Tigers Minor League All Star team

In the spirit of Major League Baseball's mid-season festivities, I thought it would be appropriate to assemble the First Annual TigsTown.com Minor League All-Star Team. This collection of talent from all levels of the Tigers minor league system was determined based on their performances in the first half of the season. So, without further delay: the envelopes please . . .

Starting on the hill for this year's All-Star team is last years Rule V steal, Wil Ledezma. Ledezma has not only been the top pitcher in the organization this year, but he has been one of the top pitchers throughout the minor leagues. After spending the entire 2003 season on the Detroit roster, Wil has absolutely dominated the competition at AA Erie. In 16 first half starts, he has posted a 10-3 record with a 2.42 earned run average, and only 95 hits in 111 innings of work. This stellar performance earned him a spot on the Eastern League All-Star squad and also earned him a second half promotion to Detroit.

Also toeing the rubber is last year's first round pick Kyle Sleeth. Despite struggling in two of his first three starts in AA, Sleeth has still put together a solid first half. Combined over two levels, Sleeth has just a 6-5 record and a 4.13 ERA, while striking out 77 in 85 innings. On the surface, those numbers don't appear to warrant All-Star honors, but his record in Lakeland was skewed by a lack of run support and his ERA has shot up due to a couple of rough outings in AA. Overall, he was consistently effective, showing signs of being the front-line starter Detroit hoped he could be.

Rounding out the pitchers on this years team are relievers Lee Rodney and Rick Kirsten. Rodney has struggled some since his promotion to Erie, but while in Lakeland, he was virtually unhittable. In 27 innings spanning 19 appearances, Rodney comprised numbers that one would normally only see in a video game, including a 2-1 record with 7 saves, 19 hits, 5 walks, 22 strikeouts, and 0.67 ERA. Let me repeat that, a 0.67 ERA! Rodney hasn't been quite as impressive with Erie, but has still been a reliable bullpen arm. Rick Kirsten has been a "jack-of-all-trades" type for the Tigers so far this season. He has appeared in 9 games as a starter, and another 11 games as a reliever, providing very effective innings in both rolls. After posting a 1-2 record with a 3.60 ERA with Erie, Kirsten has improved his game after being promoted to Toledo. In 5 relief appearances with the Mudhens, Rick has a 3-0 record with a 1.96 ERA.

Behind the dish for this All-Star team is 24-year old Mike Rabelo. Despite being a little old for the Florida State League, Rabelo has posted good numbers, even earning himself a promotion to Erie. Appearing in 58 games for Lakeland, Rabelo hit at a .295 clip, with a .364 on-base percentage. Mike had also racked up 14 doubles, 25 runs scored, and drove in another 27. These solid offensive numbers, combined with his above average defense behind the plate, make Rabelo the easy choice at catcher on this team.

Rounding out the infield are Erie's Juan Tejada and Jack Hannahan at first and third base respectively, along with Lakeland's Michael Woods and Tony Giarratano up the middle. Since the first day of the season, Tejada has been mashing the ball, ranking in the Eastern League Top 10 in both homeruns and RBI, all while still maintaining a decent walk rate. On top of his stellar offensive performance, Tejada has also improved his defense and appears to be rounding himself into a complete player. Across the diamond at third, Tejada's teammate, Jack Hannahan is finally putting together the type of season at Erie the Tigers thought he would back in 2002. As a 3rd round pick in 2001, Hannahan made an impressive debut, leading many to peg him as the third baseman of the future. Unfortunately, he has struggled until posting a .275 average, 6 homeruns, and 37 walks at Erie this season. During late May and June, Hannahan was tearing up Eastern League pitchers, reminding everyone that he is still a prospect to consider.

Up the middle, this All-Star team sports the double-play combination of the Lakeland Tigers. Michael Woods appears to finally be healthy and contributing like the Tigers thought he could after the 2001 draft. With a .281 average, .333 OBP, and 9 steals in 12 attempts, Woods is starting to put things together, earning him the nod at second base on this All-Star roster. His partner in crime, Tony Giarratano, is making his case as one of the top prospects in the system. Tony started the year on fire at West Michigan, before cooling off slightly. With the promotion of Anderson Hernandez to Erie, the shortstop job was available in Lakeland, and Tony has seized it. Since his promotion, Giarratano is hitting .384 with 13 steals in 39 games, all while maintaining his great defense.

The outfielders on this roster have all taken very different career paths to get to this point. David Espinosa was the classic high school draftee brimming with talent and potential, while Curtis Granderson is the under whelming prospect who just keeps putting up solid numbers, and Marcus Thames is the stereotypical late-bloomer, finally exploding at age 27. Despite their differing backgrounds, all three are deserving of a spot on this roster. David Espinosa has finally put together a season worthy of the praise that was laid upon him after the 2000 draft. Batting .279 with 14 homeruns, 15 doubles, 27 RBI, 55 runs scored, 57 walks, and 15 steals, Espinosa has put together one of the most complete first halves of any prospect the Tigers have. At age 22, David has himself right back on track as a top prospect. Curtis Granderson came into this season with the organization hoping he could demonstrate his ability to be the centerfielder of the future. So far, he hasn't disappointed. Granderson has put up a .273 average with 43 walks, and 43 RBI in 74 games, all while playing outstanding defense in center. Curtis doesn't stand out in any one area, but consistently does the job and puts up numbers worthy of prospect status. The last member of the team is Toledo's Marcus Thames. Marcus makes the roster despite recently being called up to Detroit. His numbers in the first half are simply too incredible to ignore. In 64 games for the Mudhens, Thames hit for a .329 average, posted a .410 OBP, and also knocked 24 homeruns and 21 doubles, while driving in 59. If it weren't for his recent call-up, Marcus would have had the opportunity to show his stuff at the AAA All-Star game in Pawtucket, but for some reason, I don't think he minds showing his stuff in Detroit instead.

There you have it folks, the First Annual TigsTown.com Minor League All-Star Team, a collection of the top prospects in the Tiger's system. Hopefully we will all be fortunate enough to see their talents on display in Comerica Park in future seasons.

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