The Mud Hens are hanging around the top of the International League thanks to a very good offense and some very good pitching. After missing much of the last few years to various injuries, former first-rounder Kenny Baugh, is healthy and pitching well again. After a very good April, only to be trumped by Sean Douglass, Baugh has put together a very solid month. In six May starts, Baugh managed a 2-2 record and a 3.44 ERA, while raising his strikeout rate over one per nine innings. If Baugh continues to pitch like this, he could see time in Detroit before the summer is over.
Despite some less than impressive overall numbers, hard-throwing Joel Zumaya takes home this month's prize as Erie's top pitcher. Zumaya finished the month with a 4.11 ERA, but struck out over 12 batters per nine innings, including 14 in a very impressive outing where he tossed 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball. For the season, Joel has struck out 84 batters in only 60.2 innings, a very impressive number for one of the youngest pitchers in all of Double-A. If Zumaya can start controlling his power arsenal, cutting down on his walks, he could become one of the elite pitching prospects in baseball. This summer will be very telling in terms of Joel's development.
Well, the case could have been made for Justin Verlander to repeat as Lakeland's Pitcher of the Month, but what fun would that have been? Particularly when one of his teammates put together an equally ridiculous month, by posting a 3-1 record with a 2.48 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. That performance proves that Jordan Tata is picking up right where he left off in 2004, as he helped lead West Michigan in their championship drive. When it comes time for the organization to start promoting players around mid-season, there could be some tough choices with Lakeland, as both Verlander and Tata appear ready for a more significant challenge.
The pitching at West Michigan was outstanding in April, but has tailed off a bit here in May. With that, the decision was a bit tougher, and it came down to choosing an experienced reliever who dominated the Midwest League for 20 1/3 innings in May. In 14 May appearances, Ian Ostlund posted 2 saves, a 1.77 ERA, and a 0.64 WHIP. Ian continues his recovery from his 2004 Tommy John surgery, and has been pushing for a promotion to Lakeland with his outstanding walk and strikeout rates. Prior to his injury last season, Ostlund had reached as high as Lakeland in the Detroit system, and was likely on his way to Erie in 2005.
One of the keys to winning at the Major League level is dominant starting pitching, and the Tigers appear to be developing a few down on the farm. The more difficult the decisions for Pitcher of the Month awards, the better it is for the future of Tiger baseball. As the weather warms up, we could begin to see several promotions throughout the system. Randor Bierd and Virgil Vasquez were the first significant moves of the year, as they jumped to Erie in May. Don't be surprised if we see a few more names moving up the ladder over the course of the summer.