Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tigers Prospect Rankings

Eddie of Tigers Thoughts has posted the Brian Bluhm Memorial Tigers prospect rankings at MotownSports. As many of you know, Mr Bluhm was one of the students killed in the tragic Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. Since Brian was an avid fan of Tigers minor league baseball, Eddie honors his memory by putting together an extensive prospect ranking each off-season. Several fans, who follow the Tigers organization very closely, rank the top 50 prospects and submit their lists to Eddie. Eddie then combines the ballots into an aggregate list. The top ten prospects going into the 2010 season are:

1. Casey Crosby (5 first place votes)
2. Jacob Turner (4)
3. Scott Sizemore
4. Austin Jackson (1)
5. Alex Avila
6. Daniel Schlereth
7. Ryan Strieby
8. Wilkin Ramirez
9. Casper Wells
10. Andy Oliver

The complete top 30 list can be found at Motownsports. Also included this year is a list of the top Tigers players 25 years old and under:

1. Rick Porcello (9)
2. Max Scherzer (1)
3. Casey Crosby
4. Jacob Turner
5. Scott Sizemore
6. Ryan Perry
7. Austin Jackson
8. Alex Avila
9. Daniel Schlereth
10. Ryan Strieby

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tigers Invite 13 Players to Spring Training

The Tigers have added 13 players to spring training as non-roster invitees: pitchers Phil Dumatrait, Enrique Gonzalez, Josh Rainwater, Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt; catchers Robinson Diaz, Johm Murriam, Mike Rabelo, Eric Roof and Max St.Pierre; and infielders Kory Casto, Jeff Larish and Gustavo Nunez.

The best pitching prospects of the group are Robbie Weinhardt and Cody Satterwhite. Weinhardt had quite a bit of success pitching for single A Lakeland and AA Erie in 2009. In 63 innings combined, the 24 year old right-hander posted a 1.57 ERA and a 72/26 K/BB ratio. The 22 year old Satterwhite had a 3.47 ERA in 49 1/3 innings with Erie. Both have outside shots at making the 25 man roster.

Diaz has a good chance to come north as the Tigers back-up catcher. The other catchers will just be used to handle the large number of pitchers on the spring roster. It's something that all teams do every spring.

Kory Casto is a corner outfielder/infielder who has batted .194 in 239 PAs for the Nationals. He batted .271/.334/.378 for AAA Syracuse in 2009. I talked about Jeff Larish yesterday. Because the Tigers desperately need left-handed bats, either Casto or Larish could make the team as a role player with a strong spring. There is still a good chance they could add a veteran from outside the organization before the season though. Nunez is a good shortstop prospect but will only get a look. He's very raw and needs more time in the minors.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Larish Removed from 40 Man Roster

According to Jason Beck, Jeff Larish has been outrighted to Toledo to make room for Jose Valverde on the 40 man roster. I had heard rumblings about Donald Kelly, Jay Sborz or Alfredo Figaro being removed so this move was a little surprising. Larish had a lot of promise as a left-handed hitting role player a year ago, but seems to have fallen in the depth charts. He draws walks (22 in 178 MLB at bats) and has power but does not make frequent contact (one strikeout every three at bats). He is also blocked by Miguel Cabrera at first base and has been unable to find another position.

Larish is not totally out of the picture, as he will be invited to spring training as a non-roster player. One reason for the move may have been that the Tigers felt he was easier to pass through waivers than other candidates. Why did they not just release Dontrelle Willis? I suspect that Willis is remaining on the roster for insurance reasons, that is, they can get some many back if he goes on the DL.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Roster Takes Shape As Spring Training Approaches

The many Tigerfest interviews revealed some answers regarding the Tigers plans for the upcoming spring training and regular season.

First, Dave Dombrowski confirmed that Gerald Laird would continue to get the bulk of the catching duties, at least for the first part of the season. How much Alex Avila plays will depend on how spring training goes for him both offensively and defensively, although he needs more work on the latter than the former. He could open the season as the Tigers back-up catcher or he could go to Toledo for regular playing time. If he does go to Toledo, then Robinson Diaz will be the back-up. Diaz batted .279/.307/.357 in 149 at bats for the Pirates in 2009. He has a reputation as a capable defender.

