Coming back to the organization for another season will be pitcher Colby Lewis, catchers Mike Rabelo, Danilo Sanchez, and Max St. Pierre, infielders Mike Hessman and Kevin Hooper, and outfielder Alexis Gomez. All of the aforementioned players except Danilo Sanchez are likely to spend the season with the AAA Toledo Mud Hens. Lewis, Gomez, Hessman, and Hooper all spent 2005 with the ‘Hens as they made their run to the International League Championship. Danilo Sanchez will deservedly be promoted from Lakeland to Erie for the 2006 season, and he is likely considered the top prospect of the seven players.
Likely joining Alexis Gomez in the Toledo outfield rotation are newcomers Ryan Ludwick and Reggie Taylor. Ludwick was once considered a prized prospect with Oakland and Texas; however, injuries and the subsequent lack of development have hampered Ryan to this point in his career, and he has never really put it all together. If healthy, Ryan has outstanding home run potential and has shown the ability to control the strike zone very well. Reggie Taylor joins the Tigers as a toolsy outfielder that has yet to transition his tools from potential into results. Having spent last year with both St. Louis and Tampa Bay, Taylor has bounced around baseball since 1995, also spending time with the Phillies, Reds, and White Sox. Both Ludwick and Taylor will get an opportunity to play regularly in the Toledo lineup, but neither looks to make any significant impact in Detroit.
After being dealt to the Seattle Mariners in the trade that brought shortstop Carlos Guillen to Detroit, Ramon Santiago rejoins the organization where he got his professional start. Santiago spent the last two years playing primarily for the Mariners AAA affiliate in Tacoma, having only nominal success. The re-acquisition of Ramon, and last season's signing of minor leaguer Juan Gonzalez, completes the cycle of players involved in the Guillen deal. Essentially, the Tigers can now say they received Carlos Guillen for absolutely nothing. Santiago is unlikely to make the Detroit roster, but could play shortstop every day for Toledo, allowing the organization to be patient with Tony Giarratano, who struggled with Erie in 2005, and could now return there for further seasoning.
First baseman Josh Phelps also joins the Tigers organization after a moderately successful season splitting time between Durham and Tampa Bay. After posting a .266/.328/.424 line in 158 at-bats with the Devil Rays, the Tigers are pleased to bring Phelps aboard as only a minor league free agent. Phelps is a tremendous power hitter, who was pegged as an offensive machine following a .309/.362/.562 line in his first extensive taste of the big leagues (265 at-bats in 2002). With the likelihood that both Chris Shelton and Carlos Pena are on the Opening Day roster, and the departure of first base prospect Juan Tejeda, the organization was in need of a legitimate hitter for the middle of the Toledo order. Phelps will certainly provide that, and potentially more, should the Tigers need an extra hitter as the season progresses.
Catcher Brian Peterson joins the Tigers from the Cincinnati organization, where he spent the 2005 season as the primary catcher for Chattanooga of the AA-Southern League. Peterson has demonstrated the ability to hit for average, good pitch recognition skills, and solid defensive skills behind the dish. Without much power, and some minor struggles remaining healthy, Peterson has stagnated as a prospect. It is likely he will spend the 2006 season splitting time between both AA and AAA, depending on where a more pressing need arises.
Every year, the minor league free agent pool is always an undervalued place to find pitchers who could provide "lightning in a bottle." This year, the Tigers brought four relievers in that will likely have an opportunity to pitch in Detroit at some point during the 2006 season. Lefties Bobby Seay and Hector Mercado will compete with Wil Ledezma for a spot in the Tigers bullpen as the second lefty reliever. It's likely that each of the three will get a shot at some point. In addition to these two relievers, righties Tim Crabtree and Matt Mantei will also have a legitimate shot to make the Detroit roster. Mantei has always had an electric arm and power pitcher's arsenal, but his arm hasn't been able to withstand the stress. After recovering from an ankle injury that hindered his 2005 season with the Red Sox, the Tigers are hoping they've found a cheap, powerful arm to add to their bullpen depth.
Kevin Hodge, Chad Durbin, and Lee Gardner all come to the Tigers as veteran relievers with spotty track records. As the plethora of Tigers pitching prospects begin to filter up to the higher minor league levels, there is still a need to fill in some holes at the AAA level. Hodge, Durbin, and Gardner will all fill roles with the Mud Hens, but have little shot at breaking the Detroit roster, unless there are significant injuries.
For once, it appears the Tigers have found a few players that have a high potential to breakout and contribute at more than AAA. Players like Mantei, Phelps, and Ludwick are all highly talented ballplayers that may finally figure out what it is they need to do to get on track. If the acquisition of some zero risk, high reward players demonstrates a new trend in finding freely available talent, then the Tigers have finally taken yet another step towards becoming a more efficient and deeper organization.