Verlander Ready for the Next Step

Detroit had an abundance of options when it came time to make the second overall pick in the 2004 draft. After all of the scouting, the meetings, and the number crunching, the Tigers front office decided that Justin Verlander would make the best addition to their ball club. Just over one year later, Justin Verlander makes his Double-A debut with the Erie SeaWolves on Tuesday night. Lakeland Correspondent Aaron Westgate spoke with Verlander before he left Lakeland for Erie.

A 22-year-old right-hander, Justin Verlander showed a great deal of potential. Verlander's long, 6'4" frame allows him to throw with a lot of velocity. He has a fastball that is consistently in the mid-nineties and has been reported to reach triple digits.

Verlander had played three seasons at Old Dominion. In 2004, his last season in college, Verlander finished the season 7-6 in 16 starts. He pitched 105.2 innings, had a 3.49 ERA, and recorded 151 strikeouts for the year.

"Draft day was unbelievable," says Verlander. "It was surreal just sitting there, following the draft on the internet. I got the phone call right before the number two pick came up."

Verlander says he wasn't surprised by how high he went in the draft.

"I was just excited. I didn't have any expectations about where I would go. I was just going to be excited about whichever team I was picked by," he says.

Verlander is proving himself every bit the top prospect Detroit was looking for. After thirteen starts in Lakeland, Verlander showed he was ready for the next step. He carried a 9-2 record with a league-leading 1.67 ERA. He struck out 104 batters (also leading the league) and allowed just 16 earned runs.

Verlander earned Player of the Week honors from the Florida State League for the week April 25- May 1. He had one start during that week. Verlander had a 0.00 ERA. He pitched seven innings, gave up no runs, two hits, two walks, and struck out twelve.

Lakeland pitching coach Britt Burns thinks Verlander's got a chance to be the total package.

"He's got a plus arm, plus breaking ball, he's shown an average changeup. He's shown consistency with command and shown that he can throw the ball where he wants to."

Burns pitched eight seasons in the majors and has been working as a pitching coach since '93. He's seen a lot of young talent and believes Verlander can go on to great things at the upper level.

"He's a very fiery competitor," says Burns. "He has the potential to be at the top of a rotation, a top big-league pitcher somewhere down the road."

Verlander almost missed out on this season because he could not reach a contract agreement with Detroit. Last October, after weeks of trying to negotiate, the Tigers became so frustrated that they announced they were no longer interested in signing the rookie.

Verlander was facing the possibility of not playing professional baseball and either going back to Old Dominion for a year or playing semi-pro ball somewhere. Verlander's father got involved and took control of his son's contract discussions. Eight days later, a deal was announced and Verlander was able to make his professional debut for Lakeland on opening day this season.

"It (contract negotiations) was a learning experience," says Verlander. "It was a lengthy negotiation, kind of nerve racking at some points, but it got done. Bottom line was that I wanted to play for Detroit and their organization. I like where they're going right now."

Verlander wants to succeed but he tries not to focus too hard on the future and what may happen down the road.

"Obviously, I want to make it to the major leagues and stay there a while, but I don't really set individual goals for the season. I just go out there and try and do the best I can every start," he says.

Verlander admits that he believes he's ready for his promotion to Erie.

"It depended on how I pitched here (in Lakeland). It was up to the organization. I just did the best I could and, in their eyes, I was ready to move up."

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