The double-A Erie SeaWolves won't have their originally slated Opening Day starter in Jordan Tata, but they still have an impressive starting rotation. Starting the opener for them instead will be Nate Bumstead, the #19 prospect in the organization. Bumstead doesn't throw hard, but everything he throws has incredible movement on it, making it difficult for hitters to make solid contact.
Also in the rotation are prospects Virgil Vasquez (#18) and Humberto Sanchez (#33). Vasquez possesses excellent control with only average stuff, which means he'll need to continue pinpoint accuracy to be effective at getting hitters out. Sanchez meanwhile has one of the highest ceilings in the organization and has impressed when healthy, but bouts of inconsistency and his ability to stay on the mound have been big questions.
On top of the three solid prospects in the rotation, the club has three more prospects in the bullpen. Brian Rogers (#36) and Daniel Zell (#50) have moved between the rotation and the ‘pen, but now appear fully focused on relief work. It speaks to their abilities that middle relievers can make their way onto the top 50 – and as long as they continue to be as effective as they were in '05, they'll stay there.
But the highlight of the SeaWolves' bullpen will be Eulogio de la Cruz, whose high 90's fastball has him highly regarded in the organization. De la Cruz, who comes in at 25th in the rankings, has the makings of a devastating change-up – if he can learn to be able to throw it well consistently, the Tigers would have an even hard-throwing Fernando Rodney-like prospect on their hands.
Moving to the players, where the team certainly isn't short. On top of the six players on the pitching staff, there are six more top 50 members that will take the field everyday. They are catcher Danilo Sanchez (#20), infielder Juan Francia (#42), shortstop Tony Giarratano (#12), and the entire outfield trio, headlined by the #8 prospect Brent Clevlen. Joining him in the outfielder are Vincent Blue (#47) and Garth McKinney (#46).
Sanchez has flown largely under the radar the past few years, but his .524 slugging percentage last season certainly will make a few stand up and take notice, especially if he can continue that success in hitter-friendly Jerry Uht Park.
Francia and Giarratano will make up the club's up-the-middle duo, after both holding their roles for part of last year with Erie. Francia has solid speed and makes good contact, while Giarratano will try and return to his '04 form before his season ended because of a shoulder injury.
The star of the show though could very well be Clevlen, who wowed the Tiger brass (and manager Jim Leyland) with his spring performance, including blasting a pair of home runs while playing with the big league club. Clevlen, TigsTown's '05 Minor League Player of the Year, and his .900 OPS could get even higher at Erie where the park plays to the hitters.
The Mud Hens roster as usual isn't stacked with prospects, partly because the Tigers need to keep a handful of players in Toledo that are potential replacements at the big league level, so there isn't as much room for prospects, but there are still quite a few to watch.
Starting with the rotation; Zach Miner is the lone member, but he checks in the highest of all the ‘Hens at 16. Miner put up a 2.36 ERA last year for Toledo after he was acquired from the Braves. A typical sinker-slider combo pitcher, Miner induces lots of groundballs, and while he may not possess the awes that Joel Zumaya did, he still can be a very effective pitcher.
Three Mud Hen infielders check in on the TigsTown Top 50; third baseman Jack Hannahan (#24), second baseman Ryan Raburn (#48), and shortstop Don Kelly (#49). Hannahan possesses excellent defense and makes good contact, but the power that he was expected to develop never came around. Raburn on the other hand has plenty of power, but struggles making contact and is still adjusting defensively at second base. Kelly still has the potential to be a very good utility infielder at the next level, except he can't have a defensive performance like he did with Detroit this spring.
Finally, we come to the outfielder where the Mud Hens have two more prospects that rank in the top 50. Nook Logan lost the starting battle to Curtis Granderson and will take over in center, where he'll be flanked by Alexis Gomez (#34) and David Espinosa (#32).
Gomez has the versatility to be able to play all three positions, has deceptive speed and makes good contact, but it's tough to see him ever becoming a starting big league ballplayer with his lack of power. Espinosa shows great patience at the plate, but patience only can get one so far, and Espinosa will need to see a power resurgence, because unlike Gomez he doesn't have the defensive ability to come in late and be an upgrade.
Once again, it'll be a fun summer of baseball in both Erie and Toledo. And with both levels being so close to Detroit, you never know when your favorite player might be showing up in Detroit some day soon.