In 2003 the Tigers pushed almost all of their position player prospects in the upper levels to the big league club in hopes of discovering some major-league ready talent. As was obvious from the record, the prospects weren't quite ready for the majors. The next wave starts in Erie, PA with the Seawolves.
Among the Infielders, the Tigers don't have any top prospects, but a solid group that could all possibly contribute. Jack Hannahan returns to the club for his third season at Third, despite showing tons of promise when drafted, he has yet to develop into someone that appears to be a big league ballplayer - 2004 could very well be his last chance to prove he can be one. Meanwhile at the other corner, 1B Juan Tejada has very quietly been a very productive player for the Tigers over the past three years - and the Tigers hope that can continue. Up the middle, SS will be manned by Don Kelly, who has hit for a solid average the past two seasons, but projects to be someone more along the lines of a utility infielder. Second Base was supposed to be held by converted 3B Ryan Raburn, but Raburn dislocated a finger and will be out indefinitely. Nonetheless, whenever he returns he should provide the Seawolves another solid bat. Maxim St. Pierre takes over behind the plate. Overall, while there are no stars among the group, all 5 still carry major league potential.
The Outfield carries just as much promise, probably more. Curtis Granderson had an excellent season offensively for Lakeland in 2003 and was part of the reason the Tigers felt confident in moving OF Cody Ross to the Dodgers. He can hit for average and power, and can play anywhere in the Outfield. The other 2 spots will be held by David Espinosa and Neil Jenkins. Espinosa was acquired two years ago for Brian Moehler, and is just now starting to show the promise that drew comparisons to A-Rod when he was coming out of high school in south Florida. Jenkins has great power, unfortunately, he has yet to make consistent contact (very low average, very high strikeouts). But again, just like the infield, each player shows major league promise.
And while the position players show promise, the pitching staff is loaded with talent. Leading the group will be LHP Rob Henkel and RHP Kenny Baugh - a pair that could very well find themselves in the Tiger rotation (sooner rather than later), if they can stay healthy. RHP Preston Larrison struggled in 2003 after an excellent 2002 campaign, but there's no question he has the talent to make it to the majors, as long as he can keep the ball down and in the strike zone. Yet another prospect who will probably come out of the bullpen is RHP Roberto Novoa - who was acquired as a PTBNL in the trade for Randall Simon. Novoa is a flamethrower who could become a very solid reliever at the big league level.
And finishing off the rotation is a pair no longer considered prospects, but only because of their Rule V status in 2003, requiring them to spend the entire season with the big league squad. Now, with their year out of the way, RHP Matt Roney and LHP Wil Ledezma wil look to convert themselves back into starters and push for a rotation spot in the near future. Both have already shown that at worse they can handle middle relief, so don't expect to see these two away from the big leagues for more than a year or so.
And despite a high number of highly-regarded prospects, no list on Erie can be made without the inclusion of 21-year old Jeremy Johnson. Johnson has battled injury issues, but possesses loads of talent and has moved quickly despite the injuries and his age.
Overall, this group isn't made up of stars. Only one of the group is among the Tigers top 5 prospects (Henkel), and his injury history leaves him with plenty of question marks. But what is noteworthy is the high number of potential big leaguers on the team. If you happen to drive through Erie this summer, taking in a Seawolve game might not be a bad idea; as you could see quite a few future Tigers on the squad.