Jim Leyland said that rookie center fielder Austin Jackson will start the spring as the Tigers lead off hitter but there is no guarantee he will be there on opening day. Nobody is worried about Jackson's defense. He is a strong defender, who is capable of replacing Curtis Granderson in the field. The question is his offense. He batted .300 in AAA last year but had a 40/123 BB/K ratio and a very low .105 isolated power. He has yet to show home run power at any level. Leyland also said he would be reluctant to have two rookies batting at the the top of the order. So, if Jackson leads off, Sizemore probably won't bat second.

Leyland also convinced Dombrowski that newly acquired Phil Coke should be a reliever, rather than a starter. Leyland feels as if there are already enough pitchers auditioning for starting jobs this spring and he didn't want Coke to take their innings. I suspect there's more to it than that though. He has seen Coke as a reliever and probably feels he is best suited to that role.

The Tigers appear confident that Jeremy Bonderman will be the fourth starter behind Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer. I'm skeptical but hopeful. If he somehow gets back to full strength, that would be a huge boost to the staff. The main competitors for the fifth spot are Nate Robertson, Armando Galarraga and Eddie Bonine.

Given all of the above, here's an early projection of the opening day roster:

C. Gerald Laird
1B. Miguel Cabrera
2B. Scott Sizemore
SS. Adam Everett
3B. Brandon Inge
LF. Ryan Raburn (Leyland now says it will be Guillen but I suspect he'll play more DH)
CF. Austin Jackson
RF. Magglio Ordonez
DH. Carlos Guillen

C. Robinson Diaz
IF Ramon Santiago
OF. Clete Thomas
UT. Donnie Kelly

SP. Justin Verlander
SP. Rick Porcello
SP. Max Scherzer
SP. Jeremy Bonderman
SP. Nate Robertson

RP. Jose Velarde
RP. Bobby Seay
RP. Phil Coke
RP. Fu-Te-Ni
RP Ryan Perry
RP. Zach Miner
RP. Dan Schlereth

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Tigers sign Valverde

The Tigers have signed free agent closer Jose Valverde to a two year $ 14 million contract with an option for a third year. The Tigers needed a veteran reliever after losing Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney to free agency. Valverde is a talented closer but he comes at a fairly steep price. Since he was a type A free agent, the Tigers will have to surrender their first round pick (the 19th overall pick) in the first year player draft.

This is a repeat from my earlier article but Valverde posted a 2.33 ERA and 56/21 K/BB ratio in 52 games last year. He was 25 for 29 in save situations in 2009 and 116 for 134 (87%) over the last three years. According to The Bill James Handbook, he had 41 clean outings in 52 games last year. A clean outing is any appearance in which a reliever does not allow a run or an inherited run to score. His 79% clean outing percentage compared favorably to Fernando Rodney (70%), Brandon Lyon (69%) and the MLB average (64%) in 2009.

Given the moves the Tigers have made to trim payroll and get younger this winter, giving up a first round pick for an expensive closer is a rather curious move. Valverde probably gives them their most talented reliever since Joel Zumaya in 2006 but the question is: will there be enough leads for him to protect with their offense?

Friday, January 08, 2010

Tigers Top Ten Prospects

Baseball America released their top 10 Tigers prospects today. Not surprisingly, prized pitching prospects Jacob Turner and Casey Crosby made the top two spots. Turner was the the first pick in last year's First Year Player Draft and has not yet thrown a pitch as a professional. He will probably pitch at low class A West Michigan in 2010. The left-handed Crosby came back from Tommy John surgery to post a 2.41 ERA with 117 strikeouts in 105 innings for West Michigan in 2009. The 2007 fifth round pick will probably pitch for class A Lakeland in 2010.

