TigsTown Preview: 2011 GCL Tigers

The GCL Tigers get their summer season underway Monday afternoon with a roster full of intrigue and tools. Led by manager Basilio Cabrera, the Tigers will shoot for their second straight winning season, after finishing under .500 from 2007 through 2009.

"I can't think of the last time I looked forward to watching their GCL club," said one NL scout. "They've got some toolsy kids that should be interesting to watch."

The Tigers roster will be headlined by the organization's top Latin American prospect in outfielder Danry Vasquez. Signed for a seven-figure bonus during the 2010 international signing period, Vasquez made such an impression in extended spring training that the Tigers were forced to change their plans. Originally scheduled to head to the Venezuelan Summer League to start his professional career, the organization determined he would be better served playing his first year in the GCL.

Vasquez is an athletic teenager with hitting ability and power potential. He has the raw tools to match his lofty bonus and scouts are anxious to get their first true look at him this summer.

Behind Vasquez, two Latin American pitchers offer some of the most excitement on the squad. Right-handers Brenny Paulino and Endrys Briceno are both high ceiling pitchers that Tigertown Pitching Coordinator Greg Sabat is looking forward to seeing on the hill.

"[Paulino] has a special arm," commented Sabat last week. "He can run it up there to the mid-90s at times and he's really progressed in his polish. He's throwing more strikes and the breaking ball is looking like a solid pitch."

Briceno is another pitcher with big time arm strength and a fastball that can touch 94 mph.

"I saw those two guys last year when I traveled to Venezuela and the Dominican," Sabat said. "I told our guys that I wanted them in the States now! I wanted to work with them right then."

Joining Paulino and Briceno in the rotation to start the season will be fellow right-hander Edgar De La Rosa, left-hander Jack Duffey, and 2011 draft pick Brian Stroud.

De La Rosa is an intriguing arm that is still figuring out how to use his long levers to his advantage. His fastball will range from 87 to 94 and he gets good angle on the pitch.

After being drafted in 2010, Duffey signed part way through the summer but didn't show the same stuff that appeared on his pre-draft scouting reports. With an off-season to rest and build strength, Duffey is now getting up to 90 mph with his fastball while showing feel for both a curveball and a change-up.

"[Duffey's] got more polish than you'd think for a kid his age," said Sabat. "He's got more confidence in that change-up than in the curveball, but both could be solid pitches for him."

The Tigers popped Stroud out of GM Dave Dombrowski's alma mater Western Michigan in the later rounds of this month's first-year player draft. He shows fringe-average stuff across the board but he has the size that makes some in the organization believe they can coax more out of him down the line.

The bullpen will be loaded with arms including right-handers Emmanuel Del Orbe, Tyler White, Scott Matyas, Guido Knudson, Eric Heckaman, Jacob Sabol, Tyler Clark, and Dan Hickham.

Another right-hander Montreal Robertson has already drawn the attention of several Tigers staff members after just arriving in Lakeland following the draft.

"For me personally, Robertson has stood out the most out of the new guys," noted Sabat.

Of the other relievers, lefty Bill Castillo has showed improved stuff since coming stateside. Largely considered a curveball specialist in the Dominican in 2010, his fastball has bumped up to 93 mph at times while his curveball still remains a very usable pitch.

The GCL club will have two veteran arms beginning the season with them as well. Right-hander Scott Green and left-hander Jade Todd will both work their way back to full-season clubs with the GCL Tigers.

Green has been getting over some lingering arm trouble that have stemmed from his multiple surgeries over the last few years. He is reportedly healthy now and while his velocity is still coming back, he might actually be on the true road to recovery.

Todd left the organization for a brief time this spring in order to deal with some personal issues, but he has recently returned to Lakeland and has started to get back on the mound. Sabat noted that Todd has looked good in his early bullpen sessions.

Calling games for the pitching staff will be a host of catchers including Gilbert Gomez, Gabriel Purroy, and Wes Thigpen.

Gomez has moved back behind the plate after two years where he was limited to first base and designated hitter duties because of arm problems. His receiving remains rough but the organization believes he is improving. His calling card still remains his raw power.

Like Gomez, Purroy is a Venezuelan born catcher, but he is a defense-first receiver with good footwork and a plus arm. His leadership abilities are evident the minute you see him step on the field and he has improved his language skills rapidly.

Thigpen is the newest member of this group, recently signed as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State. He is a very good defender and leader that should be able to hit some at the GCL level.

Up the middle of the infield, the Tigers will have two players who will make their stateside debuts this year in second baseman Carlos De Los Santos and shortstop Eugenio Suarez. Both players are grinders with some contact ability and solid gloves.

Brett Anderson had been moved to the outfield earlier this spring but he could still see some time at shortstop if the team needs him.

The first base responsibilities will be split between Juaner Aguasvivas and another undrafted free agent Zach Maxfield. Both players offer raw power but have plenty of questions about their ability to hit pro pitching.

With Vasquez likely to get every day at-bats in right field and possibly even see some time in center field, that leaves just two spots available for others to mix into the lineup.

Both Brandon Eckerle and Ismael Salgado will see time in center field this summer. Eckerle is a polished college player coming out of Michigan State and he should have little trouble handling GCL pitchers.

Salgado is exactly the opposite, entering pro ball as a good athlete with blinding speed that must start to develop actual baseball skills. For fans that make it out to GCL games this summer, don't blink or you might miss Salgado racing by.

Two other 2011 draft picks will also see time in the outfield, as both Chreiten Matz and Patrick Smith offer an array of raw tools that will face a stiff test even in the rookie-level GCL.

Though it's not about winning at all, that won't stop the young Tigers from trying to pile up numbers in the win column this summer. If the raw tools that are spread throughout the roster start to shine through, this team could post a strong record that gives hope to the future of the system.

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