Prior to the '02 draft, the Tigers came to terms with two players from the previous season, and both are solid prospects. Humberto Sanchez was signed after his sophomore year at Connor State JC in Oklahoma. Sanchez went 8-1 with a 1.17 ERA, which led to the Tigers giving him a million-dollar bonus.
Sanchez went 2-2 with a 3.69 ERA at Oneonta after signing, but he suffered the first of several injuries at West Michigan in 2003, when he missed nearly a month with an inflamed right elbow. Sanchez went 7-7 with a 4.42 ERA with the Whitecaps, but control was an issue with 78 walks issued in 116 innings. He allowed 107 hits and recorded 96 strikeouts.
Sanchez worked hard that offseason and he saw a spike in his velocity at Lakeland in 2004, but he struggled to harness his stuff, going 7-11 with a 5.21 ERA in 19 starts. In 105 1/3 innings, he allowed 103 hits, walked 51, and fanned 115.
Promoted to Erie late in the year, Sanchez went 1-0 with a 2.13 ERA in two starts with the SeaWolves before a knee injury ended his season. Sanchez returned to Erie and struggled with injuries again, as he limped to a 3-5 record with a 5.57 ERA in 15 games (11 starts). However, he was healthy enough to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and was lights out, going 1-0 with a 2.15 ERA in six starts.
Sanchez earned a spot on the 40-man roster this winter and should see time at both Erie and Toledo in 2006. He figures prominently into the Tigers future plans, but whether he becomes a starter or a reliever will depend on his health.
The Tigers also came to terms with Garth McKinney after he hit .473 at Walters State CC in Tennessee. McKinney didn't get much playing time after he turned pro, getting just 29 at-bats with the GCL Tigers. In 2003, McKinney was promoted to Oneonta, where he hit .224 with four homers and 19 RBIs. Making consistent contact was an issue for McKinney, as he fanned 61 times in 196 at-bats.
McKinney had his coming-out party in 2004, when he chased Kelly Hunt for the franchise home run record at West Michigan. Unfortunately, a thumb injury ended his season prematurely, but he still clubbed 19 homers. However, he still hit just .228 for the year and fanned 175 times in 412 at-bats. On the plus side, he drew 46 walks and stole 11 bases.
McKinney's power continued to surge at Lakeland last year, when he smacked 23 homers and drove in 71 runs. McKinney's average improved slightly (.242), but he walked less (26), and continued to strike out (151) at a frightening pace. McKinney also set a career-high in steals with 16.
McKinney is a sleeper prospect who still needs to make more consistent contact, but he has the best power bat in the system and he has emerged as a potential five-tool player. McKinney should head to Erie in 2006 where a 30-homer season isn't out of the question with hitter-friendly Jerry Uht Park as his home. However, 200 strikeouts is also not out of the question considering McKinney's previous totals and the advanced pitching he will see.
The '02 draft was the first with Dave Dombrowski as the GM and several players have the opportunity to make this a very fruitful draft. Curtis Granderson could be a fixture in center field for years to come. Joel Zumaya could either anchor the rotation, or be the stud closer the Tigers haven't had since Willie Hernandez won Cy Young and MVP honors in 1984.
Brent Clevlen rebounded from a poor '04 season to reclaim his prospect status and he could push Magglio Ordonez to full-time DH status if he can produce at the upper levels. Humberto Sanchez is also a fine prospect when healthy and Garth McKinney could a be a big impact player in time, so while the Tigers had several big misses early in the draft (Pender, Sovie, etc.), the Tigers have the potential to have several future pieces of the team from this draft.