Holding the third pick in the draft, the Tigers had four candidates for their pick: Delmon Young, Rickie Weeks, Kyle Sleeth, and Tim Stauffer. That spring, Young and Weeks moved ahead of the pack and were considered the top two players available, so the Tigers narrowed their focus on Sleeth and Stauffer. Sleeth had impeccable credentials at Wake Forest, winning 26 consecutive decisions while in school, with his lone defeat coming in international play, as he took a loss against Cuba in the gold-medal game at the World University Games in 2002.
Sleeth brought a power arsenal to the table, hitting 93-94 with good life on his fastball, a good curve, solid slider, and a decent changeup. Stauffer was considered the closest player from the ‘03 class to be ready for the big leagues, flashing an 89-92 fastball, with a cutter and a change.
The difference between the two right-handers is their ceiling. Sleeth projected to throw harder and had frontline-starter potential. Stauffer was very polished and didn't much time in the minors, but is more suited to the back-of-the-rotation.
The Tigers elected to take Sleeth and signed him in August. Because of his heavy workload at Wake Forest, Sleeth didn't make his pro debut until 2004. Sleeth opened at Lakeland, where he went 3-4 with 3.67 ERA in nine starts. In 54 innings, he issued just 15 walks and fanned 55 batters. The Tigers promoted Sleeth to Erie, but he was pounded for a 6.30 ERA in 13 starts, despite seven quality starts. The Tigers chalked up his inconsistency to trying to polish his mechanics, but in 2005 he came down with a tired arm in the spring and underwent Tommy John surgery in June. Even though Sleeth didn't pitch last season, the Tigers put him on the 40-man roster and are crossing their fingers to see how he responds in 2006.
Jay Sborz (2) had the reputation of being one of the hardest throwers in the prep class of 2003, but was considered a long-term project because his stuff lacked consistency and his delivery needed to be refined. After two uninspiring seasons in the GCL, Sborz went to West Michigan and worked out of the bullpen where he was ripped for a 7.90 ERA in 21 appearances. Demoted to Oneonta to work as a starter, he went 1-3 with a 4.34 ERA in nine games (seven starts).
A huge problem for Sborz was control. He issued 50 walks in 56 1/3 innings combined, but also struck out 56 batters. Sborz has a solid frame and could hit triple digits one day as he matures physically, but after three seasons with the Tigers, he remains a project and may make a permanent move to the bullpen, where his stuff plays better.
The first member of the '03 draft class to reach the majors was Tony Giarratano (3), who was selected from Tulane. Giarratano was considered one of the best all-around shortstops in the entire draft, with his solid defensive skills, and a bat that perked up considerably during his junior season.
After signing with the Tigers, Giarratano hit .328 in his pro debut at Oneonta. He opened the 2004 season at West Michigan, but caught fire after a promotion to Lakeland, where hit .376 with five home runs. He stole 25 bases between his two stops, but his season ended when he injured his left shoulder and needed surgery.
His bat came back to earth in '05, as he hit just .266 with three homers at hitter-friendly Jerry Uht Park. Despite his struggles at Erie, Giarratano made his big league debut on June 1st and hit .143 in 42 at-bats. Even though he made it to the majors in '05, Giarratano clearly wasn't ready to handle big-league pitching and he has had injury issues in his career that have cost him development time. Giarratano is a solid prospect, but needs a full year at Toledo before the Tigers can take a serious look at him as a potential successor to Carlos Guillen.
The Tigers went back to the prep pitching ranks to nab Josh Rainwater (4) out of Louisiana. Rainwater first garnered attention by hitting 95 and striking out 18 batters against national powerhouse Elkins HS in Texas. Rainwater went on to lead DeRidder HS to the 4-A state championship later that season and made his pro debut in the GCL that summer. Rainwater struggled at Oneonta in '04, going 0-6 with a 4.22 ERA. He struck out 52 batters in 49 innings, but also walked 35 and allowed 46 hits.
Rainwater injured his knee in the off-season and made just 16 starts at West Michigan, but his peripheral numbers improved dramatically. He fanned 75 batters and issued just 20 walks in 80 2/3 innings. Rainwater has a body that he must stay on top of from a conditioning standpoint and the Tigers think he may be on the verge of a breakout season, as his slider and changeup both improve.
