With another very talented rotation, the West Michigan Whitecaps were led to their League Championship by this group of prospects. Led by the highly thought-of trio of Virgil Vasquez, Christhian Martinez, and Jordan Tata, the Whitecaps rotation carried them down the stretch and through the playoffs.
Tata was electric in the season's second half, posting some of the best numbers in the entire organization from the All-Star break on. Vasquez led the system in wins, while Martinez posted a sub-2.50 ERA in his first taste of full-season ball. All three pitchers will be expected to perform and improve in 2005, where they should be able to take advantage of the pitcher-friendly nature of the Florida State League.
A couple of sleepers who both started at least 25 games, Brian Rogers and Chris Steinborn could surprise man fans during the 2005 season. Both players slumped in the season's second half, and will need to improve their endurance to be successful over a full season. Rogers and Steinborn have reasonable control and good fastballs that should allow them to be successful with continued development. Their prospect stars may not be as bright as the aforementioned trio, but they certainly should not be ignored.
Despite very small sample sizes, there were many encouraging signs out of Oneonta this summer. Relative unknowns such as Lavon Lewis, Dan Konecny, and Josh Kauten all posted solid statistics in their first taste of professional baseball. There will be quite a logjam in West Michigan in 2005, but all three will make their case for the Whitecap rotation.
Also chipping in effective performances were Jair Jurrjens and Josh Rainwater. This highly touted pair did not post eye-catching numbers, but the organization remains very high on their future. Both players possess above average fastballs, and progressing breaking pitches that should allow them to improve and continually be successful moving forward.
The dominating performances of the Oneonta season were clearly contributed by Anderw Kown and Nate Bumstead. Kown flew under the radar to register a 2.85 ERA in 41 innings, while maintaining good control and acceptable strikeout rates. Kown may have received more attention if not for the incredible season put forth by Louisiana State graduate Nate Bumstead.
Bumstead may not throw hard, but all of his pitches move an incredible amount, resulting in 75 strikeouts in only 57 innings. Hitters have a difficult time centering the ball against Bumstead, and the organization continues to indicate that they will challenge him should his performance dictate.
The three most promising starters in the Gulf Coast League were 2003 draft choice Jay Sborz, and 2004 selections Lucas French and Dallas Trahern. Sborz was expected to take a quantum leap forward in his second season, but instead he seemed to regress, displaying an increase in hits and walks per nine innings, and a decrease in his strikeout rate. Sborz still has enormous upside and a power arm, but he will have to reign in his power, and become a more complete pitcher if he has any hope of moving up the organizational ladder.
Despite being high school draft choices, both French and Trahern could move quickly. Both are very mature and physically advanced pitchers with impressive arsenals. French is a big lefty who posted good strikeout rates and nice control for such a young player. With all the pitching depth ahead of him in the organization, and youth on his side, French is likely to begin 2005 in extended spring training before moving on to short season Oneonta.
Trahern was a 3rd or 4th round talent who slipped to the late rounds of the draft due to a commitment to attend Oklahoma. After OU fired their pitching coach, Trahern began reconsidering his options, and despite assurances that he was likely to step into the top spot in the rotation, Dallas opted to sign with the Tigers, giving Detroit the late round steal they desperately needed. Trahern was dominant in his 30 GCL innings, and has fans seeing visions of yet another top pitching prospect. Look for Dallas to move slowly at first, with the potential to move quickly should he continue to dominate.
Overall, the starting pitching depth in the organization continues to become deeper with each passing draft. General Manager Dave Dombrowski's theory of developing pitching and acquiring offense is readily evident throughout the Tiger system. While the attrition rate for minor league pitchers is very high, there are enough promising young arms available that we can expect to see several strutting their stuff in Detroit at some point. The first impact pitchers that may be seen in Comerica Park may be Kyle Sleeth and Joel Zumaya, but keep an eye out for 2004 first rounder Justin Verlander who signed to late to play this season, but may possess the highest ceiling of any pitcher the Tigers have had in decades.