Fans in Erie were treated to some spectacular events last summer, despite the club posting a modest 71-71 overall record. Slugging top prospect Steven Moya put on a display with 35 home runs and 105 RBI, while players such as Eugenio Suarez and Devon Travis offered some exciting results in more limited action. The 2015 version of the Erie Seawolves should be equally as interesting with several top prospects making their way to town, and there’s a chance this year’s club could win more games as well.
Starting on the mound, the SeaWolves will have a very intriguing starting rotation that includes two pitchers making the leap from Low-A West Michigan and two returning workhorses that will help log innings and keep the club in games. Highlighted by right-handers Chad Green and Austin Kubitza, and backed by Warwick Saupold and Josh Turley, the ‘Wolves rotation boasts four highly experienced arms that all pound the strike zone with their entire arsenals.
“That rotation isn’t flashy based on what I know,” said a rival Eastern League manager, “but that what I’ve heard is that they’ll attack you and make you work for your hits. That type of staff can be a challenge in this league, and I’m sure they won’t be easy to deal with night in and night out.”
Backing up the starting rotation will be a cast of relievers with varying degrees of talent. The headline name will be right-hander Edgar De La Rosa, a name that has been on the prospect radar for a long time, and is finally putting things together.
“I’ve always pegged him as a reliever,” noted an American League scout. “I’m really curious to see what he does in that role now that the Tigers have shifted him there. There’s gas in that arm and I think you’ll see him running it up to 98-99 mph pretty consistently once the weather warms up. He’ll be exciting to watch.”
De La Rosa’s massive frame and big-time fastball will be highlights of the Erie bullpen, but they won’t be the things worth noticing. Left-handers Omar Duran and Joe Mantiply are very different pitchers, but both guys with the potential to find their way to Detroit this summer.
Mantiply and Duran were non-roster invitees to Tigers spring training, and both showed reasonably well. Duran offers a high-octane fastball that can reach 94-95 mph at times, but he struggles to throw strikes and generally lacks consistency. Mantiply, on the other hand, works in the 89-91 mph range with life down in the zone and an impressive changeup that keeps hitters off balance.
Erie will also have right-handers Guido Knudson and Whit Mayberry in the bullpen, both of whom have some MLB projection. Knudson can find his way into the mid-90s with his fastball, and could be a middle reliever long term. Mayberry was a 2014 draft choice out of Virginia, and his poise and polish could help him find success quickly in Double-A.
While the lineup may not have the same punch it had last year with Steven Moya anchoring the middle, they should still have enough prospects to put up some runs and support the pitching staff.
Former Tiger, and former Seawolf Casper Wells returns to the organization as a minor league free agent, and his MLB experience and veteran perspective will help both on and off the field. He will be joined in the outfield by Wynton Bernard, Connor Harrell, and Jeff McVaney, all of whom are moving up from lower levels of the Tigers organization.
Harrell is the most highly rated of the trio, with tools and athleticism that stand out on the field, but a general inconsistency to his game that prevents him from projecting as more than a fourth outfielder at the highest level.
The Tigers added to Bernard to the 40-man roster in November, to the surprise of almost everyone in the baseball industry. Bernard should see ample time in center field this year, and it will be interesting to see if he can build on a strong statistical campaign from 2014 when he was named Midwest League MVP.
Around the infield, the Tigers will feature James Robbins and Dean Green (mostly a DH) at first base, Harold Castro at second base, Josh Prince at shortstop, and a combination of Corey Jones and Brendan Harris filling in at third base and around the rest of the infield.
Both Green and Robbins should provide some thunder in the middle of the lineup, though Robbins will need to take a step forward in his development in order to handle the challenges of Double-A pitching. Green continues to hit for average and some power, and if he can stay on the field this year, he could be a centerpiece of the lineup.
The most intriguing name among the infielders will be second baseman Harold Castro. Ranked the 26th best prospect in the Tigers organization entering the season, Castro’s stock has slipped a bit over the last two years after consistently ranking near the top ten. After struggling with West Michigan last summer, Castro broke out with a strong showing in limited playing time with Lakeland in the second half.
“You can’t help but be intrigued by a guy like Castro,” noted an NL evaluator while discussing the roster. “He’s a good athlete with a feel for the barrel and some potential to be a player. I just haven’t seen it come together consistently enough to really fall for him. Maybe this is the year?”
The decision to push Castro to Double-A for the 2015 season is certainly intriguing, and if he can find success at the plate, his prospect stock could very well take off yet again.
Behind the dish, Erie will have veteran minor league backstop Miguel Gonzalez, and former Lakeland catcher Austin Green. Both players are regarded as strong defenders that work well with their pitching staffs, but neither is expected to provide much offensively.
At the end of the day, the SeaWolves are likely to rely more heavily on their pitching staff than they did with the potent offensive contributions of Moya, Travis, Green, Jason Krizan, and Ramon Cabrera in 2014. If that holds true, the ‘Wolves should have the arms in the rotation and the bullpen to pick up the slack and help win some games. Erie won’t be running away with the Western Division, but they could be in the mix for a playoff spot come August.