Connor Harrell, Harold Castro Make Noise
With open at-bats available, Connor Harrell and Harold Castro both got a start in the Triple-A game on the back fields in Lakeland on Monday. Each took advantage of the opportunity, both in the field and at the plate.
Harrell found himself just outside of the Top 50 this year, but still saw his tools receive recognition for a number of categories, including outfield defense and arm, as well as power hitting. Harrell made a couple of nice plays manning center field tracking down fly balls. Meanwhile at the plate, in a pair of at-bats he had one long fly out, along with a sharp line drive single. With a strong defensive profile and the ability to play all three outfield spots, along with some pop in his bat, Harrell could be an intriguing fourth outfielder option in the near future for the Tigers.
Meanwhile, Castro has seen his stock steadily decline over the past few years, after being ranked as high 12th overall in the organization just two seasons ago. As a bat-first prospect that hasn’t shown the ability to hit for power, work counts or even post a great average, his prospect status has diminished. But he still has knack for making contact. In his pair of at-bats on Monday, he didn’t get a hit, but worked the count in both appearances, and had well struck balls go for outs in both instances. As much of the middle infield depth has been traded over the past couple seasons, playing time remains plentiful and gives Castro the opportunity to take his natural hitting ability and turn it into an asset that could return him to the prospect conversation.
· Paul Voelker had a strong inning of relief in the Triple-A game, as well. His fastball was consistently reading in the low-90’s, topping out at 94. He also got a pair of strikeouts, one on a breaking ball down and another on an elevated fastball. Voelker’s not the traditional reliever for a variety of reasons, including his smaller size and unorthodox delivery, but he could be on the short list of relievers to get a look in Detroit this season.
· Cal Drummond made an appearance for the Double-A and had mixed results. His fastball was sitting 93-95 MPH, and he used that plus his changeup to keep hitters off-balance, including inducing a swing and miss strikeout on the changeup. However, his control was spotty at times, and after allowing a couple of baserunners he started laboring and struggled to find the zone. This is likely to be a make-or-break year for Drummond in angling for the aforementioned short list of relievers.
· Tommy Collier no longer possesses the 90+ velocity he displayed when he first joined the organization, and is now working primarily as a sinker/slider pitcher. When facing right-handed hitters, he can still be quite effective, with his slider having a good tail action that generates plenty of swing and miss, including inducing a strikeout with back to back sliders against one RHB. But he doesn’t have the confidence to use that slider against left-handers, resulting in him working with his two-seam fastball that was sitting 88-89 MPH. Not a bad pitch in and of itself, but Collier threw it three or four times in a row, and results were predictable with hard hit balls allowed.
· It's possible, but unlikely, that Christin Stewart will start the 2016 season with the Erie SeaWolves. But with so many outfielders with the big league club, that’s where Stewart was playing. When you watch him swing, it’s easy to see what had scouts gravitating toward him last summer. Stewart looks thick and strong, but shows good athleticism, and when he’s at the plate, everything seems easy. In his couple of at-bats he was still aggressive, but with a natural inclined swing he generated plenty of loft under the balls he made contact with, and his strength let them fly. Neither cleared the fence, but it wasn’t hard to imagine they could. His defense was nothing to write home about in left field, but it won’t surprise many if he ends up on an expedited road to the big leagues in the near future.