Maybin.

3. Ryan Raburn, 25, 2B-R
124/451 for .275/.352/.490 with 20 HR, 79 RBI, 68 R, 16/20 SB%,
and a 51:120 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).

Questionable defense resulted in Raburn seeing plenty of time in the outfield this year, yet Detroit's failure to promote him in September after this very impressive campaign illustrates his failure to impress the organization's brass. He desperately needs a change of scenery before his window to secure a regular big league job disappears. Perhaps a good spring will earn him the Tigers' bench spot he merited this summer, though as long as he opens the year somewhere in the majors, an endgame selection of Raburn could pay welcome dividends for you.

4. Andrew Miller, 21, LH Starter
0-1 on a 6:10 K:BB in 10.1 IP over 8 G
with 8 H, 0 HR, a 22-3 G-F, and a 6.10 ERA.
0-0 on a 9:1 K:BB in 5 IP over 3 G
with 2 H, 0 HR, an 8.00 G-F, and a 0.00 ERA for A+ Lakeland(FSL).

The sixth player selected this June, slipping from the top spot only due to his elevated bonus demands, the nation's top college pitcher signed a Major League deal in early August and joined the Tigers after only three appearances in the minors. Miller understandably struggled in the majors and now should return to starting next spring, most likely spending most of 2007 in the upper minors before again challenging for a promotion by the fall. He possesses as much upside as any left-handed pitching prospect in the game, and considering Detroit's overall depth, he should sail through the minors before finding a surprisingly comfortable end-of-the-rotation slot on the Tigers. Injuries remain his only true obstacle to immediate success, yet feel free to select Miller among the first half-dozen rookie pitchers taken in any spring draft.

5. Jordan Tata, 25, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 6:7 K:BB in 14.2 IP over 8 G
with 14 H, 1 HR, a 1.21 G-F, and a 6.14 ERA.
10-6 on an 86:49 K:BB in 122 IP over 21 GS
with 117 H, 11 HR, a 1.20 G-F, and a 3.84 ERA for AAA Toledo(IL).

Employed as roster filer as needed in the majors, Tata remains a respectable starting prospect in his own right, especially considering he leapt straight from A-ball to Toledo this year. Of course, his lack of dominance still depicts a future reliever since nothing here suggests any upside beyond an end-of-the-rotation starter. Plus, he faces competition from a bevy of potential future aces. You could consider a Dollar Days' pick if he opens the year in Detroit in the hope that he'll fill a starting slot, however waiting until Tata begins accruing positive fantasy value remains your best bet.

6. David Espinosa, 24, OF-S
78/293 for .266/.362/.451 with 9 HR, 27 RBI, 50 R, 12/18 SB%,
and a 43:70 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).

The former first round pick finally succeeded at Triple-A, positioning himself for a spot on the Tigers' bench if he wallops the ball in camp. Of course, Espinosa's limited upside might prevent Detroit from promoting him, however I still suspect we'll see him in the majors no later than 2008, especially since his respectable all-around skills should fit nicely as a reserve on several teams.

7. Humberto Sanchez, 23, RH Starter
5-3 on a 43:20 K:BB in 51.1 IP over 9 GS
with 50 H, 2 HR, a 1.02 G-F, and a 3.86 ERA for AAA Toledo(IL).
5-3 on an 86:27 K:BB in 71.2 IP over 11 GS
with 47 H, 2 HR, a 1.57 G-F, and a 1.76 ERA for AA Erie(EL).

Right elbow tendonitis and chronic inflammation sidelined Sanchez for much of the second half, dimming his rising star just as the Tigers' rotation congeals for the first time in a generation. Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, and Nate Robertson all could remain with the team through decade's end, and Joel Zumaya, Andrew Miller, and Jair Jurrjens also will challenge for key roles. Sanchez certainly could rebound following Detroit's failure to leverage his first half numbers into a deal for more offense, but I instead suspect he'll slide into a middle relief role given his questionable endurance and inconsistent control. Don't spend any more than a token draft pick on him in any league.

8. Jeff Larish, 24, 1B-L
118/457 for .258/.379/.460 with 17 HR, 65 RBI, 76 R, 9/16 SB%,
and an 81:101 BB:K for A+ Lakeland(FSL).

With the fourth highest walk total in all of A-ball and as much power upside as anyone in the organization, only Larish's relatively advanced age truly worries me here. Any improvement in his .78 contact rate will send his BA toward an acceptable .270 mark, leaving the Tigers with a potential long-term option at first base if Chris Shelton can't rebound from his post-April letdown. Yet I can't wholeheartedly endorse Larish right now since he'll never play in a particularly friendly hitters' park. Only owners in especially deep leagues should bother rostering him prior to 2008.

