TigsTools Awards: Top Speedsters

In the latest edition of the TigsTools series, we move back to the position players and some of the best speed prospects in the organization. While the overall talent level of the farm system has notably increased, the overall speed of the farm system has probably taken a bit of a downturn recently. That's not because the Tigers don't have anyone on the farm coming up behind Nook Logan, but rather, Randy Smith made speed a significant ingredient of the type of player they targeted.

Probably the player that has the best chance of showing off his speed soon for the Tigers is infielder Juan Francia, who swiped 41 bases between high-A Lakeland and AA Erie last season. That's the second most in a season for his career; his career high came back in 2002 when he stole 53 bases for the West Michigan Whitecaps. Francia's speed isn't put on display as a middle infielder, but he is able to use his quickness to snag balls quickly. Francia's 70.6% steal success rate makes him just barely able to continue running, but if his rate continues to drop as he goes up against better catchers, Francia might not continue to get the green light.

A player expected to be playing with Francia is centerfielder Vincent Blue, who as a tools prospect has yet to see his power swing come around, but his speed has started to translate to swipes on the basepaths. Blue stole a career high 40 bases in '05 for the L-Tigers, doubling his previous career high. Of course, there's a downside to the numbers. When he stole 20 for Oneonta in '02, he was only caught three times. He swiped 40 bases, but was also caught 29 times, leaving him with just a 58% success rate. Blue's speed will certainly be an asset in the future, but he likely won't be a big stolen base threat if he can't have more success at higher levels.

One player who the Tigers can't truly evaluate based on stolen bases and success rates is Cameron Maybin, the Tigers impressive first rounder who has yet to play in a professional game. Maybin has drawn numerous comparisons since he emerged as one of the top players in the '05 draft, and now he seems ready to put those skills on display. Now, it's certainly possible that as he develops physically, Maybin will bulk up and begin to lose some of his speed, but until that happens, Maybin's a threat on the basepaths.

Unlike Maybin, another recent draft pick signed quickly and got right out in the field, putting his speed on display. Clete Thomas not only proved capable of patrolling vast outfield spaces as the centerfielder, but in 23 steal attempts as a pro in 2005, Thomas was successful on 20 of those. Thomas was successful at stealing 83% of the time in college, and the talented youngster has yet to show that he won't be able to continue that success at upper levels. Plus, unlike some other players the Tigers have had as speedy centerfielders, Thomas has shown the ability to put the ball in play and make some things happen with his bat as well as his legs.

All the way down at the Gulf Coast League, the Tigers had another centerfielder emerging that they felt could be a threat on the basepaths. That player was Wilkin Rodriguez, who led the young GCL club with 14 steals in 19 opportunities. And again, like Clete and unlike Nook, Rodriguez has shown some things with his bat, including posting a .311 average in his first pro season. As such a young player, Rodriguez faces the possibility of bulking up and losing speed much like Maybin, but Rodriguez doesn't have the same muscle mass to potentially reach that size, so he's much more likely to stay in the mold of a speedy outfielder.

Finally, we finish up with a player that has yet to get more than a handful of big league at bats despite having plenty of seasons under his belt. Alexis Gomez isn't a speedster in the true form, yet he has what they often refer to as deceptive speed; he doesn't appear to be moving real fast, and yet he'll get around the bases quicker than most assume. Gomez was very successful stealing for Toledo, taking 21 bases in 28 tries. Gomez's problem is that while he's got speed and is a solid hitter, he has yet to make a strong case for a spot on the Tiger roster, and until he can do that, he'll likely be on the outside looking in on a crowded Detroit outfield.

So, the speed isn't what it used to be. But, the Tigers still have some speed, and if they can get a few hits on top of that, it's all the better for the developing organization.

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