There was a common theme in Toledo this year; Prospects, what prospects? There were not many young, up and coming players on the Toledo roster in 2004, but the veterans that were there served a definitive purpose. They were there to provide something the organization has not had in years, depth. One of those players, Warren Morris, had gone from starting in Detroit in 2003, to starting in Toledo. Morris did exactly what was expected of him, posting a .287/.334/.436 line, all while playing adequate defense up the middle. At 30 years old, Morris is unlikely to have an extended major league career, but he is still a valuable player to have within an organization.
Unfortunately for Morris, the presence of top prospect Ryan Raburn probably means his tenure in Toledo is nearing its end. After a horrible offseason ATV accident in 2001, Raburn finally returned to full strength in 2004, and it showed in his offensive display. A line of .301/.390/.533, with 29 doubles and 16 homeruns means the offensive potential scouts felt Raburn possessed was finally coming to light. Worries surrounding his early season struggles were put to rest with an absolutely electric final three months, where he was one of the top offensive players in the minor leagues. A September call-up to Detroit did not go quite as Raburn would have liked (.138 average in 12 games), but playing the 2005 season in Toledo will allow him the time to continue improving, so he can challenge for a spot in Detroit in 2006. There are some concerns surrounding Ryan's defense at second, but coaches and scouts have seen improvement. If this defensive improvement stagnates, or if Omar Infante solidifies himself as the future at second in Detroit, Raburn may be forced to switch positions, where outfield (his collegiate position) would certainly be an option. Backing up Raburn in Erie was organizational soldier Scott Tousa. The University of Michigan product has struggled to perform since turning pro after his junior year with the Wolverines. Tousa posted a career high batting average for Erie in 2003, hitting at a .245 clip. 2004 was his second season in Erie, and no improvement was seen. Tousa appears destined to a career as a minor league back-up, but then again, most of us would die for the chance at such a career.
When we look at the Lakeland Tigers from 2004, there are far too many examples of pure frustration. From Scott Moore to Brent Clevlen, the frustration continues with 2001 1st rounder Michael Woods. Woods started 2004 as his third tour through the Florida State League. Having struggled with injuries in college, and even more as a professional, Woods was hoping his first healthy season in 2003 was a step in the right direction despite very poor performance. Well, Woods finally started hitting again in 2004, but then he could not stay healthy. Leg injuries limited him to 67 games this past season, in which he posted a less than inspiring .281/.333/.393 line. A healthy Michael Woods will likely get one last shot to remain on the field and perform, this time with AA-Erie in 2005.
After a stellar 2003 debut with Oneonta, Eric Rodland was expected to follow the Tony Giarratano career path, excelling in the Midwest League before moving up the organizational ladder. That certainly did not happen, in fact, Rodland's 2004 season was somewhat of a disappointment. A .263 average, combined with little power, a decrease in stolen bases, and a regression in his strike zone judgment, are not exactly what the organization and the fans had anticipated. Eric will need to demonstrate significant improvement as a 25 year old in the Florida State League next season in order to have a realistic shot at contributing in Detroit.
The short-season and rookie leagues employed drastically different players as their primary second baseman this season. Oneonta relied on the speedy, slap-hitting Francisco Castro who played reasonably well, but showed that he absolutely needs to add strength to move up through the organization. Castro showed little beyond singles power in 2004 (.260 slugging percentage), and will need to drive the ball more to be a successful player. The Gulf Coast League Tigers ran Princeton graduate Stephen Young out to the middle infield for 42 games this summer, and he certainly didn't disappoint. After a very good offensive career as a Princeton Tiger, young continued to get on base for a different Tiger team. Young's power numbers were low, but his ability to command the strike zone combined with his ability to drive the ball from gap to gap, bode well for his future within the organization. Young could start the 2005 season in West Michigan, and don't be surprised if he emerges as one of the better, young middle infielders in the organization.
There are a lot of players within the system that need to take a big step forward in 2005, but the promise is there. Ryan Raburn is far and away the top player at the position in the system, but with solid 2005 season; Eric Rodland and Stephen Young could both put their names on the map as well. With the lack of impact players, our best hope may be for Omar Infante to emerge as a top flight half to Detroit's keystone combination.