While the West Michigan Whitecaps over-achieved en route to their Midwest League championship, and Erie saw a number of prospects make great strides throughout the season, Lakeland had nothing but regressing prospects and a poor record.
The struggles can start at the underachievement of the team's first 2 selections in the 2002 amateur draft; 3B Scott Moore and OF Brent Clevlen. While Moore seemed to continue his struggles from West Michigan, Clevlen's season can be considered more regression than continued struggle.
Moore's 2004 season was much like his 2003 campaign – occasional power, poor defense and a low batting average. Moore is still young at just 20 years of age, but a .706 OPS is not what the team had in mind when they spent the 8th overall choice on Moore back in '02.
Clevlen meanwhile is a much great mystery – regressing in many facets after a very impressive 2003 campaign in which he garnered recognition as one of the top 100 prospects in all of baseball. Clevlen lost patience at the plate, all the while becoming extremely unsure of himself – which led to across the board decreases in every major statistical category.
Possibly the only position player that didn't underachieve was one that wasn't even on the Opening Day roster. Tony Giarratano, who was at West Michigan to start the year, got a promotion and became easily the most productive member of the club – hitting .376/.421/.505 in 202 at bats, before losing the rest of his season to a shoulder injury.
One player who did finally have a good year was Michael Woods – when he was on the field anyway. Unfortunately, he was once again plagued by injuries, getting just 270 at bats over the course of the year. The former first round pick will need to make some serious strides as far as staying on the field if he hopes to keep his big league hopes alive.
And while the offense had plenty of struggles – the pitching wasn't spectacular either. Despite having arguably the top 3 pitching prospects in the organization, they still didn't have great seasons. Kyle Sleeth, Joel Zumaya and Humberto Sanchez all started the year with Lakeland, but none made big strides for the team. Sleeth had good numbers (5-4, 3.31 ERA), but often appeared as he was coasting and getting hitters out on pure talent – which sparked his promotion to Erie.
Zumaya and Sanchez didn't have the same numbers – although both had their moments. Both continued to struggle with their consistency, each recording 7 wins, with Zumaya sporting the lower ERA (4.36 to 5.21) but Sanchez having the lower K:BB ratio (2.26 to 1.86). Both ended up getting call ups to Erie as well, due more to necessity because of injuries than because of warranting call ups.
Unfortunately, the removal of their top 3 pitchers only made it even more difficult for the L-Tigers to compete, as they were forced to rely on pitchers to play major roles, roles they weren't ready for. All this led to a terrible streak to finish out the year, and a tough 2004 for the team to stomach.
Next year should be interesting for Lakeland – as a number of prospects (like Moore and Clevlen) will probably be kept in town for a second year in high-A ball. Now, if these youngsters can make some progress, combining with a lot of the players from the League champion Whitecap team, and the L-Tigers could have a 2005 to look forward to. If nothing else, the thought will help fans of the club look past their wretched '04 year to brighter days in the future.