9. Virgil Vasquez, 24, RH Starter
7-12 on a 129:50 K:BB in 173.2 IP over 27 GS
with 174 H, 21 HR, a 1.08 G-F, and a 3.73 ERA for AA Erie(EL).

Not a future starter on a team with as many talented youngsters as the Tigers, Vasquez nevertheless continued his progress to the majors, pitching effectively for Erie while demonstrating respectable all-around skills. Limited upside could leave him stranded in long relief, but if the club suffers many injuries in 2007, Vasquez could find himself spending the summer on the Toledo-Detroit shuttle, even possibly producing limited positive fantasy value.

10. Tony Giarratano, 24, SS-S
76/269 for .283/.340/.390 with 0 HR, 19 RBI, 35 R, 16/20 SB%,
and a 22:45 BB:K for AA Erie(EL).

A torn ACL ended Giarratano's season in July, providing us yet another indication of his inability to stay healthy for a full season. The good news is that his respectable plate discipline, baserunning instincts, and defensive flexibility allow the Tigers to profile him as a strong backup option as Omar Infante grows more expensive. I expect Giarratano to spend a few years as a reserve infielder on the Tigers, assuming he avoids the DL long enough to return to Detroit within the next couple seasons.

11. Jack Hannahan, 26, 1B-L
0/9 for .000/.100/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:1 BB:K.
117/415 for .282/.379/.412 with 9 HR, 62 RBI, 59 R, 9/15 SB%,
and a 61:114 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).

A former third round pick and third-baseman-of-the-future, a couple of decent AAA campaigns at least give Hannahan a chance at earning a big league bench spot. Unfortunately, the Tigers outrighted him back to Toledo in August, leaving little chance for him to see many more at-bats in Detroit.

12. Jair Jurrjens, 20, RH Starter
4-3 on a 53:21 K:BB in 67 IP over 12 GS
with 71 H, 7 HR, 2.58 G-F, and a 3.36 ERA for AA Erie(EL).
5-0 on a 59:10 K:BB in 73.2 IP over 12 GS
with 63 H, 4 HR, a 1.55 G-F, and a 2.08 ERA for A+ Lakeland(FSL).

Following an unspectacularly effective campaign in the Midwest League in 2005, the Curacao product turned 20 in January and just demolished Florida State League batters through the first half of the season. His continued success upon his promotion elevates him among the Tigers' best pure prospects, clearly behind only Maybin and Miller. With good health, limited downside, and an improving skill set, Jurrjens at least offers plenty of trade value for an organization suddenly awash with intriguing young power arms. While he won't help you too much at the moment, a move to any team with less upper-level pitching competition could boost Jurrjens all the way to a mid-round draft pick in the spring.

13. Mike Rabelo, 26, C-S
0/1 for .000/.000/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:1 BB:K.
37/137 for .270/.333/.423 with 3 HR, 22 RBI, 19 R, 1/2 SB%,
and an 11:33 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).
59/213 for .277/.361/.432 with 6 HR, 28 RBI, 31 R, 2/3 SB%,
and a 19:38 BB:K for AA Erie(EL).

Among the least known players to debut in the majors this summer, Rabelo's solid work in the upper minors makes him a solid third catcher for the Tigers. He never should see time as a starter and may even struggle to receive regular work as a reserve, however a consistently respectable BA also indicates that Rabelo shouldn't hurt you if needed as a short-term roster filler.

14. Dallas Trahern, 20, RH Starter
6-11 on an 86:41 K:BB in 144.2 IP over 25 GS
with 129 H, 9 HR, a 3.58 G-F, and a 3.30 ERA for A+ Lakeland(FSL).

Ranked among Detroit's top half-dozen pitching prospects prior to the season, Trahern nicely improved his skills despite his move from the Midwest to the Florida State League. Possessing one of the best groundball rates in the minors to complement his solid control, he should develop into no less than a competent inning eater. Of course, he shouldn't see the majors much before 2009 given his age and the higher-upside competition he faces on the Tigers, severely limiting Trahern's current fantasy value.

15. Eulogio de la Cruz, 22, RH Reliever
0-0 on a 3:2 K:BB in 2.1 IP over 1 GS
with 4 H, 1 HR, a 1.00 G-F, and an 11.57 ERA for AAA Toledo(IL).
5-6 and 2 Saves on an 87:45 K:BB in 105 IP over 12 GS(38G)
with 103 H, 3 HR, a 1.78 G-F, and a 3.43 ERA for AA Erie(EL).

With less overall upside than most of his competition for bullpen slots in Detroit, he still could blossom into a key reliever once he abandons starting completely. I fully expect him to split 2007 between the Mud Hens and the Tigers, securing a permanent big league job the following summer. Wait until de la Cruz begins succeeding in the majors before rostering him anywhere.

Roster Filler and Long-Term Prospects

Nate Bumstead, 24, RH Starter
7-14 on a 127:79 K:BB in 158 IP over 27 GS
with 171 H, 14 HR, a 1.66 G-F, and a 4.90 ERA for AA Erie(EL).

