#10 – Kevin Whelan – Relief Pitcher
There aren't very many relief pitchers that warrant consideration this high on a prospect list. But when that relief prospect posts numbers as ridiculous as Whelan's in his pro debut, there really is no other choice. Whelan absolutely dominated his competition at Oneonta and West Michigan, and will likely open 2006 as the closer in Lakeland. Look for Whelan to earn a quick promotion to Erie, where he will receive his first true test from experienced hitters.
#9 – Jeff Frazier – Outfielder
The Tigers had high hopes for Frazier coming out of Rutgers in 2004, and his early returns with Oneonta were promising, at least until a broken bone forced him to miss the rest of the season. Coming back in 2005 with West Michigan, Frazier struggled through the first two months of the season. Then, in June, things came together and Frazier went absolutely crazy. After dominating his counterparts for the remainder of the season, it appears Frazier may be back on the fast track through the system. An assignment to Lakeland is likely to start the 2006 season, but I project he'll be in Erie by the All-Star break.
#8 – Brent Clevlen – Outfielder
The 2004 season was certainly rough for Brent, but if perseverance could count in these rankings, he might have come out #1. Clevlen went back to Lakeland with a revamped attitude and some minor swing changes, and the results were outstanding. Named the Florida State League MVP and TigsTown.com's Minor League Player of the Year, Clevlen's prospect status is back in a big way. The friendly confines of Jerry Uht Park in Erie should help his numbers look even better if he can handle the advanced pitchers.
#7 – Jeff Larish – First Baseman
It's always nice when a recently drafted prospect gets off to an impressive start; even more so when there is a general lack of talent at their position. This is the case with Larish. After a very promising debut in the New York-Penn League, Larish has everything set in front of him to move very quickly through the Tigers system. A polished hitter, with power and plate discipline to spare, he is exactly what the Tiger's system has lacked for more than a decade.
#6 – Clete Thomas – Outfielder
Thomas is another in a long line of players throughout history who have been touted as five-tool players, only to never satisfy the expectations that come with that tag. After posting solid numbers while at Auburn, Thomas really turned it on with Oneonta, and later West Michigan. Clete hit for average, drew walks, and successfully stole bases at rates that make managers drool. After his professional debut, Thomas has "prototypical leadoff hitter" written all over him. If he can continue to take steps forward, Thomas could move quickly. Look for his gap power to improve as he continues to mature, and it is likely he could start the 2006 season with Lakeland after holding his own with the Whitecaps.
#5 – Jordan Tata – Starting Pitcher
An unheralded prospect leaving college, Tata has transformed himself into a force to be reckoned with. Jordan has added velocity to his fastball, while improving his control and gaining a better understanding of the mental aspects of pitching. Jordan's domination of the Florida State League has left some prospect mavens scratching their collective heads; wondering, "Where did he come from?"
#4 – Jair Jurrjens – Starting Pitcher
Jurrjens has absolutely flown up this list since last year and deservedly so. Any 19-year old pitching prospect that continues to gradually add velocity, improve their breaking pitches, display impeccable control, and still has room to improve, deserves to shoot up the list. Jurrjens should continue to add velocity to his fastball as his body completes its development, and if that happens, Jair could become a very impressive pitching prospect.
#3 – Cameron Maybin – Outfielder
There was a long period of time where it was unclear if Maybin would make this list at all. Not because of his talent, but because of the snags encountered during negotiations. Had Maybin played this year, he may have forced himself higher in the rankings. Maybin is a truly elite young player, with an almost unlimited ceiling. If he can disprove theories that he may struggle with breaking pitches early on, Maybin could become one of the best prospects in baseball in very short order.
#2 – Justin Verlander – Starting Pitcher
The Tigers took plenty of heat for drafting an extremely raw pitcher with the #2 overall pick, but so far, Verlander is making them look like geniuses. Verlander dominated at both Lakeland and Erie, and held his own in two emergency starts at the big league level. There is certainly room for Justin to improve his command and consistency, but early returns are very promising. Provided the late season injury worries are unfounded, Verlander could be in Detroit for good in 2006.
#1 – Joel Zumaya – Starting Pitcher
Zumaya and Verlander could be flipped without argument, but given Zumaya's age (only 20), and the fact that he's already demonstrated success against AAA hitters, Zumaya gets the nod. After an impressive season that saw Joel cut down his walk rates, and improve the consistency of both his change-up and curveball, he may be on the verge of a big league gig. Worries of a violent delivery and a projected career in the bullpen have been silenced for now, and Zumaya appears poised to make a run at the Opening Day rotation in 2006.