Minor League Notebook: 6/17

Earlier in the season, the Tigers bullpen had some issues, costing the Tigers a few games when the team received solid starts and good offensive support. The Tigers minor league squads went through a similar bad run on Thursday, going 2-3, with only Toledo having success, winning both of games of their doubleheader.

AAA Toledo 36-32, 1st place in West division
The Seawolves just recently fell out of 1st place in their division, but not two days after the fact, the Tigers have a new minor league team in first - the Mudhens. After winning both games of a doubleheader over Richmond, Toledo took over the top spot. Both games were supposed to go only 7 innings, but both ended up going into extra innings (game 1 ended in the 8th, game 2 in the 9th).

The Mudhens won the first game, 1-0 when Derek Nicholson had a single that scored Nook Logan just after he stole 3rd base. The Tigers received an excellent start from newcomer Jimmy Haynes, who had 6 innings of shutout baseball. Chris Mears got the win for working the 7th, and Franklyn German came on in the 8th to close it out. The second game wasn't quite as close, with the Mudhens winning 7-4. Three unearned runs in the top of the 9th led the Mudhens to victory. John Ennis got the win, after relieving James Baldwin, who wasn't quite as impressive as Haynes (4 2/3 innings, 4 earned runs). German also got the save in game 2. At the plate, Danny Klassen had a Home Run and 2 RBI, with Joe Vitiello having 2 hits and 3 RBI.

German now has 18 saves on the season in 27 appearances. The Tigers don't want to get too optimistic, because German has impressed in AAA before. His numbers closely resemble the numbers he sported in his 2002 and 2003 appearances with Toledo. He's currently 3-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 18 saves and a 2.46:1 K:BB ratio. Last year his basics weren't as good (1-4, 4 saves), but his ERA was 2.46 and his K:BB ratio was even better (3.55:1). Make no mistake about it though, German will be getting another shot in Detroit. Unlike the last two times though, Alan Trammell will not be as patient with German, he'll have to get outs if he expects to stay with the club. But if German shows that he's finally ready for the big leagues, it could make it much easier for Dave Dombrowski to entertain offers for closer Ugueth Urbina come late July.

AA Erie 36-27, 2nd place in Southern division
The Seawolves are in a bit of a slide as of late, losing 6 of their last 8, most of them in close games where the offense just couldn't generate enough scoring to get the win. The Seawolves got a solid start from Rick Kirsten (5 IP, 3 ER), but the bullpen couldn't slow down Reading, who got 2 runs each of Roberto Novoa and Rick Palma (who took the loss to fall to 1-6 on the year). At the plate, David Espinosa had another Home Run, as well as 3 walks and a stolen base. C Maxim St Pierre had a 2-run shot also, his 5th of the year.

The Erie rotation is now one of the top ones in all of the minor leagues, but their lineup is currently going through a dry spell that isn't helping the team win many games. Curtis Granderson came into the year as the top prospect among position players, but it appears his Outfield mate David Espinosa has taken that title from him. Espinosa leads the team among qualified hitters with a .289 average, but more impressive is his .393 OBP and his .496 slugging. His strikeout numbers are still high (57 K's in 228 at bats), but as long as his numbers stay where they are, his high Strikeout numbers will be overlooked. Espinosa is average defensively, after being moved to the Outfield from Shortstop, the position he was drafted to play. While Alex Sanchez has great speed but little patience at the plate, Espinosa strikes one as the anti-Sanchez, a patient hitter who can make good contact, not just bloop singles (12 2B's, 11 HR's). Sanchez is a coaches' favorite, but Espinosa could be the Tigers leadoff hitter of the future.

High-A Lakeland 28-37, 5th place in West division
Maybe Matt Parris was affected by the loss of teammate Kyle Sleeth, who was promoted to AA Erie, or maybe it was just a bad game. But whatever it was, it certainly wasn't an impressive outing, as Parris gave up 7 runs in 4 2/3 innings to take the loss for the L-Tigers. The offense battled, but just couldn't make up the big hole that Parris put the team in. Michael Woods went 3-for-4 with 2 runs and Tony Giarratano went 2-for-3 with 2 RBI.

Giarratano has been getting a lot of press here lately, and for good reason. Want an impressive statistic? Since his call-up, Giarratano has gotten at least one hit in every L-Tiger game. That's a 16-game hitting streak, plus he had a hit in his final game at West Michigan, giving him a combined 17-game hit streak between the two levels. In his hit streak, Giarratano is hitting .412/.444/.485, very impressive numbers, especially for a Shortstop who is considered better with the glove than the bat. Giarratano also has 5 doubles and 9 RBI over the streak. Last season, Kody Kirkland got all the accolades at Oneonta, but Giarratano is showing he was the team's top prospect.

Low-A West Michigan 27-39, 5th place in Eastern division
The Whitecaps lost a high scoring game to Burlington on Thursday, 13-9. Brian Rogers didn't have a great outing, giving up 5 runs over 7 innings, but turned the game over to the bullpen with the lead after the Whitecaps scored 9 runs in the first 4 innings. Chris Homer, Kenon Ronz (who took the loss) and Brian Santo gave up 8 runs between the three of them over the final 2 innings. At the plate, Kelly Hunt had a Home Run (his 9th) and 2 RBI, while Eric Rodland and Nate Doyle also each had a pair of RBI. Kody Kirkland also had 2 hits and 2 runs scored.

One of the biggest surprises this season has been the less than stellar play of Kirkland. While he was dominating for Oneonta last season, he's been anything but for West Michigan this season. His defense has always been an issue, but his confidence level seems to have dropped so badly that it has affected him at the plate and in the field (he has 20 errors in 57 games at the hot corner). Kirkland has picked up his performance a little bit after a terrible start, but he's still nowhere near where the Tiger front office expected him to be. Even worse than his .216 average with 4 HR's and 25 RBI are his Strikeouts to Walks at the plate - 70 K's to only 6 walks. Nevermind being one of the Tigers top prospects, Kirkland just needs to get his head back in the game and relax before he falls completely off the baseball map.

SS-A Oneonta 0-0
The Oneonta Tigers kick off their season on Friday night in the New York-Penn League. Christhian Martinez, a Dominican Republic native, gets the Opening Day start for the O-Tigers. Stay tuned to TigsTown.com later this weekend for an interview with Oneonta Pitching Coach and former Tiger pitcher Bill Monboquette.

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