Bumstead's strikeout rate, walk rate, and ERA all shot upward upon his promotion from A-ball. A shift to the bullpen appears the best route to the majors for someone with far less upside than most of the Tigers' alternatives for big league jobs.

John Ennis, 27, RH Reliever
0-1 on a 31:13 K:BB in 36.2 IP over 1 GS(22G)
with 30 H, 2 HR, a .95 G-F, and a 2.45 ERA for AAA Toledo(IL).
2-3 and 13 Saves on a 25:11 K:BB in 26.1 IP over 24 G
with 27 H, 1 HR, a .64 G-F, and a 3.08 ERA for AA Erie(EL).

Heading into his third winter of minor league free agency, hopefully Ennis will avoid signing with the Tigers once again and instead sign with an organization more prepared to reward his effective work in the upper minors. While not a particularly impressive pitcher, his overall skill set as a reliever definitely indicates a solid chance at continued success in the majors. He might not hurt you as roster filler and could develop into a regularly viable option.

Corey Hamman, 26, LH Reliever
2-8 on a 56:27 K:BB in 103 IP over 13 GS(37G)
with 103 H, 15 HR, a 1.24 G-F, and a 4.02 ERA for AAA Toledo(IL).

Hamman deserved an August promotion far more than Andrew Miller, but at least the Tigers sent him to the AFL, suggesting they still see a future for him in the organization. A good camp just might result in him opening 2007 in the majors, though I see relatively scant upside for Hamman, who simply lacks the dominance to develop into more than a competent middle relief.

Kevin Hooper, 29, 2B-R
0/3 for .000/.250/.000 with 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:1 BB:K.
139/504 for .276/.309/.327 with 1 HR, 29 RBI, 66 R, 24/36 SB%,
and a 23:71 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).

High on the list of potential David Eckstein clones after the Angels won the Series, Hooper's vagabond career since leaving the Marlins in 2004 suggests he'll never spend so much as a full year in the majors. While he snagged brief call-ups in each of the last two seasons, Hooper never will possess any fantasy value unless you see him stealing bases in the majors for a manager who appreciate his limited skills.

Jason Karnuth, 30, RH Reliever
2-0 and 2 Saves on a 16:5 K:BB in 28.2 IP over 24 G
with 31 H, 4 HR, a 3.00 G-F, and a 4.08 ERA for AAA Toledo(IL).
0-7 and 15 Saves on a 25:20 K:BB in 42.2 IP over 38 G
with 39 H, 2 HR, a 2.79 G-F, and a 4.43 ERA for AAA Sacramento(PCL).

Dumped by Oakland after either losing or saving the game in more than half his appearances, Karnuth regained his effectiveness upon returning to Toledo, where he spent most of the previous two summers. His outstanding groundball rate and normally solid control make him a quality AAAA option, albeit not one who offers any real upside to a club with as many potentially dominant arms as the Tigers.

Don Kelly, 26, SS-L
54/237 for .228/.304/.312 with 0 HR, 19 RBI, 23 R, 18/25 SB%,
and a 24:32 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).
57/207 for .275/.354/.338 with 0 HR, 24 RBI, 30 R, 5/8 SB%,
and a 27:23 BB:K for AA Erie(EL).

Another competent middle infielder stagnating in the Tigers' system, Kelly at least can find a better opportunity elsewhere as a minor league free agent. With nothing left to prove at Erie, his defensive flexibility, speed, and patience all warrant a full AAA campaign to see if he deserves a big league bench job. Detroit management obviously disagrees with that assessment, but I won't be surprised to Kelly appear on a fantasy waiver wire any time in the next few seasons.

Kody Kirkland, 23, 3B-R
3/17 for .176/.176/.294 with 0 HR, 1 RBI, 1 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 0:10 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).
93/428 for .217/.290/.453 with 22 HR, 65 RBI, 61 R, 9/19 SB%,
and a 26:157 BB:K for AA Erie(EL).

Continued power development helps Kirkland retain some facet of his former prospect status, but other than his extra-base potential, nothing in these numbers gives him a real shot at succeeding in the majors. He rarely hits for average, walks only once a week, and exercises poor judgment on the bases when he doesn't walk directly back to the dugout. Cut bait on Kirkland anywhere you still own him.

Preston Larrison, 26, RH Reliever
1-0 on a 3:5 K:BB in 10.1 IP over 6 G
with 12 H, 1 HR, a 1.73 G-F, and a 1.74 ERA for AAA Toledo(IL).
4-10 and 1 Save on a 48:40 K:BB in 105.2 IP over 15 GS(26G)
with 108 H, 10 HR, a 2.28 G-F, and a 3.92 ERA for AA Erie(EL).

