AAA Toledo 28-26, 3rd place in West division
The Mudhens squeaked by Pawtucket on Thursday, winning by a score of 3-2. The Mudhens were carried by youngster Shane Loux, as he is once again showing he can consistently shut down AAA hitters. Loux went 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 5 hits, striking out 4 and walking 2. After 2 shutout innings by Chris Mears, Franklyn German retired the side in order in the 9th to nab his 14th save of the year. Marcus Thames blasted his IL-leading 16th Home Run of the season, while Nook Logan had a pair of hits and swiped his 22nd base of the year (which also puts him in first place among IL players).
This Mudhen team isn't packed with prospects, but it seems the ones they do have are gaining a lot from playing on a team with so many veterans. Nook Logan, who all too often was considered too immature and impatient at the plate to ever amount to much, is slowly trying to prove to the Tiger front office that he's still a player, a player who undoubtedly has been helped by the presence of veterans like Warren Morris, Rich Gomez and Mike DiFelice, players that have been to the big leagues before and know what it takes to make it. Logan isn't exactly making a push for Alex Sanchez's job, but he has nonetheless shown through the first 2 months that he's not one to be written off.
AA Erie 30-20, 1st place in Southern division
Surprisingly enough, the only Tiger farm team to lose on Thursday was the Seawolves, as they fell 5-4 to Akron. The Seawolves held a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the 9th, but Rick Palma was hit hard, blew the save, and took the loss after he allowed the game-tying and game-winning runs to score. David Espinosa and Curtis Granderson each had a pair of hits at the top of the order (combining for 3 RBI), and Juan Tejada had 3 singles and an RBI as well. Erie now heads home to take on Harrisburg for a 3-game set.
One player not getting much mention is righty Rick Kirsten, who went 6 1/3 and allowed only one run on Thursday. Kirsten is older than many of the other pitchers (25) and doesn't carry the same recognition as many of them, but that hasn't seemed to faze Kirsten, who is now second on the team in ERA (2.81). After moving into the rotation to replace the injured Rob Henkel, Kirsten has been very impressive. If not for Erie's incredible pitching depth, Kirsten would probably be getting much more notoriety for his performance. Just another impressive pitcher from the extremely impressive Erie pitching staff.
High-A Lakeland 24-32, 5th place in West division
Little seems to go wrong for the L-Tigers when Kyle Sleeth is on the mound. Sleeth once again had an excellent performance for Lakeland en route to their 10-2 victory over Clearwater. Sleeth pitched 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on only 3 hits while striking out 7. 3B Scott Moore also had a big night for Lakeland, going 2-for-3 with 2 runs scored, 2 Home Runs and 4 RBI. DH David Mattle also contributed 3 RBI to the cause for Lakeland.
One of the biggest wonders has been the performance of Moore. After being drafted as a highly touted Shortstop out of high school, Moore has really been anything but impressive. His sweet swing seemed to disappear as he struggled his way through West Michigan in 2003, and his struggles have continued somewhat for Lakeland. His power numbers for the year are up (8 HR's, 27 RBI), but he's only hitting .210, even after his monster game Thursday. Moore is by no means a bust yet, but he has a long way to go before he can be considered one of the Tigers top prospects - a title he should have never lost considering his draft position.
Low-A West Michigan 22-31, 6th in Eastern division
In another close game, the Whitecaps were able to pull out a victory over Fort Wayne, 5-4. Virgil Vasquez got his 5th win of the year, pitching 7 innings of 3-hit baseball, allowing only 1 run in. Brian Santo allowed 3 unearned runs to score to make it close, but Eulogio Delacruz closed it out in the 9th for his first save. 3B Kody Kirkland had a big night at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a Home Run (his 3rd of the year), and 3 RBI. The Whitecaps finish up their series with Fort Wayne Friday night.
Possibly the biggest mystery among Tiger prospects this season has been the poor play of Kirkland. Kirkland had a monster season with short season Oneonta last summer, smashing practically everything that was thrown at him. But his season at West Michigan got off to a terrible start, showing little patience and even less confidence at the plate. Kirkland has shown signs of starting to break out of the funk he's been in, however, his OPS still sits barely above .600, and his defense has been inconsistent at best. Kirkland needs to work on returning to his 2003 form, when he was the confident hitter that no one wanted to pitch to.