Lakeland MLN: Off to a Strong Start

It was a short week; just four games on this week's schedule. Unlike recent years, the Flying Tigers have come out of the gate strong. Led by solid pitching and clutch hitting, the Flying Tigers find themselves atop the FSL North division tied with Brevard County.

Tyler Collins: En Fuego

Posting eye-popping statistics is nothing new for outfielder Tyler Collins. The 21-year-old hit .488, with a .561 on-base percentage last season at Howard Junior College. After signing, he was also one of the most productive bats for the Connecticut Tigers in short-season ball. He even took home the All-Star Game MVP Award in the Australian Baseball League this past winter.

Despite the semi-aggressive assignment, Collins doesn't appear to be intimidated by FSL pitching. Through 4 games, Collins is batting .706 with a .737 on-base percentage. In fact, he leads the FSL in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.

After Saturday's game, Collins talked about his development this off-season, and his approach this season.

"The Tigers have done a great job of preparing me for this season. I am thankful for my placement in the ABL and Spring Training. It has definitely helped my readiness for this season."

"I have just been looking for pitches in the zone and doing my best to put a good swing on them. I am just doing what it takes for my team to win. We are doing a great job of putting ourselves in a situation to win and it is paying off. Our staff has looked outstanding and hopefully we can continue this streak."

Mighty Bats

The Flying Tigers offense has been red hot, producing a FSL-high .316 average courtesy of 48 hits. Their 21 runs scored are also second highest on the circuit.

Top prospect Nick Castellanos is batting .412 with two doubles, one home run and three RBI.

Avisail Garcia is doing his part, hitting .353 with two stolen bases.

Dixon Machado has posted a respectable .308 batting average. The slick-fielding shortstop has also made several highlight reel defensive plays this season.

Stingy Starting Pitching

Exceeding their already lofty expectations, the front end of the Flying Tigers rotation has been incredible. Alex Burgos, Kevin Eichhorn and Brian Flynn logged a combined 18 2/3 innings, surrendering just two earned runs over their three quality starts. The trio scattered a combined 14 hits, striking out 12 and they issued just four free passes.

Continuing the trend, Mark Sorensen went 7 strong innings on Monday. Sorensen issued no walks and struck out two. The Manatees were only able to muster up two hits off of Sorensen. Unfortunately one of those hits was a seventh inning bomb that would knot the game's score at one run a piece.

Flynn's start on Saturday evening was hands down the gem of the bunch. Flynn pitched 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball. The southpaw scattered 4 hits and struck out three without issuing a single walk.

After the game, Flynn discussed the importance of getting off on the right foot.

"Honestly, a strong first outing meant everything to me. I wanted to come out and prove that I could pitch at this level. I also wanted to build off the momentum I had from last year in West Michigan. I know that one start doesn't mean much, but last night was definitely a step in the right direction for me."

Sketchy Bullpen

Matt Little had a week to forget. The right-hander surrendered four runs -- three earned -- over three innings. Little issued four walks and four hits over that span.

The flame-throwing Bruce Rondon rung up four batters in two innings of work. Unfortunately, he's also allowed three earned runs off four hits and one walk.

Victor Larez has also gotten off to a bit of a slow start. His 1 1/3 innings of work thus far came on Saturday evening against the Tampa Yankees. Larez threw several wild pitches, struggled to find the zone and allowed two earned runs.

On a positive note, Matt Crouse and Zach Samuels have each fired two shutout innings of hitless ball. Patrick Cooper also chipped in with a scoreless inning of work.

Welcome Back Mike

Lakeland has a new pitching coach this season, former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Mike Maroth. Maroth, a third round pick in the 1998 MLB First-Year Player Draft, posted a 3.21 ERA for Lakeland in 1999.

Wasting no time, Maroth has already had a positive impact on many of the young Flying Tigers arms. One of those arms is southpaw Brian Flynn.

"It's been great working with Mike, said Flynn. My change-up has been a completely new weapon for me this year and I give a ton of credit to him. He's given me lots confidence in that pitch. That being said, last night my change-up and slider weren't close to the sharpness that I would have liked. I am ready and looking forward to getting back in the pen with Mike so we can work on that though."

New Season, Same Disturbing Trend

Last season, Lakeland had four batters finish in the top five for most strikeouts in the FSL. Unfortunately, through 4 games the Flying Tigers have struck out a league-high 38 times.

It's early and it's definitely a small sample size of data. Regardless, it's worth keeping an eye on.

Looking Forward

The Flying Tigers finish their three-game set with the Brevard County Manatees Tuesday and Wednesday. Lakeland will then hit the road for back-to-back three game series against the Clearwater Threshers and Brevard County Manatees.

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