Tigers Rule V Update

Since Dave Dombrowski took over as GM of the Tigers, there have been several daunting tasks sitting on his proverbial plate. Quite possibly one of the most difficult tasks involved the rebuilding of a baron farm system, a system that saw very few legitimate big league prospects throughout its upper reaches. One way in which he decided to remedy this situation was to take advantage of the Major League Rule V Draft. Inside, we look at the Tigers' Rule V selections from the past two years.

The Rule V draft allows organizations to pluck unprotected talent from other teams throughout the league. However, as with everything, there is a catch. That player must remain on the active 25-man roster of the major league club for the duration of the season, otherwise be offered back to the original team. Over the last two years, the Tigers have taken full advantage of the Rule V Draft. In 2003, the Tigers went to spring training with four Rule V draftees vying for spots on the major league roster; Travis Chapman, Wilfredo Ledezma, Matt Roney, and Chris Spurling. While Chapman was sent back to the Phillies, the remaining three came north to Detroit, and remained there all season. Heading into spring training 2004, the Tigers were taking a closer look at three Rule V players; Mike Bumatay, Chris Shelton, and Lino Urdaneta.

With Rule V prospects littering the Tiger's spring training roster, hoping to finagle a spot on the trip north, let's take a look at the progress made by those chosen last year, and the chances this years crop have of actually sticking with the team.

2003 – Wilfredo Ledezma – LHP
Plucked from the Red Sox farm system, Ledezma was a highly touted, hard-throwing lefty, with a history of injury problems. Ledezma appeared in only 33 games from 1999 to 2002, missing the entire 2001 after suffering a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. The Tigers chose to take a gamble on the tall lefty, hoping he could remain healthy and contribute. Ledezma impressed enough during spring training to make the roster, earning a role in the Detroit bullpen. Remaining healthy did not prove to be a huge hurdle last season, but missing bats sure posed a problem. Ledezma, not surprisingly, struggled in his first taste of the big leagues, coming straight from A-ball. The ups and downs of his season in Detroit were no more evident than his sudden promotion to the starting rotation, where he made 8 starts, and then his subsequent return to the bullpen after several ineffective outings. During a two start span, in which he threw 12 innings, Ledezma showed everyone a glimpse of what the future could hold, limiting the White Sox and Red Sox to a combined 11 hits, zero runs, zero walks, and six strikeouts. After an offseason of strength training and developing his off-speed offerings, Ledezma is poised to make an impact this season. Having gotten off to a solid start in spring training, Wil was making a charge for another roster spot. However, Ledezma was recently reassigned to minor league camp, making it clear he would not start the season in Detroit. The Tigers view Ledezma's future as a starter, and are looking for the opportunity for him to gain further experience in that role. With continued development, Ledezma could see time in Detroit later this summer.

2003 – Matt Roney – RHP
The former Colorado Rockies farm-hand came to Detroit last year with a reputation for throwing hard, striking out high numbers of hitters, but also for not having very good control. Despite a mediocre spring training in 2003, Roney headed north as a part of the Tiger's 25-man roster, looking to contribute out of the bullpen. After a solid start to the season for Roney, his second half left much to be desired. It is unclear whether Matt simply wore down as the season went on, or if hitters just began to figure him out. Either way, the second half of 2003 hopefully provided plenty of motivation for Matt to improve over the offseason. Roney played for a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League, posting poor numbers, but all signs seem to indicate that the trip was still successful. Rather than focusing on results in the AFL, Roney worked on refining his control and split-fingered fastball, attempting to improve his repertoire. Heading into spring training 2004, Roney was hoping to again secure a spot with the Tigers. Unfortunately, early struggles put a temporary halt to that dream. Roney was sent to minor league camp, and it is expected that he will start the season in Toledo. As is the case with Wil Ledezma, Roney could see time in Detroit this season with continued development. If he can gain control of his pitches, and throw strikes consistently, the future could be bright for the hard throwing righty.

