From both a statistical and developmental standpoint, the Flying Tigers' bullpen featured some of the teams' top contributors this season.
Staring with right-hander Melvin Mercedes, who was arguably Lakeland's top reliever. Armed with a mid-to-high 90s fastball that can best be described as a bowling ball, because of heavy, late natural sink, Mercedes dominated FSL batters. The groundball machine recorded three wins and 11 saves, posting a 0.96 ERA over 28 innings. The 22-year-old's outstanding performance earned him a trip to the FSL All-Star Game in Dunedin and later a promotion to Double-A Erie.
Following Mercedes' departure, 23-year-old right-hander Jose Valdez both assumed and embraced the closers role. Armed with an elite high-90s fastball and a much-improved slider, Valdez notched 17 saves, a respectable 2.74 ERA and 32 strikeouts over 23 innings in the FSL.
In the shadows of Mercedes and Valdez, right-hander Slade Smith quietly produced an impressive 2013 campaign too. The deceptive right-hander posted a 3.56 ERA over 60 2/3 innings.
Returning to Lakeland in a new role this season, southpaw Alex Burgos was a horse out of the bullpen logging 65 1/3 innings. Burgos struck out 48 and walked 32 while recording a 2.89 ERA this season.
Despite being one of the younger guys in the league, southpaw Kyle Ryan was Lakeland's most productive starter and one of the top pitchers in the FSL this past season. Ryan posted an FSL best 12 wins and his 3.17 ERA and 1.19 WHIP also ranked fourth best on the circuit. Ryan was an absolute horse that ate innings, stopped losing streaks and regularly kept his team in the game. His performance earned him both Mid-Season and Postseason All-Star Game awards.
Right-hander Drew VerHagen chipped in five wins and an impressive 2.81 ERA over 67 1/3 innings before his promotion to Double-A Erie.
Venezuelan right-hander Wilsen Palacios went on an absolute tear after the All-Star break, posting a microscopic 2.15 ERA over 12 starts--a span of 71 innings. The 23-year-old's strong finish left him with an encouraging seven wins and a 3.07 ERA over 134 2/3 innings this season.
Outfielder Jeff McVaney earned an FSL All-Star Game selection for his strong start the first half the season. McVaney (.252 AVG .695 OPS) quietly led the Flying Tigers in several statistical categories; including at-bats (473), runs (62), hits (119), triples (6) and stolen bases (13).
If you're a dreamer, then corner outfielder Steven Moya (.255 AVG .729 OPS) is your guy. The 6-foot-7, mammoth 22-year-old made great strides improving his game this season. Moya's 12 home runs were a team high and his pre-game batting practice sessions were spectacular.
Corner infielders Aaron Westlake (.291 AVG .791 OPS) and Francisco Martinez (.295 AVG .726 OPS) provided the thump in the middle of Lakeland's lineup. Westlake's 29 doubles and 62 RBI were both team highs.
Last but not least, second baseman Devon Travis impressed at that plate, batting .350 with 11 doubles, two triples, ten homers and 34 RBI over 55 games. Travis was recently named the Tigers' Minor League player of the Year and selected to represent Detroit in the Arizona Fall League.
Big Leaguers Lend a Hand
Similar to seasons past, numerous Detroit Tigers spent time in Lakeland on rehab assignments this year. Outfielder Avisail Garcia, utility-infielder Danny Worth and pitchers Anibal Sanchez, Octavio Dotel and Jose Valverde all saw action in a Flying Tigers uniform this season.
Overall Statistically, Lakeland finished in the middle of the pack or worse in most areas including their record this season. However, from developmental standpoint, this season can easily be looked at as a success. The majority of the prospects that passed through Lakeland saw their stock rise; and at the end of the day, that's top priority.