Starting at AAA, it's likely that Jack Hannahan, after three seasons with the Erie SeaWolves will be moved up to Toledo to try and prove himself at the next level. After two lackluster seasons offensively, Hannahan put together a respectable year at the plate in '04, with a .273 average and a .365 on base percentage. He'll now try and demonstrate his ability to hit more experienced pitching in the more experienced International League.
Scott Moore was in Lakeland last season, so typically he'd be targeted to move up to AA Erie (although his struggles might have indicated otherwise). So, without a natural succession, the position is up in the air. Minor league free agent Mike Hessman is a possibility, although he's more of a first baseman. Chris Maples could get a shot as well, but like Hessman, is more of a first baseman. Scott Tousa, who was mainly a backup for the SeaWolves in '04, is yet another name to keep in mind.
Moving on to Lakeland, question marks remain. Many thought without a great spring Moore would be returning to Lakeland, but his trade moves him out of that role. Kody Kirkland, who struggled with West Michigan after destroying the opposition for Oneonta, is likely to return to the Whitecaps, meaning the L-Tigers are without a third baseman. All three of the aforementioned will be possibilities in Lakeland, and the same goes for backups like Nick McIntyre and Nate Doyle. However, possibly the most likely candidate is Juan Llamas, who at 24 was the O-Tigers third baseman in 2004, as well as the team's veteran presence.
West Michigan will likely have Kody Kirkland back at the hot corner, after Kirkland's up and down season in 2004. Kirkland hit over .300 in his first two professional season ('02 with the GCL Pirates, '03 with the Oneonta Tigers), but 2004 brought on all sorts of struggles for Kirkland, as he hit just .236 with 10 home runs and 61 RBI. Kirkland's defense was also extremely rough. Kirkland is still just 21, but will need to find the bat that he had back in 2003 if he hopes to get back on the top prospect list.
Luckily, there isn't a prospect in Oneonta for the organization to move up that Kirkland would potentially be blocking. Llamas was team's third baseman last year, and while he put up excellent numbers, he is in no way a prospect. Oneonta's third base spot will likely go to Wilkin Ramirez, an excellent young prospect who missed all of '04 with a shoulder injury. In 2003, Ramirez led the GCL Tigers with 5 home runs and 35 RBI.
However, while Ramirez is certainly a hot prospect, don't completely rule out 2004 draft pick Cory Middleton from moving up and getting some action. Middleton, who can also play shortstop, had a typical rookie year for an 18 year old just out of high school, striking out plenty but showing some good pop for the GCL.
It is likely though that the team will try and get both as many at bats as possible, meaning Ramirez will be the everyday guy in Oneonta, with Middleton taking the job for the GCL Tigers. Both will be players to keep an eye on during the 2005 season.
On the other hand, the Tigers could elect to be more aggressive with their promotions, moving Kirkland to Lakeland, Ramirez to West Michigan, Middleton to Oneonta, and leaving the GCL up to an incoming rookie. With just a week away from the start of the season, this remains an extremely unsettled position.
Overall, while the team has plenty of prospects with loads of potential, they have no surefire candidates should Brandon Inge struggle in his newly-anointed position. Hannahan has the glove, but whether or not he could hit at the big league level remains to be seen. Moore was moved largely because the organization wasn't confident he'd ever be able to straighten out his issues. Kirkland is still on the farm, but many have similar feelings about Kirkland that they did about Moore. And while Ramirez and Middleton have potential, they are many years away.