Led by manager Basilio Cabrera, this year's edition of the GCL Tigers featured a young, raw, and toolsy roster; a roster from which you didn't quite know what you were going to get from one game to the next. Aside from a couple of rehabbing minor league veterans, and a couple of college draftees, the Tigers roster was comprised largely of 19 and 20 year olds with intriguing talent.
"There were actually some interesting guys on that club this summer," said one veteran AL talent evaluator. "I saw some kids that made me think a bit. You might see one or two of them take steps forward and become prospects."
As has regularly been the case in recent years, the Tigers flooded the GCL roster with a host of Latin American talent, including numerous players making their stateside debuts; including Juaner Aguasvivas, Javier Azcona, Gilbert Gomez, Dixon Machado, Alexander Moreno, Steven Moya, Gabriel Purroy, Samir Rijo, Fernando Celis, Antonio Cruz, Ariel Medina, Wilsen Palacios, and Yadiel Polanco.
On the offensive side of the ball, Aguasvivas came out of the gates roaring, en route to piling up 14 doubles and five home runs, while leading the team in RBI with 27 in 52 games. The 20-year old first baseman showed the power potential he possesses, but also showed that he must adjust to the improved pitching in the states.
Third baseman and TigsTown's GCL Player of the Year, Javier Azcona, made those adjustments and finished his season on a very positive note. His .256/.296/.403 line doesn't blow you away on the surface, but his flurry at summers end helped him finish with nine doubles, four triples, and three home runs.
"There's something about [Azcona] that makes you curious," said one NL scout. "He's got good makeup, a good body, a good idea of the game, and there's no doubt he's going to get more physical. I'm not on the wagon yet, but I won't hesitate to jump on."
Steven Moya made his unofficial stateside debut last fall during the Instructional League, and while he struggled mightily this summer in his GCL debut, there were still plenty of people that found him interesting. Moya's power projection is nearly unmatched within the organization, and he is such a diligent worker, that many within the organization believe he will begin to approach that ceiling.
The 18-year old outfielder finished the summer with a disappointing .190/.229/.299 line, while striking out 64 times in just 40 games. He certainly has the size and strength, but his approach and athleticism must catch up to the rest of his game.
One of the team's offensive leaders this summer was 2010 draft pick Pete Miller. Miller finished his first professional season with a .287/.410/.348 line in 40 games, playing mostly second base, while also seeing time at shortstop and third base.
"He's not a prospect by any means," said one frequent observer. "But he was invaluable to that club this summer. His mentality and approach to the game as his job was a good thing for some of those kids to see."
Near the season's end, one of the bright spots for the struggling GCL club was the seven-game appearance of the Tigers top 2010 draft pick, third baseman Nick Castellanos. After receiving a multi-million dollar signing bonus, Castellanos made his professional debut by hitting .333 in 24 at-bats, with two doubles, four walks, and five strikeouts.
Throughout the summer, the GCL Tigers pitching kept them in many games, as a litany of arms stepped up to turn in strong performances on the mound.
From the front of the starting rotation, free agent signing Steve Crnkovich was absolutely lights out all summer long. The 22-year old Tennessee product finished with a 5-3 record and 1.58 ERA in ten appearances (eight starts). Along with his miniscule ERA, Crnkovich allowed just 26 hits in 45 2/3 innings, while walking only seven, and striking out 51.
"He was clearly too good for that league," said the NL scout. "He just worked those other kids over. It wasn't even fair."
The Tigers missed Crnkovich's presence down the stretch, as he left the team to return to school and complete his degree requirements.
Not to be out-done, Jeff Ferrell turned in his own strong summer in the GCL; finishing with an even 5-5 record in eleven starts, averaging over five innings per start. Ferrell walked only 12 and allowed 52 hits, while fanning 57. He was also one of only two players on the roster to record a complete game; notching two of them.
The teams two other season-long starters were Wilsen Palacio and Kyle Ryan, both of whom flashed moments of brilliance throughout the year. Palacios finished with a 2.79 ERA in eleven starts, with only 11 walks in 61 1/3 innings, while Ryan finished with just a 2-4 mark in 12 starts, but flashed the potential that made him the Tigers 12th round choice.
Also playing an invaluable role for the Tigers this summer was Venezuelan right-hander Fernando Celis. Though he didn't make a single start all season, Celis still tossed 41 1/3 innings over 19 appearances out of the bullpen. His workhorse mentality as a reliever helped the Tigers navigate strict pitch counts for many of their starters. Celis finished with a 2.61 ERA and only five walks in his time on the hill.
Closing down the back end of games for the Tigers was 19-year old right-hander, and TigsTown's GCL Pitcher of the Year, Bruce Rondon. After starting the 2009 season in the GCL, Rondon was sent back to the VSL to improve his makeup and approach to the game.
That wakeup call proved a success, as Rondon's raw stuff showed through on the mound this summer, and he began to step forward as the type of pitcher the Tigers may have envisioned. Working with a fastball that can get into the low-90s, Rondon posted a 0.70 ERA in 24 outings; saving a league best 15 games and allowing only eleven hits in 25 2/3 innings. Walks were still a bit of a problem for Rondon, as he issued 14 free passes, but he also fanned 26 to counteract that negative trait.
"The command has to improve," said an AL scout. "It has to come forward for him to succeed, but he has that look in his eye on the mound, and the stuff to back it up. He's more of a setup guy for me right now, but he could move up a couple levels next year."
Despite the lowest scoring offense in the GCL this year, the Tigers pitching (ranked third in runs per game and ERA) picked up the slack and propelled the Tigers to an over-.500 record of 30-28, and a third place finish in the North Division; only three games out of first.
With a team younger than the league average, and chock full of raw, toolsy players, the job done by the coaching staff of Cabrera, Andrew Graham, and Greg Sabat, was one to be proud of.