Coming in at #5 on the prospect list is a prospect who garnered little interest prior to 2003 among the Tiger prospects. David Espinosa was originally one of the top picks in the 2000 amateur draft by the Cincinnati Reds, coming to the Tigers in a trade for Brian Moehler. Espinosa had 2 unspectacular seasons in 2002 and 2003, showing patience at the plate but little power and overall uninspired play. But 2004 was a new year, and Espinosa is apparently finally starting to live up to expectations when he came out of a Miami high school, drawing comparisons to Alex Rodriguez. Espinosa is third on the Seawolves with 14 Home Runs while playing Right Field (although not the prototypical Right Fielder), and leads the entire Eastern League with 64 walks. Espinosa played much of the season in the leadoff hole, but is destined to be a player more in the mold of Bobby Higginson – a patient hitter with decent power that can swipe a few bases and be a solid fielder. Much like Granderson, Espinosa could push for playing time come 2005.
The Tigers #4 prospect entered the season as one of the Tigers top prospects, and he still is, although not due to his summer from the 2004 season. At the start of the year, he was ranked as Baseball America's #98 prospect, being quoted as "the best future #3 hitter you've never heard of." Clevlen had a successful first year with West Michigan, hitting .260, with a .410 slugging percentage. Clevlen started out 2004 hitting just as well, but hit a snag in early June. From then on, his numbers have been on a freefall, all the way down to a .218 average with a slugging percentage of just .333. A possible reason for his dropoff is a new-found lack of patience (he walked 72 times for the Whitecaps in 2003, but has walked just 32 times thusfar in 2004). Despite his serious midseason struggles, Clevlen still carries plenty of promise within the organization. But, just like Scott Moore, he may be taken off a fast track and given more time to develop. He still carries the most promise of any Outfielder in the Tiger system, but it's obvious that Granderson and Espinosa will be making their big league debuts well before Clevlen.
Down to #3 on the list, and this prospect is Clevlen's teammate, Joel Zumaya. Zumaya continued the path he followed last year, impressing often, struggling with his command, and often times fading late in games as his arm tires. The possibility continues to exist that Zumaya will eventually make the transition to the bullpen, but for now, he still carries potential as a middle of the rotation starter. An 11th round pick in the 2002 draft, Zumaya has turned out to be a bit of a diamond in the rough, adding 5 MPH to his fastball shortly after joining the organization. His strikeout numbers were extremely impressive at West Michigan. Zumaya's ERA is much higher this season than last (4.27 compared with 2.79), but much of that can be accounted for in the increased competition, and a better hitter's ballpark (although not by much). Zumaya's K:BB ratio isn't as good as it was in 2003 either (3.32 down to 1.67), but that also has to do with Zumaya working on developing his other pitches, and not simply using his mid-90's fastball to blow by hitters – which will work less and less as he increases levels. Zumaya, still just 19-years old, is a few years away from major league baseball, but as long as he stays healthy and continues to develop his other pitches, will be a big time pitcher down the road.
The #2 prospect would have been Wilfredo Ledezma, but his promotion to the big league club scratched that. So, in moving everyone up a spot, SS Tony Giarratano has moved up to the 2nd overall prospect. Giarratano had a successful 2003 season, his first as a professional, hitting .328/.368/.476 for Short Season Oneonta. Giarratano started the year at low-A West Michigan, and was expected to team with Kody Kirkland to make the best left side of an infield in the Tiger system. But, Kirkland never got off to a hot start, and Giarratano played so well that he was promoted up to high-A Lakeland. Giarratano started off extremely hot with the L-Tigers, and while cooling off a bit is still playing incredibly well. With Lakeland, he's hitting .371/.421/.473, despite a solid lineup top to bottom around him. Giarratano is solid defensively, is patient at the plate, has good gap power, and can swipe a base if you underestimate him. The Tigers aren't exactly in need of a middle Infielder with Carlos Guillen and Omar Infante manning the spots up the middle, but Giarratano could push them come 2006.
And now, to the #1 prospect. He started the season as the top prospect, and has done absolutely nothing to warrant falling from the top spot. Kyle Sleeth started the year with high-A Lakeland, but proved to be a bit above the competition, as often times the Tigers saw his biggest problem at the level was an almost lack of competition. Sleeth went 5-3 with a 3.05 ERA and a 4.00 K:BB ratio at Lakeland, before his promotion to Erie. Sleeth had it easy in high-A, but is proving that AA is quite a difference in competition. Through 6 starts, he's 1-3 with an 8.55 ERA. But the Tigers have no plans of moving him – Sleeth was simply over-powering at Lakeland, and is now finding out what happens when he keeps pitches up in the zone. The Tigers also don't want to push him too hard, as evidenced by his brief shutdown in mid July so that the Tigers could make some minor adjustments with his delivery. No matter his current numbers, Sleeth already possesses three major league caliber pitches, and for it, combined with his makeup and proximity to the big leagues, makes him the Tigers #1 prospect.