50.) Josh Lee, First Baseman, GCL Tigers (R )
Kicking off the list is 1B Josh Lee, who held down the spot for the Tigers rookie league club, the GCL Tigers. The now 22-year old Lee had his share of struggles after being a late round pick in the 2004 draft, but still displayed plenty of potential to warrant inclusion on the list. Lee carried just a .325 slugging percentage in his 114 at bats for the GCL Tigers, but his power potential makes him a decent prospect. Lee is a very raw prospect and will definitely take time, but has the potential to show something down the road.
49.) Cory Middleton, Third Base, GCL Tigers (R )
Lee's teammate on the GCL club, Middleton played opposite the diamond from Lee, manning the hot corner (while also seeing time at Shortstop, his position in high school). Middleton is very raw, but also showed potential, especially with his hot start to the season. Unlike Lee, Middleton doesn't have solid strike zone judgment, something to be expected from a youngster directly out of high school. However, with increased patience and development of power (which should come with more at bats), Middleton could become a player.
48.) Collin Mahoney, Relief Pitcher, Oneonta (SS-A)
Mahoney wasn't impressive in his pro debut, but makes the list based on one simple tool – his fastball that can hit triple digits on the radar gun. Mahoney was the team's 4th round pick this past summer, but has a long ways to go before he can really move up the charts – for starters, working on locating his fastball somewhere in the vicinity of the strike zone, as well as developing a solid off-speed pitch. But for now, Mahoney makes the list due to his flame-throwing arm.
47.) Vincent Blue, Outfielder, West Michigan (A-)
The Tigers continue to wait patiently with Blue, who is highly regarded within the organization with loads of potential, but has yet to put everything together on the field. Blue is still young (21 years old), and hit well for the most part (.260). Blue also started to show power to the gaps (19 doubles) while continuing to display excellent skills in Centerfield. His skills in the field are a huge asset, and will get him a longer grace period as the organization waits for his bat to come around – don't bet on that happening next year though in spacious Joker Marchant Stadium.
46.) Juan Francia, Shortstop, West Michigan (A-)
Even as late as May of this year, Francia wouldn't have registered on many prospect lists. But that's before Tony Giarratano was promoted to Lakeland, and Francia was given the everyday job at Shortstop for the Whitecaps. It was Francia's third tour of duty with the Whitecaps, and it turned out that the third time was the charm for Francia. A .320 batting average with an OBP approaching .400 have given many belief that Francia might still be able to develop into something. He's a great slap hitter in the Juan Pierre mold, and has all the defensive tools to become a respectable Shortstop. The key will be for him to continue hitting like he did in '04.
45.) Cody Collet, Catcher, GCL Tigers (R )
Collet didn't have the successful first season many had hoped for him, battling injuries and struggling at the plate when he got playing time. Nonetheless, Collet is still very young at just 19 years of age, and will have plenty of time to make up for his lackluster debut season in which he hit just .194 in 36 at bats. He also didn't get much work defensively because of injuries, but that shouldn't stop him from continuing to develop his solid skills behind the plate.
44.) Garth McKinney, Outfielder, West Michigan (A-)
Much like Blue, McKinney has tools, just hasn't seen them develop just yet. The 22-year old Outfielder had plenty of Home Runs (19, an excellent number for cavernous Fifth Third Ballpark), but also had plenty of strikeouts (175). McKinney's .410 slugging percentage has many excited about his future, but McKinney first needs to cut down on the strikeouts and make more consistent contact. Despite his struggles, McKinney's incredible power warrants inclusion on the list.
43.) Daniel Zell, Pitcher, West Michigan (A- )
After starting out in the rotation in 2003 for Oneonta, Zell was forced to adjust in 2004 to pitching out of the bullpen for West Michigan (although he did get a handful of starts). Zell put up solid numbers, including a 2.27 ERA and a 2.17 K:BB ratio. The fact that he's a lefty certainly won't hurt. Zell might get a chance to start again in 2005, but long term he's probably likely to head to the bullpen.
42.) Rob Henkel, Starting Pitcher, Erie (AA)
It's been a long road for Henkel, who stays on the top prospect list, but is approaching falling off. On talent alone, Henkel warrants consideration for the top 5, with arguably the best off-speed pitch in the organization. Unfortunately, Henkel's problem continues to be his inability to stay on the mound – as he lasted only a handful of starts this season before seeing his season end due to a torn labrum. Henkel's big league aspirations are certainly by no means gone, but it'll be tough to rely on such a prospect who has proved incapable of staying healthy throughout a season.
41.) Cole Miller, Catcher, GCL Tigers (R )
Many were expecting the catcher for the GCL club to be Collet, but after his injury, Miller stepped up and took full advantage of his opportunity. Cole displayed excellent raw power, especially promising with his .431 slugging percentage – an excellent number when you take into account the large park as well as it being Miller's first go around with a wood bat. Miller's patience at the plate will need to improve, but it's common for a youngster in his first professional season to struggle with patience. Another solid campaign from Miller and he'll be jumping up the charts.
This is the first of a five-part series debuting the Tigers' top 50 prospects. On Tuesday, TigsTown.com will release its 40-31 prospects.