The Tigers have been criticized for their handling of converted outfielder Daniel Fields, as they pushed him to High-A Lakeland after the season started and left him there all year long. It certainly wasn't pretty early on as the then 19-year old prospect was just over a year removed from playing against Michigan high school kids.
Fields settled in as the season went along and finished the season with his best month in a tough offensive environment against players generally 2-3 years his elder. In August, Fields posted a strong .264/.368/.440 line that hints at his ultimate potential.
Packed with a power-speed combination that scouts dream of, Fields may be primed for a monster 2011 season as he returns to Lakeland to start the season. Fields already showed an advanced offensive approach for his age, and he flashed the plus power many scouts believe he possesses. If the experience gained in 2010 proves as valuable as many have speculated, then Fields could vault himself into consideration as a legit big league prospect; not just in the Tigers organization, but across baseball.
Left-hander Casey Crosby has been on the radar since he signed an over-slot bonus as a fifth round pick in 2007, but missing the entire 2010 season – his second missed year in the last three – put his future in serious question.
Early returns from Lakeland have been extremely positive, as Crosby has been working with the Double- and Triple- squads in minor league camp, and impressing the entire time. His fastball has been working in the 94-95 range and he has touched 96 mph at times this March. Some within the organization have lauded him for improved mechanics and an improved curveball, two things that will be proven throughout the summer.
If he is in fact healthy this year, Crosby has the potential to explode onto the national scene as a lefty with rare stuff. The Tigers are considering pushing him to Double-a to start the 2011 season, and if that happens, it will only put him under a more intense microscope; one that could in turn shed more light on his potential breakout campaign.
The third player that seems necessary to highlight as a potential breakout candidate is 2010 draftee Kyle Ryan. A Florida high school product, the 6-foot-5, 200 pound lefty put in an outstanding winter of work that has improved his raw stuff a significant amount.
After the draft, Ryan was seen as a pitcher capable of sitting at 86-88 and flashing an average big league fastball. Following an intense off-season workout plan in Lakeland, Ryan is reportedly sitting in the 89-91 range and has even posted some 93s on the radar gun at times.
Once a pitcher thought to need another year in a short-season league, Ryan is suddenly an odds on favorite to start the 2011 schedule in the West Michigan rotation, and in a pitcher's league like the MWL, he could post some dominating numbers with his raw stuff and pitchability.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few players that may have gotten hopes up in 2010, that should have tempered expectation in 2011.
The first of these players is first baseman Rawley Bishop who torched the Florida State League to the tune of a .301/.385/.462 line over the season's first half.
Once promoted to Double-A, things became a little tougher for the now 25-year old out of Middle Tennessee State. Though he got a few extra hits to fall in August, Bishop finished with just a .252/.337/.407 line at Erie, and the scouting reports were even a little less optimistic.
A polished hitter with a decent, disciplined approach, scouts fail to see a player that projects to hit for average or significant power; a troublesome combination for a first baseman. Bishop is likely to get another crack at Double-A this season, but fans that may be expecting a return to his High-A level of performance may be in for some serious disappointment.
As advanced pitchers begin to challenge him more and show him better and better secondary pitches, Bishop will be forced to prove he can drive the ball. If he is unable to do that, his numbers could regress to the point that he may be fighting for a job this time next year.
Another player likely to join Bishop at the Double-A level is catcher John Murrian. Similar to Bishop, Murrian lacks the tools to impress scouts; most of who believe his .727 OPS in Lakeland was a bit of a mirage.
Murrian should be complimented for his exceptional leadership and above-average defensive skills, but that doesn't change the fact that he may be in line for a big flop on the offensive side of things. He doesn't possess the best approach at the plate and his contact skills are such that this poses a major problem for his offensive profile. By the end of the 2011 season, Murrian could be a guy most Tiger fans are skipping over when looking at a list of catching prospects in the organization.
The last player we feel may take a step back in 2011 is right-handed reliever Bruce Rondon. After a tumultuous season that saw him start in the GCL and get shipped back to the VSL in 2009, Rondon was back in the States for 2010 and he was a rousing success out of the GCL bullpen.
Rondon dropped his arm angle in 2010, becoming a side-armer still capable of sitting at 92-93 and hitting 95 mph regularly in short stints. His slider still needs some work out of the new arm slot, but it showed some promise as the year went along.
His velocity and arm angle alone made him a successful reliever in the GCL, but if pushed to West Michigan as expected, he will need improved command and true progress from his slider to be more than a curious novelty when he hits the mound. The talent is there for Rondon to become a nice relief prospect, but it may not come together in 2011, so Tiger fans should be prepared to stand by him through a tough season.
Players breakout and regress every year. It's an inevitable part of the game that is never easy to predict, but that doesn't stop us here at TigsTown from giving you a heads up one some potential points of interest for the upcoming season. Keep up with these storylines and more with TigsTown all summer long.