The Tigers strengthened their system this off-season with the acqusitions of center fielder Austin Jackson from the Yankees and left-haded reliever Daniel Schlereth from the Diamondbacks. Jackson finished third on the Baseball America list and Schlereth was 5th. Bost have a good chance to start the season with the Tigers.

The biggest surprise to me was that Scott Sizemore finished only tenth. I was expecting the Tigers 2010 starting second baseman to make the top five. Shortstop Gustavo Nunez finished a little higher than expected at seventh. The 21 year old Nunez batted .315/.360/.425 for West Michigan last year and is a strong fielder.

The complete top ten is listed below:

1. Jacob Turner, rhp

2. Casey Crosby, lhp

3. Austin Jackson, of

4. Andy Oliver, lhp

5. Daniel Schlereth, lhp

6. Alex Avila, c

7. Gustavo Nunez, ss

8. Wilkin Ramirez, of

9. Daniel Fields, ss

10. Scott Sizemore, 2b

Tigers Interested in Valverde

Jason Beck reports that the Tigers have some interest in signing free agent closer Jose Valverde, who has pitched for the Houston Astros the past two season. This is surprising since the Tigers have been reluctant to spend money this off-season and it was thought that they would not pursue any costly free agents. Buster Olney says via ESPN Insider that Valverde is asking for $8 million per season. It would also likely require a multi-year deal to get him.

Valverde posted a 2.33 ERA and 56/21 K/BB ratio in 52 games last year. He was 25 for 29 in save situations in 2009 and 116 for 134 (87%) over the last three years. According to The Bill James Handbook, he had 41 clean outings in 52 games last year. A clean outing is any appearance in which a reliever does not allow a run or an inherited run to score. His 79% clean outing percentage compared favorably to Fernando Rodney (70%), Brandon Lyon (69%) and the MLB average (64%) in 2009.

The Tigers have a number of young relievers - Ryan Perry, Joel Zumaya, Daniel Schlereth, Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weihardt - who have the potential to close this year or in the near future. However, they have no proven option, so Valverde would cetainly improve the bullpen.

Beyond finances, the downside to signing Valverde would be that the Tigers would have to surrender a first round draft pick as compensation. One has to question whether it would be a wise move for an apparently re-tooling team to give up a draft pick for a 32 year old reliever. On the other hand, he would be a valuable trading chip at the deadline if the Tigers are not in the race.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Tigers Strong in Right Historically

Today, I'll finish my historical Wins Above Replacement (WAR) series using Sean Smith's WAR database to rank Tigers right fielders. Other parts of the series including an explanation of WAR can be found in the WAR folder.

With three of the top seven WAR among all position players, right field is the Tigers strongest position,historically. Al Kaline is the leading right fielder and has the second highest WAR (91.0) behind Ty Cobb. Following Kaline are Harry Heilmann (65.7) and Sam Crawford (65.7). The top ten right fielders are listed in Table 1.


The Tigers right fielders also rate well by WAR per 600 plate appearances (WAR600) taking four of the top nine spots among all Tigers position players. Table 2 shows that the leading right fielder is Heilmann (4.84 WAR600) edging out Kaline (4.77). The next two spots belong to Crawford (4.50) and Roy Cullenbine (4.49). Cullenbine had three very good seasons for the Tigers averaging 109 walks per year with a .416 OBP from 1945-1947

Table 1: Top Ten Tigers Right Fielders by WAR

Player

PA

WAR

Al Kaline

11,448

91.0

Harry Heilmann

8,128

65.7

Sam Crawford

8,646

64.8

Kirk Gibson

4,718

25.6

Jim Northrup

4,885

19.7

Vic Wertz

3,198

15.5

Roy Cullenbine

1,938

14.5

Magglio Ordonez

2,784

13.6

Pete Fox

4,217

11.0

Goose Goslin

2,204

9.1




Table 2: Top Five Tigers Right Fielders by WAR600

Player

PA

WAR600

Harry Heilmann

8,128

4.84

Al Kaline

11,488

4.77

Sam Crawford

8,646

4.50

Roy Cullenbine

1,938

4.49

Magglio Ordonez

2,268

3.49

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