#12 - Jon Connolly

The Tigers had an extremely impressive rotation at low-A West Michigan last season, but none of the group was more impressive than LHP Jon Connolly. Connolly, who after the season was named to the 2003 minor league All Star team, had one of the most successful seasons in Whitecap history.

Unlike some of his teammates – like Humberto Sanchez who got a huge signing bonus from the Tigers, Jon Connolly came in as a very unheralded player. Connolly was drafted in the 28th round of the 2001 draft out of Oneonta, NY – coincidentally the home of Detroit's short season-A ballclub. However, Connolly was so impressive in rookie ball that he never spent a full season in short season-A ball and jumped up to low-A West Michigan.

Some prospects come in from high school and struggle with the adjustment to playing professional baseball – and normally give so-so results initially as they adjust. Not Connolly. Connolly dominated the Midwest League, going 16-3 with a 1.41 ERA. Possibly more impressive was his amazing command, as he only walked 38 batters in 166 innings of work. His strikeout numbers definitely weren't too shabby either, mowing down over 100 Midwest League hitters.

While Connolly dominated at West Michigan, he doesn't have the same upside as many of his teammates. As opposed to the heat of fellow teammate Joel Zumaya, Connolly relies on accuracy and deception to get hitters out. Because of this, he's projected as more of a swing man as opposed to a starter – he has already began to draw comparisons to LHP Andy Van Hekken, who was a top Tiger prospect throughout the minors but once he reached the majors just couldn't get hitters out consistently.

Connolly's fastball is definitely not a magnificent one – it regularly sits in the mid to high 80's. However, that has yet to stop Connolly from being effective, as he uses a devastating change-up to his advantage. While many low-A guys are more ‘throwers' than ‘pitchers', Connolly already knows how to pitch – using his change-up as his out pitch, and more importantly, knowing when to throw it. Connolly also has a breaking ball that is a solid third pitch for any player.

Connolly will begin the season with high-A Lakeland, and will probably stay there all season long. Unlike West Michigan, where the ballparks are big and Home Runs a rarity, the Florida State League sees a lot more offense – so don't be shocked if Connolly's numbers fall this season. Then again, even if his ERA doubles this year, he'd still be under 3, an incredible ERA no matter the league that you are pitching in.

Connolly is the typical finesse lefty, he can pitch, the only question is, can he continue to fake hitters out once he reaches the higher levels – and the smarter hitters. It's tough to say at this point, but Connolly will probably still make it to the Tigers at some point – but look for his future to be more along the lines of middle relief than starter.

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