Joel Zumaya. Humberto Sanchez. Kyle Sleeth. Justin Verlander. All four were members of TigsTown's top 10 prospects entering the season. And all four were figuring to be prominently featured in the Erie SeaWolves rotation in '05.
Four guys over the course of a minor league season equates to a little over 100 starts. Want to guess exactly how many starts the Tigers got from that group? Just 36. Needless to say, things didn't work out quite the way everyone was hoping.
Zumaya earned a promotion mid year, Sanchez missed the first couple months with injury problems and was largely ineffective even after he returned, Verlander was bounced from Detroit and back and then was forced to sit out the remainder of the year with fatigue, and Sleeth never even made it to the mound, being forced to sit out the year with Tommy John surgery.
None of the starters were truly capable of holding down the fort, as besides the appearances from Zumaya and Verlander, Cornejo carried the best ERA at 4.59. Jeremy Johnson was the only other member of the group under five (at 4.91).
It wasn't all bad news on the pitching front though, as Edwin Almonte had a spectacular season as the Wolves' closer. The 28 year old has bounced around the minor leagues since being selected back in 1998 by the Chicago White Sox. Almonte led the Eastern League with 33 saves and also was striking out a batter an inning.
Kurt Airoso is a minor league veteran, but was easily the most productive hitter on the team in 2005, a welcome addition on a team that saw its top prospects not quite meet the expected standards. Airoso led the team with 22 home runs and a .535 slugging percentage.
Possibly the biggest disappointment came from Tony Giarratano, who was hyped by former manager Alan Trammell after an outstanding spring training. Giarratano then underwent the disappointment of being sent back to the minor leagues, only to re-aggravate his shoulder injury that ended his 2004 season. Couple that with a month-long call-up that likely ruined any small amount of confidence he had left, and it was a lost season for Giarratano, as he carried an OPS barely above .700 in a hitter's park.
The organization tried to help the team midseason, adding Juan Francia and Byron Gettis to the roster in an effort to boost the team's production. Neither was truly able to give the boost the team needed though, as they continued to wallow with minimal production.
David Espinosa was yet another player that simply didn't live up to the expectations everyone had for him, again coming up far short in the power department, a tool he still has yet to see develop despite the necessity of it, considering he's a corner outfielder.
Injuries. Confidence killers. A once promising season ended up as the lone disappointment on the Tigers' 2005 minor league season.