The Tigers went with a finesse approach with the selection of Danny Zell (5) from Houston. Zell worked typically in the high 80's in college, with a solid curve and changeup. After a very heavy workload with the Cougars, the Tigers limited Zell to just a handful of appearances at Oneonta, but he still reported to instructional ball with a tender shoulder and his velocity was down in the few games he pitched in.
Used primarily out of the bullpen at West Michigan, Zell posted a sterling 2.27 ERA in 30 games (six starts) in 2004. Zell was even better in '05, recording a 2.15 ERA in an increased workload (49 games).
This season will be interesting one for Zell, because he doesn't have overpowering stuff and he will pitching in a very hitter-friendly environment If Zell can pass this test, he could factor into the Tigers' bullpen plans in the near future.
California prep star Cody Collett (6) eschewed a scholarship to Fresno State to sign with the Tigers in August and got his first taste of pro ball during instructional league play. Staying on the field has been a problem for Collett, who has gotten just 36 at-bats since signing.
Collett missed all of 2005 with a broken foot and the Tigers are hopeful he can get back on the field and show the promise he had when they drafted him. Collett has raw power, average speed, above average arm strength, and good makeup.
The Tigers stayed in California and selected Matt (Virgil) Vasquez (7) from UC Santa Barbara. Vasquez doesn't have overwhelming stuff, working in the 88-91 range with his fastball. He also has a slider, curve, and changeup.
Vasquez struggled after signing at Oneonta, where he went 3-4 with a 6.92 ERA in 11 starts. However, he emerged as the staff ace at West Michigan in '04, going 14-6 with 3.64 ERA in 27 starts. In 168 1/3 innings, he surrendered 156 hits, but had a solid K/BB ratio, posting 120 strikeouts against just 34 walks.
Vasquez opened the '05 campaign at Lakeland, where he went 4-1 with 4.21 ERA and issued just seven walks and fanned 31 batters in 47 innings. He was promoted to Erie, but struggled there, going 2-8 with a 5.27 ERA in 15 starts. His K/BB ratio continued to be solid with 14 walks and 53 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings, but he was more hittable, allowing 93 hits and 10 homers.
Vasquez will return to Erie in '06, where he will be challenged by the friendly confines of Jerry Uht Park. Like Sborz, Adam Trent was one of the hardest throwing right-handers available in the draft from the prep ranks. The Tennessee native was committed to Young Harris JC in Georgia, so the Tigers had one of the top draft-and-follows in the country if they couldn't sign him during the summer. Coming out of high school, Trent topped out at 93-94, but couldn't maintain his velocity and his body needed development.
The Tigers failed to sign him during the summer and Trent was dismissed from Young Harris along with several teammates for an off-field incident. The Tigers were wary of Trent's makeup because of that and didn't sign him. The Royals drafted Trent in the 17th round in '04, but also didn't sign him after he went 8-1 with a 4.48 ERA at Walters State CC. Undrafted the past June, Trent is expected to be the ace for the Senators this spring.
Eric Rodland (9) of Gonzaga was the first senior drafted after winning the Alaskan League batting title by nearly 100 points with a .423 average. Rodland had a great debut at Oneonta, hitting .328 with 27 RBIs and 13 stolen bases. Rodland made exceptional contact, fanning just 25 times in 244 at-bats. He slumped at West Michigan in '04, hitting just .263 and surprisingly struggled to make consistent contact, as he struck out 85 times in 471 at-bats.
Rodland saw his playing time diminish in 2005, as he got just 230 at-bats. He hit .278 with five homers. Rodland's time with the Tigers is over after he was selected in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft by the Angels, where he will be firmly behind solid prospects Howie Kendrick and Alberto Callaspo at second base.
The Tigers initially caught a break with Sean Henry (10), who was committed to San Diego State, but attended Diablo Valley JC due to academics. However, he rarely played up to his potential and his makeup came into serious question. The Tigers didn't sign him and the Mets took him in the 20th round and signed him.
So far, Henry has fared OK in pro ball. He made the GCL All-Star Team in his pro debut, but hit just .255 at Kingsport in 2005. He did tie for the team lead in RBI's with 31, swiped 15 bases, but must control the strike zone better with 43 K's in 149 at-bats.
Stay tuned for part two, examining the rest of the selections, on Thursday.