The biggest early news out of Lakeland has been how good left-hander Casey Crosby has looked. Having missed two of the last three years due to a balky elbow, Crosby is in dire need of a healthy season to re- establish his prospect status.
According to TigerTown Pitching Coordinator Greg Sabat, Crosby looks "great."
"He really does look good, great even," said Sabat via phone this week. "He looks strong. His fastball is good. His curveball looks improved. "
Sabat also noted that Crosby's velocity is back into the mid-90s as it was during his breakout 2009 season at West Michigan. A strong spring showing by Crosby and he should be helping anchor the starting rotation at High-A Lakeland.
Two other pitchers returning from elbow problems in 2010 are right-handers Tyler Stohr and Michael Morrison. The two relievers had surgery only a week apart last summer and have been moving through the rehab process side-by-side.
Both pitchers are close to throwing in game situations, and could be ready to make an appearance on Opening Day rosters.
"They both have big league stuff," noted Sabat. "They're coming along great. They are really, really strong and I think they're getting there."
Left-hander Austin Wood is also targeting an early season return to game action, as he continues coming back from minor shoulder surgery last year. Wood has been in Lakeland since just after the New Year, and he began throwing bullpen sessions at the end of January. If healthy, the Texas product should be in the mix for a Double-A relief job.
A return to Double-A action may not be as close for Cody Satterwhite, but he is still making good progress in his recovery from major surgery on his right shoulder.
"He's still working flat ground, nothing on the mound yet," said Sabat. "He's out to 90-feet now and he looks good. The ball is coming out of his hand well. He hasn't had any pain. It's good progress."
Though there are still numerous variables in play, Satterwhite is on target for a mid-summer return to game action, possibly around the beginning of July.
Another pitcher who won't be making any in-game appearances until later this year is right-handed closer Melvin Mercedes. The power armed youngster, once dubbed by Sabat as a "wild pony" still hasn't let things fly yet in his recovery, but he is throwing regularly and could make a lower level appearance late in the season.
The final pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery is left-handed import Hua-Wei Lo. A converted outfielder, Lo is throwing regular bullpens and will look to make his professional debut this summer.
"His last couple of bullpens have been the best I've seen since we signed him," said Sabat. "He was sitting in the upper-80s and sometimes into the low 90s. It was good progress for him."
Two pitchers that aren't necessarily coming back from injury but are looking to find themselves in 2011 are hard throwing right-handers Brandon Hamilton and Ramon Lebron. Both capable of sitting in the mid-90s and touching higher than that, the two fire ballers are trying to find that consistent place where they can throw strikes.
"We're just going to let them go and see what they can do," said Sabat in a hopeful tone.
The Tigers seemed to hit a run of bad luck with the health of their pitching prospects in 2010, but Sabat was quick to give credit where credit was due.
"[Dustin] Campbell has done a great job with these kids," Sabat said emphatically. "He does a ton of research, he knows what he's doing, he's really avant-garde. I came back from Venezuela this winter, looked at him and said, ‘Damn, you did great work!'."
Only time will tell if that great work pays off and each of these pitchers is truly able to regain their prospect status, but for now, positive steps forward in rehab and recovery are all that can be asked for.