Minor League Notebook: 7/20

The Tigers suffered a close defeat on Tuesday, losing in extra innings. Apparently, like big league club, like minor league clubs, as the farm teams combined for a 1-4 record. Of the 4 losses, three of them were one run defeats, the other a loss by just 2 runs, at the hand of former Tiger prospect Jon Connolly. The lone win came from Toledo, who now sits just a half game behind Columbus in the West.

AAA Toledo 53-45, 2nd place in West division
Toledo continues to push for the top spot in the West, now just 1/2 game behind Columbus after their 7-1 win over Syracuse on Tuesday. James Baldwin got the win, going 7 2/3 innings, allowing a run on 5 hits, with 5 strikeouts. Danny Patterson (who will probably be added to the 25 man roster in the next day or two) got the final 4 outs. At the plate, Greg Norton finally made a little noise, going 2-for-4 including a Home Run. Warren Morris also had a big game, going 2-for-4 with a Home Run, 4 RBI and 2 runs scored.

Greg Norton finally had a big game, but is still only hitting .130 on his rehab assignment, which expires this weeekend. At this point, Norton's chances of returning to the Tigers seem remote, they just have no room for a player whose best attribute is pinch hitting, especially when Alan Trammell is already struggling to find at bats for players like Marcus Thames, who might be returning to Toledo soon for the playoff stretch run, especially once Alex Sanchez returns to the lineup. In any case, don't expect to see Norton back with the Tigers, barring any serious injuries. The Tigers will probably try and keep Norton in AAA, but it's hard to see him accepting such a role (like Mike DiFelice did) after being a successful big leaguer for many years.

AA Erie 49-45, 3rd place in Southern division
Erie suffered a tough defeat, falling 7-6 to Altoona. Kenny Baugh took the loss, going 5 2/3 innings, allowing 7 runs, but just 3 earned. A costly error by Jack Hannahan at 3rd led to a 5-run 3rd inning. The offense provided some support, including 2 Home Runs in the 1st inning (including a leadoff Home Run by Anderson Hernandez). Besides Hernandez, Curtis Granderson and Kurt Airoso had identical stats, both going 3-for-5 with a Home Run, 2 RBI and 2 runs scored.

Brent Clevlen remains the Outfield prospect with the most potential in the organization, but David Espinosa and Curtis Granderson both could make their major league debut in 2005. Espinosa's turnaround has been well documented, but Granderson's play in 2004 has for the most part gone unmentioned. Nevertheless, he's had another solid season, currently hitting .286/.378/.426 (AVG/OBP/SLG) for Erie, as well as swiping 12 bases and playing solid defense once again. Espinosa has shown more with his bat, but Granderson isn't far behind. Plus, Granderson's defense is very solid, and he can play all 3 spots. If the Tigers didn't already have a logjam of Outfielders, both Granderson and Espinosa could potentially be competing for a spot out of the gate next Spring.

High-A Lakeland 10-16, 5th place in West division
Lakeland fell 3-1 on Tuesday to Daytona. Joel Zumaya took the loss, facing his former teammate (until he was traded earlier this season) Jon Connolly. Zumaya went 6 innings, giving up 2 runs on 6 hits, including 3 strikeouts. Unfortunately that didn't match Connolly, who went 7 1/3 innings, with only 1 unearned run allowed - and even that came after he left the game in the 8th. Brent Clevlen scored the lone run on a passed ball, and Neil Jenkins had a pair of hits for the L-Tigers.

Results of the game aside, Zumaya is still a better prospect than Connolly. Zumaya still struggles with control and will need to strengthen his arm to be considered a potential starter at the big league level, but Connolly still has a limited ceiling. His fastball doesn't touch 90, and neither his curveball or change-up are more than average pitches. Still, Connolly could become a decent major league pitcher, which at this point appears to be more than what you can say for Felix Sanchez, who the Tigers received in return for Connolly. Sanchez can throw heat, but much like Steve Colyer, struggles with his command and control, and has yet to prove that he can be successful in AA Erie, let alone the major leagues. All in all, a questionable trade for Detroit.

Low-A West Michigan 8-16, 6th place in Eastern division
The Whitecaps also suffered a close defeat, falling 3-2 to Battle Creek in 10 innings. In a rematch of last week's pitcher's duel between Virgil Vasquez and Tyler Clippard, both again pitched well, and again the Whitecap bullpen lost it for West Michigan. Vasquez went 8 2/3 innings, allowing 2 unearned runs with 6 strikeouts. He then gave way to Eulogio Delacruz, who gave up the game-winning run in the 10th. Garth McKinney had a big day at the plate, going 2-for-3 with a solo Home Run, his 14th. Vincent Blue went 0-for-5, but did have an RBI groundout.

The day after it was stated here that someone (possibly McKinney) needed to step up, McKinney did just that, going 2-for-3 with his team-leading 14th Home Run (which also ties him for 5th in the Midwest League). McKinney's power is there, but he still struggles with many other aspects of his game. He's had some Home Runs, but is 2nd in the Midwest League with 119 strikeouts already. McKinney's slugging percentage is respectable (.425), but his average is low (.232), and more importantly, he just doesn't make consistent contact at the plate. He's not a great fielder and doesn't have great, so his ticket to the majors is his bat. But for that to happen, he'll need to start making contact and not striking out 2 times per game.

SS-A Oneonta 15-15, 2nd place in Stedler division
Oneonta had a tough loss Tuesday, falling 1-0 in 13 innings to Batavia. Josh Kauten had a great start, pitching 7 innings of shutout baseball, with just 1 walk and 8 strikeouts. Unfortunately, Ezequil Perez couldn't continue the shutout streak, never recording an out before allowing the game winning run to score. At the plate, nothing was doing, as the O-Tigers could only manage two hits for the game.

Rookie GCL Tigers 10-13, 3rd place in Northern division
The GCL Tigers were again rained out, but hope to get their game in on Wednesday against the Braves.

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