The 2001 second round pick always suffered from command problems even when fully healthy. Despite Larrison's relative effectiveness this year, a poor strikeout rate hopefully will prompt the Tigers to put him in Toledo's bullpen next year in the hope of salvaging something from their former top prospect.

Chris Maples, 26, 3B-R
7/34 for .206/.229/.412 with 2 HR, 5 RBI, 3 R, 0/0 SB%,
and a 1:8 BB:K for AAA Toledo(IL).
96/342 for .281/.329/.541 with 20 HR, 71 RBI, 52 R, a 4/8 SB%,
and a 24:93 BB:K for AA Erie(EL).

Although I also don't expect Maples to develop into a regular, he rates as a superior prospect to teammate Kody Kirkland by virtue of far superior plate discipline. Any echo of his Erie numbers at Toledo at least will give him a shot to reach the majors.

Kyle Sleeth, 24, RH Starter
1-4 on a 7:21 K:BB in 19.2 IP over 7 GS(8G)
with 23 H, 2 HR, a 2.00 G-F, and an 11.90 ERA for A+ Lakeland(FSL).
1-0 and 1 Save on a 17:3 K:BB in 17.1 IP over 4 GS(5G)
with 22 H, 0 HR, a 2.78 G-F, and a 3.63 ERA for R Tigers(GCL).

Tommy John surgery cost Sleeth all of 2005 and almost all of 2006. His miserable performance when healthy severely damages Sleeth's prospect status, leaving 2007 as a make-or-break year for the third player selected in the 2003 draft. While I still see some potential here, he just doesn't warrant a fantasy roster slot given the multitudes of more valuable rookies available for you to draft.

Clete Thomas, 22, OF-L
136/529 for .257/.333/.367 with 6 HR, 40 RBI, 67 R, 34/47 SB%,
and a 56:127 BB:K for A+ Lakeland(FSL).

Most likely to develop into a capable fifth outfielder, Thomas lacks the power to unseat Curtis Granderson or Cam Maybin in the Tigers' outfield. He also offers scant immediate fantasy value due to his restricted skill set. Remember Thomas more as a potential in-season addition in leagues where you need steals than as a viable draft pick in the spring.

Kevin Whelan, 22, RH Reliever
4-1 and 27 Saves on a 69:29 K:BB in 54 IP over 51 G
with 33 H, 1 HR, a .74 G-F, and a 2.67 ERA for A+ Lakeland(FSL).

A dominant force against right-handers and no worse than adequate against lefties, the 2005 fourth round pick suffers from inconsistent control that could delay his ascent to the majors. Possessing some of the best pure stuff in the system, I strongly suspect he'll peak in middle relief on the Tigers, only occasionally enjoying a year with more than a dozen save opportunities. Whelan's not a good fantasy option right now despite meriting your occasional attention as he progresses toward Detroit.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Consider leveraging the Tigers' elevated organizational profile with immediate trades of prospects like Maybin, Clevlen, and Miller. I don't expect any rookie in the system to reach more than miniscule positive fantasy value in 2007, so attempting to convert to Detroit's success in developing rookies over the last two years into higher current returns on the club's best prospects seems wise.

Team Overview and Organization Rankings

Winning the pennant this season ranks as an amazing accomplishment for Jim Leyland, Dave Dombrowski, and the entire Tigers' organization, as well as Scott Boras, who steered Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and Kenny Rogers to Detroit in successive winters only to see them anchor the club's rise into contention. Justin Verlander should win Rookie of the Year, Joel Zumaya emerged as the hardest thrower in the game, other youngsters like Brent Clevlen and Zach Miner played vital roles, and sophomore Curtis Granderson helped drive the offense. Of course, losing Verlander, Zumaya, and Granderson to the majors over the past sixteen months cost the system half its top prospects, and even adding Andrew Miller in this year's draft doesn't compensate for the talent drain. Only Miller and Cameron Maybin appear certain to succeed with the Tigers as Humberto Sanchez can't stay healthy, Jair Jurrjens only reaches Double-A in 2007, and virtually everybody else in the organization seems destined for no more than the Tigers' bench or bullpen. While Maybin's upside prevents me from ranking Detroit dead last, few prospects here possess much fantasy value at the moment despite current or upcoming openings throughout the big league lineup. Keeping Jeremy Bonderman, Carlos Guillen, Verlander, Zumaya, Granderson, and Ordonez healthy and productive remains essential to the club's continued success in baseball's deepest division.

Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2006, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of low-level minor leaguers from each system:

1. Cleveland Indians(K.Kouzmanoff, T.Crowe, B.Barton)
2. Chicago White Sox(Fields, R.Sweeney, J.Owens)
3. Boston Red Sox(Pedroia, Ellsbury, Kottaras)
4. Detroit Tigers(Maybin, An.Miller)
5. Baltimore Orioles(Fiorentino)

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