#6 - Rob Henkel

Two offseasons ago, when the Tigers took a wrecking ball to the former squad, one of the big moves was shipping out starter Mark Redman for a trio of prospects from the Marlins, the highlight being LHP Rob Henkel. Redman went on to help the Marlins win a world championship, Henkel hopes to one day do the same - but first he'll need to stay on the field and out of the trainer's room.

Rob Henkel was originally drafted by the Florida Marlins in the Second Round of the 2000 amateur draft out of UCLA. After two seasons in the Marlins organization, the lefty was shipped to Detroit with LHP Nate Robertson and RHP Gary Knotts for Redman. The 25-year old has shown improvement at each level, so long as he's been pitching and not icing.

Henkel spent his first season in the Tiger organization at AA Erie, where he had a very successful season, when on the field (catching a theme yet?). Henkel went 9-3 with a 3.38 ERA. He also had a very impressive K:BB ratio of 2.59. In fact, every indication of his on-field performance shows he has all the makings of a solid big league pitcher - except that the injury bug sent him to the Disabled List twice in 2003, and he was definitely not a newcomer to the list as he spent a good portion of time there when he was with the Marlins also.

Henkel probably isn't quite at the level where he could be a perennial All Star at the major league level. However, he's definitely someone that can be at the top of a rotation for many years – partly because of his skills and partly due to the fact that he's a lefty. He has all the makings of a very good starter with good accuracy and the mindset to be at the top of the rotation and be the guy that faces the opposition's top guy.

While his health is a concern, Henkel's ability to pitch is not. He'd be getting a long look for a rotation spot if he had stayed healthy all last year. Unlike most of Detroit's other lefties, he's not a soft-tosser. His 4-seam fastball is consistently in the 91/92 mph range, and his 2-seamer has good movement and stays in the upper 80's. On top of that, he has a strong change-up and a knuckle-curve that some consider the best "out" pitch in Detroit's entire farm system.

Henkel is pegged for AAA Toledo this season. At the middle of last year, it was thought Henkel might get a shot in Detroit last September, however a shoulder injury ended his season prematurely, and so those plans were ruled out. Rather than push Henkel, the Tigers will keep him with the Mud Hens for at least the first half of the season and hope he can make it through without injury.

It may be over-stated, but it really can't be emphasized enough. A good comparison would be former Tiger Justin Thompson, who had all the talent in the world but just couldn't stay healthy. Henkel has 4 big league pitches, excellent location and he's a lefty to boot. He has all the makings of combining with Jeremy Bonderman to form an excellent 1-2 combo at the top of the Tiger rotation for many years. But for that to happen, Henkel has to stay healthy. He's a great talent, but don't be surprised if he falls the way of Thompson and many other talented Tiger pitchers who could never stay healthy.

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