#3 - Joel Zumaya

The Tigers have gone a long time since getting a "steal" in the draft, partly because of bad luck and partly because of poor scouting. However, RHP Joel Zumaya is looking to change that trend as he begins to ascend up the ladder of the Tigers' farm system.

Joel Zumaya was selected in the 11th round of the 2002 amateur draft as a raw high schooler out of Chula Vista, CA. Zumaya appeared to be a decent prospect coming out of high school, but nothing spectacular – however, the Tigers saw something and made a strong effort to bring Zumaya into their minor league system. After a year of maturing physically, his fastball jumped 6 MPH and he suddenly jumped the charts among the Tiger pitching prospect rankings.

Zumaya spent 2003 with low-A West Michigan in his first full season in professional baseball. Zumaya had some injury problems, but when he was on the mound, he showed amazing potential. His record (7-5) and ERA (2.79) weren't amazing, but his K:BB ratio (3.32) was just short of amazing. Typically, pitchers with Zumaya's stuff have high Strikeout numbers, but also extremely high walk numbers – Zumaya had no such issues.

Zumaya is still extremely young (19, won't turn 20 until after the season), however if he can continue at this pace, he could become a top-of-the-rotation starter for the Tigers. Obviously, Zumaya still has a long way to go, including getting over his injury issues as well as becoming a more refined pitcher. However, there's no question that Zumaya has the highest ceiling of any pitcher currently in the Tigers farm system.

Zumaya possessed a 96 MPH fastball – that just recently developed. Coming out of high school, Zumaya rarely topped 89 on the radar gun. To compliment his fastball, Zumaya uses a hard curveball that is already considered major league ready. Much like current Tiger starter Jeremy Bonderman, Zumaya also possesses a change-up, however the pitch is still very raw and needs quite a bit of development before it could be considered a sold major league pitch.

As typical with young pitchers (Bonderman obviously being the exception), Zumaya will jump one level to high-A Lakeland this season. Between Zumaya's youth and injury history, the Tigers will be very careful bringing him along – they feel no need to rush him, especially after so many Tiger pitchers over the past ten years have fallen victim to injuries.

The Tigers don't have a lot of studs yet in their farm system, but Zumaya is definitely one of them. Kyle Sleeth is probably the best bet to become a major league starter, and Rob Henkel and Kenny Baugh are probably closest to the majors – but none of them have the same ceiling that Zumaya does. Giving him a year for each level, Zumaya should make his debut as a 22-year old sometime in 2007.

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