Minor Leaguers On the Rise

Heading into the upcoming season, there are many Tiger minor leaguers who are being looked upon to continue their rise up the Tiger's prospect chart, while there are also those players that are looking to bounce back and re-establish their prospect status. In the first part of a two-part article, those players who are looking to take the next step in their development will be highlighted, while part 2, will take a look of those players looking to make a comeback.

On The Rise – Brent Clevlen – OF
This Texas high school product was considered a first-round talent, whom the Tigers stole, in the early second round. A highly talented offensive player, Brent could develop into an above average power threat, with the ability to get on base. After a great start in the 2002 Gulf Coast League, Clevlen continued his solid play at West Michigan in 2003. While his statistics from last season look a little less impressive that those of other top prospects throughout baseball, West Michigan isn't exactly a hitter's paradise. Posting more impressive numbers while away from home, Clevlen demonstrated his ability to draw a walk as well as drive the ball in the gaps with regularity. Although 111 strikeouts in his first full professional season may seem alarming, it's something he should be able to improve upon as he moves up the organizational ladder. Defensively, Brent has solid instincts and decent range in the outfield. His real defensive attribute is his strong, accurate throwing arm. As Clevlen adds strength to his young frame, he should begin to drive the ball out of the park more, while hopefully maintaining his outstanding strike zone judgement. Brent will advance to High-A Lakeland, along with many of his West Michigan teammates, where the Tigers hope he will continue to develop his tools and increase his prospect status.

On The Rise – Tony Giarratano – SS
The switch-hitting Tulane product showed no struggles in his adjustment to using a wood bat, something that proved difficult for him during his stint in the Cape Cod League. Tony debuted by hitting .328, with an .845 OPS in the short-season, New York-Penn League. Defensively, Tony showed good range and a strong arm while committing eight errors in his first 47 professional games. The rough edges displayed in the field are not of major concern, as most scouts feel he will develop into an above average defensive shortstop without too much trouble. A polished college hitter, Giarratano was taken in the third round of the 2003 draft, and it was hoped that he would make a rapid rise through the minors. Tony has demonstrated the ability to make consistent contact, while also being able to draw an occasional walk. The advanced approach Tony has showed in the batter's box looks promising, as he seems to have a good understanding of his offensive game at a young age. With a likely jump to West Michigan of the Midwest League, Tony will look to continue his somewhat surprising fast professional start. It's possible, with a quick start to the season, the Tigers could decide to place Tony on the fast track, promoting him to Lakeland early on. Despite the presence of defensive whiz Anderson Hernandez ahead of him in the organization, Tony could easily place himself as the Tiger's shortstop of the future with a repeat of his professional debut.

On The Rise – Curtis Granderson – OF
During his junior season at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Curtis was named a second team All-American while leading the nation in hitting. The Tiger's brass thought highly enough of Curtis, to take him in the third round of the 2002 draft. Just weeks after draft day, Granderson reported to the Oneonta Tigers of the New York-Penn League, where he did anything but disappoint in his professional debut. The hot hitting of his college season continued as Curtis was on his way to being named the NYPL's Most Valuable Player. After a dominating performance in short-season ball, the Tigers set out to challenge Curtis with an assignment to Lakeland of the high-A Florida State League in 2003, altogether skipping West Michigan. Granderson proved he was up to the challenge, posting an .823 OPS, while recording double-digits in doubles, triples, and homeruns. While he lacks one outstanding tool, Granderson can perform every aspect of the game well. Curtis relies on instincts and a wonderful knowledge of the game to make himself one of the top hitting prospects in the organization. His stock could be improved even more if he proves capable of handling the centerfield duties this summer at AA-Erie. If Curtis is able to handle the job defensively, his offense will be more than adequate to make him an everyday centerfielder at the major league level. Curtis could make his way to Toledo at some point this season, and could easily make his major league debut in 2004, with a September call-up. With continued progress, Granderson's days of roaming the outfield grass at Comerica Park are not too far off.

On The Rise – Kody Kirkland – 3B
After being drafted with the 894th overall pick in the 2001 first-year player draft, Kirkland was included as the player to be named in the deal that sent Randall Simon to Pittsburgh. With a solid debut at age 19 with the Gulf Coast League Pirates, Kirkland established himself as an intriguing prospect. The 6-foot-4, 200 pound right handed hitter has the tools to forge himself into a top-flight player. During his first season with the Detroit franchise, Kirkland continued his success at the low levels of the minor leagues. Getting off to a torrid start in the New York-Penn League, Kirkland raced toward the tops of many Tiger prospect charts as well as league leader boards. Although he cooled considerably as the season progressed, he was still able to produce at a high enough level to make many believe he could be a future Tiger. Playing with a solid cast of youngsters around him, Kirkland displayed the type of ability necessary to succeed at the professional level. Looking towards the 2004 season, it will be interesting to see if he can successfully adjust to his first taste of full season baseball. Kody is looking to start the season strong offensively at West Michigan, while still honing his craft defensively. Having already established himself as a player to watch, Kirkland has the opportunity to excel and jump to the top of many prospect lists.

On The Rise – Wilkin Ramirez – 3B
In recent seasons, the Tigers have appeared to be lacking in the area of international scouting and player development. Hopes are that this trend is beginning to change with the signing of Wilkin Ramirez as an undrafted amateur free agent. Ramirez made his professional debut with the Tiger's Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2003. After posting some moderately impressive numbers, it is thought that the Tigers may have a budding logjam at third base, with Ramirez, Kody Kirkland, Scott Moore, and even Eric Munson at the big league level. Wilkin displays adequate speed, along with budding power, and the potential to develop solid control of the strike zone. With some work in extended spring training, the coaching staff will try to smooth out some rough edges on Ramirez' defensive abilities, all while continuing to work building strength and patience at the plate. With a likely trip to the New York-Penn League in June, Ramirez will compete against numerous 2004 draftees to establish themselves as prospects on the rise. A solid season by Wilkin, and the Tigers could have quite the quandary, trying to determine which of their third base prospects has the most potential upside.

On The Rise – Jay Sborz – RHP
Jay comes to the Tigers as their second round choice in last year's first-year player draft. Hailing from Langley High School in McLean, Virginia, the flame-throwing righty showed flashes of what made him such a lofty draft choice. Debuting at age 18 in the rookie level Gulf Coast League, Sborz experienced quite the roller coaster from one outing to the next. Jay started 7 games last summer, but only pitched 26 innings. The Tigers, having learned their lesson from previous mistakes, closely watched Jay's pitch counts, often holding him to only two to three innings per outing. On the surface, many fans may not be terribly impressed by the numbers Jay posted last season. However, striking out 35 batters in his 26 innings is an impressive way to make his presence known as a prospect. Control and lack of a consistent off-speed pitch were Jay's biggest problems during his first season. With improved command over his pitches, and the continued development of his secondary offerings, Jay has the size and ability to become a dominating pitcher. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Jay has a lot of filling out to do, and could possibly continue to add velocity to his mid-90s fastball. Despite his immense amount of talent, there are still many hurdles standing in the way of a successful major league career. Most importantly, Jay needs to continue to refine his craft in limited innings, as he tries to avoid serious injury to his young arm. It is likely the Tigers will send Sborz to extended spring training until mid-June when the New York-Penn League gets under way. With any luck, the Tigers may have uncovered a gem in the second round of last year's draft. Tiger fans can only sit back and hope.

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