The star at West Michigan is of course Cameron Maybin. Maybin is a freak athlete with all five tools, making him a rare combo that immediately makes him a top prospect. As TigsTown's #3 prospect in the organization, Maybin has drawn comparisons to some of the best outfielders in baseball, including Ken Griffey Jr. If the Tigers get someone on that level, the four month wait last summer will be well worth it.
But Maybin isn't the only member of the TigsTown Top 50 that will start out in West Michigan. The Whitecaps have seven members of the Top 50, including outfielder Matt Joyce, infielders Will Rhymes and Mike Hollimon, and pitchers Andrew Kown, Ramon Garcia and Erik Averill.
The Tigers' middle infield combination of Rhymes and Hollimon will be an interesting combo to watch after they dominated the short season New York-Penn League in '05. Not only are they the up-the-middle double play combo, but they'll likely also occupy the one and two spots in the order, as the #22 (Rhymes) and #30 (Hollimon) prospect in the organization.
As for the pitching staff, the surprise comes with Andrew Kown, who has been moved to the bullpen after an up-and-down 2005 season that started off with a ball ricocheting in his face. Kown now will likely be viewed as a middle reliever, because Gibbs Wilson and Ricky Steik (acquired in the offseason) will likely form the setup and closer duo. Kown still has the potential to move up the ladder, he'll just need to be more successful against the Midwest League competition that he faced last year.
Moving on to Lakeland, there isn't quite the same top draw as Maybin is, but still a number of very impressive prospects to keep an eye out for. The L-Tigers don't have a top prospect like Maybin; instead they have almost every other legit prospect in the top ten.
4, 6, 7, 9, 10. Five numbers in the first ten, all of which are ranked in the Tigers' system. #4 prospect Jair Jurrjens has impressed in his first two seasons, and with improved velocity, could potentially put together a seasons very similar to that of '05 Lakeland ace Jordan Tata.
The 6-7-9 of that group is a trio of position players that will likely find themselves among the top of the order in Lakeland and be the source of much of Lakeland's offense. Clete Thomas, the Tigers 6th round pick in '05, will be the team's leadoff hitter and has a chance to be a special player for the organization, who never quite fulfilled his promise when he was a college player at Auburn. Jeff Larish and Jeff Frazier are a pair of experienced college players who will both provide a significant presence in the Lakeland lineup, with Frazier, ranked 9th, hitting third in the order, and Larish, ranked 7th, hitting in the cleanup slot.
After four players in the top ten, you would think Lakeland would be done. But instead, they have a fifth member of the group, and this individual could very well move up the ladder quickly, so quickly that he could make it all the way to Detroit this season. Kevin Whelan was drafted in '05 and was absolutely dominant, with a nearly 5:1 strikeout: walk ratio and excellent movement on his fastball.
What is truly more amazing is the fact that after having five of the top ten prospects in the organization, they still have nine more members of the Top 50 (though two are hurt and will start the year on the disabled list – Randor Bierd and Kyle Sleeth). Those players are third baseman Wilkin Ramirez and catcher Chris Robinson, and pitchers Dallas Trahern, Josh Rainwater, Josh Kauten, P.J. Finigan and Kevin Ardoin.
Ramirez, who is ranked 13th in the organization, will be the team's everyday third baseman, and has arguably the most power potential of any player in the system. He blasted 16 homers for West Michigan last season in his first taste of full season ball, an impressive amount considering he was still recovering from shoulder surgery and Fifth Third Ballpark is one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in all of minor league baseball.
Robinson is ranked 26th, and is much the opposite of Ramirez. He already has an excellent defensive game that will likely guarantee him a job as a major league backup, but his bat will need to come around if they hope for him to have a chance to take over for Pudge Rodriguez.
Dallas Trahern (15th), Josh Rainwater (29th), and Josh Kauten (38th) will all find themselves in the Lakeland rotation where the trio will look to build off last season's success. Trahern has some of the best control in the organization, but he'll need to improve his strikeout rates to continue to be successful. Rainwater has a very good fastball that can reach the mid 90's, but there are continuing concerns about his weight and his lack of athleticism. Kauten meanwhile doesn't have an amazing arsenal, but rather succeeds based mostly on being smart on the mound and continually repeating his mechanics.
The final two of the TigsTown Top 50, Finigan and Ardoin, were drafted just ten months ago, and after successful stints in the West Michigan bullpen for both, they'll both be working out of the Lakeland bullpen. Both have the potential to start and could very well find themselves in the rotation at some point this season.
All in all, if you plan on attending one of the Tigers' A-ball teams this summer; you'll definitely get a chance to watch some possible future Tigers.