2003 – Chris Spurling – RHP
Acquired from the Atlanta Braves near the end of spring training for minor league pitcher Matt Coenen, Spurling headed north and proved to be a workhorse out of the bullpen in 2003. After a very good career as a minor league reliever, Spurling attempted to translate that success to the major leagues at age 26. Appearing in 66 games for Detroit last season, Spurling pitched reasonably well in his first stint against major league hitters. Contrary to the struggles of Matt Roney, Spurling appeared to get somewhat stronger as the season wore on, posting better numbers after the All-Star break. As the 2004 season approached, it was thought that Spurling would seriously contend for a spot in the Detroit bullpen. Then came those infamous words; elbow surgery. In early March, Spurling underwent season ending elbow surgery, stalling any hopes of a return trip to the majors. Having the problem diagnosed so early in the season may prove to be very valuable later on, as Spurling attempts his comeback. It is likely that Chris could be nearing full health for spring training 2005, and could again challenge for a spot on the active roster.

2004 – Mike Bumatay – LHP
The Tigers second pick in this year's Rule V draft, Bumatay was changing organizations for the second season in a row. Having been chosen by the Colorado Rockies in the minor league portion of the 2002 draft, Bumatay now packed his bags for spring training in Lakeland with the Tigers. In many post draft discussions, the common belief was that Mike could stick as the second lefty in the Detroit bullpen. Those thoughts have been tempered after some early spring training struggles. Bumatay fought his way through several rough outings in the early portions of spring training, but has settled down recently, and attempted to re-establish his case for a roster spot. With sporadic control and an average fastball, Mike has been making it difficult on himself to this point. However, if Bumatay can finish strong this spring, it is still possible that his three-quarter delivery could be giving left-handed hitters fits in Comerica Park this season.

2004 – Chris Shelton – 1B/DH
The Detroit Tigers are hoping their first pick in the recent Rule V draft can provide something they lack; high impact offense. The upper reaches of the Tigers minor league system is empty with regards to players that control the strike zone, and drive the ball. Hopefully, Shelton can inject some patience and power into the system. Since his days with the University of Utah, all Shelton has done is hit, and hit very well. But, there stands one large hurdle between Chris and the big leagues, lack of an adequate defensive position. It is possible that the switch to the American League could help his quest to be a big league ballplayer. At this point in his career, Shelton seems best fit to remain a DH, with occasional appearances at first base. Having struggled as a catcher in the Pittsburgh system, Detroit has maintained that they will not use him in that role, preferring to get him experience at first. Through twenty-four spring training at-bats, Shelton has maintained one common trend, his ability to hit. In mostly pinch-hitting duty, with a few starts mixed in, Shelton has managed to bat 0.375 with two triples, making the Tigers impending decision much more difficult. The decision of whether or not to keep Shelton could come down to the bitter end of spring training. If the Tigers choose to carry 11 pitchers to start the season, it is likely Shelton will at least head north for the beginning of the year. Strong performances from Chris for the remainder of spring training could solidify his role as a backup and pinch-hitter in Detroit this season. If he is able to stick around for the entire season, Shelton will give the Tigers a young hitter with the skills many of their prospects lack, and possibly a replacement for Dmitri Young when his contract expires.

2004 – Lino Urdaneta – RHP
After being signed as a 6-year minor league free agent by the Indians, Urdaneta was taken by Detroit with the last choice in the major league portion of the Rule V draft. Lino has endured an up and down minor league career with the Dodgers, and is a long shot to remain with the Tigers throughout the season. A strong Venezuelan League performance and solid spring training have helped his case to this point. During the winter league, Urdaneta was regularly clocked as high as 98 miles per hour, and turned in an overall solid performance. Despite his hard throwing nature, Lino has not had the affinity for strikeouts many would expect. That combined with some control issues, is part of what tarnishes Urdaneta's star. If Lino can learn to be more consistent with his delivery, and continue to develop his off-speed offerings, it is likely he could have an impact as a Major League reliever. He has been effective in limited spring innings, and the organization remains high on his overall talent. Urdaneta remains a long shot to make the active roster, but the decision is becoming more difficult with each effective spring outing.

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