Again, Toledo doesn't provide much hope with Rayner Bautista and Danny Klassen holding down this critical position. Both players provide little for the organization to look forward to, and neither is likely to have extended careers in the system. Klassen is an adequate minor league utility player, but when pressed into major league service, he has failed time and again, posting a career line of .226/.289/.341 with Arizona and Detroit.
With Anderson Hernandez poised to take over the shortstop duties at Toledo in 2005, both of the aforementioned minor league veterans could be looking for work elsewhere this offseason. Long known as an all-field, no hit player, Hernandez broke out at the plate in 2004. Starting the year with Lakeland, his third season there, Hernandez exploded onto the scene, hitting .309 with 8 steals in the first 37 games of the season. With an injury to Don Kelly at Erie, Hernandez was the logical choice for a promotion. Predictably, Anderson's production dipped with the promotion to Erie, but his offense was still much improved from previous seasons. Hernandez finished his tour through AA with a .274/.326/.376 line. As a player that has long struggled with strike zone judgment and discipline in the batters box, Hernandez still has some significant improvements to make in his offensive game. At his current level, Hernandez profiles as a solid major league backup at both middle infield positions, but likely would experience little success as a starter due to his offensive struggles. While he could still use another year in Erie to hone his skills, Hernandez will likely start 2005 in Toledo, due to the pressure applied by top prospect Tony Giarratano.
The 3rd round choice in the 2003 draft out of Tulane, Giarratano was profiled by many observers as another outstanding fielder who would struggle with the bat. Luckily, those observers were very, very wrong. Tony broke on the New York-Penn League scene last summer with a phenomenal .328/.369/.476 line in a pitching dominated league. The switch-hitting Giarratano displayed more power in 2003 than his numbers indicate, and showed solid plate discipline. Despite skepticism surrounding his 2003 season, Tony put all doubters to rest in 2004. Although he did not dominate during his short stint at West Michigan, Tony received a promotion to Lakeland as the ripples of Don Kelly's injury were felt throughout the minor league system. In Lakeland, Giarratano went absolutely nuts, hitting .376 over 53 games, with a .926 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). A late season shoulder injury (non-throwing arm) put a damper on an otherwise stellar season for Tony, but all indications point towards him starting the 2005 season as the starter in AA-Erie. Overall, Giarratano has displayed a plethora of skills that have scouts, fans, and the organization buzzing with optimism. Not only has he demonstrated the ability to hit for average and surprising power, but Tony has stolen 34 bases in two seasons, all while maintaining his spectacular defense at short. With continued progress, the Tigers could have an interesting decision on their hands involving Tony and Carlos Guillen as early as 2006.
As bad as it sounds, the organization may have benefited with the injury to Kelly. With the promotions of Hernandez and Giarratano, Juan Francia had the opportunity to step up and establish himself as well. Francia took advantage of his opportunity, posting a .320/.384/.361 line with 37 steals in 111 games at West Michigan. Francia is the classic slap-hitting speedster in the mold of Juan Pierre. If Francia can conquer his struggles in the field, and continue to control the strike zone, he could emerge as not only a top of the order threat, but a top prospect in the system. 2004 was a huge step forward for Juan, and another step forward at Lakeland in 2005 could really put his name on the map.
Two 2004 college draft choices split time at short for Oneonta this summer. Brent Dlugach and Brooks Colvin bring very different offensive approaches to the table, but both have the opportunity to become solid ball players. The University of Memphis product, Dlugach, is a raw offensive talent who has the potential to develop into an elite player with the bat. He possesses raw power and needs to develop better plate discipline, but with this kind of potential, you can see why he was a 6th round choice. Colvin is a more advanced hitter, who controls the strike zone reasonably well, but relies more on singles and speed for his success. He's not quite as fast as the aforementioned Juan Francia, but Colvin will generate some excitement on the base paths. Colvin is the more likely candidate to start next season in West Michigan, while Dlugach could benefit more from another season in the NYPL. Miguel Linares was the primary shortstop for the Tigers in the Gulf Coast League this season, and he showed that he has a long ways to go (.236/.302/.264) before being considered a prospect of any worth.
The shortstop position is probably one of the deeper positions in the Tiger system, but there still are few impact prospects. Tony Giarratano has been a pleasant surprise and could make a difference in Comerica Park in the near future, but the remainder of these players have a lot of developing to do. The 2005 season will be a big one for the development of shortstops in the Tigers system. It could emerge as a position of strength within the organization, but it could just as easily take a step backwards. With the presence of Carlos Guillen in Detroit, there is no rush for any of these kids, but it would be nice to see continued improvement at all levels. In the meantime, cherish Guillen's performance for the next three years, and look forward to the arrival of Tony G.