The Tigers went with another strong defensive player in the fourth round, as they selected catcher Mike Rabelo from the University of Tampa.
After signing, Rabelo went to Oneonta and had a solid debut, hitting .325 with 32 RBIs in 53 games. His good fortune at the plate plummeted in 2002 at West Michigan, when he hit just .195 with two homers and 41 RBIs in 123 games. Rabelo returned to the 'Caps in 2003 and hit .274 with five homers and 40 RBIs. Promoted to Lakeland in 2004, Rabelo hit .287 with 38 RBIs in 92 games and he also got a cup of coffee at Erie, playing in five games. Rabelo platooned with Max St. Pierre last year at Erie and hit .273 with two homers and 26 RBIs in 77 games.
As it stands, Rabelo has an outside chance of reaching the big leagues should the need arise, but he appears to be headed for another year of being a platoon player either at Erie or Toledo.
The lone player to reach the majors from this draft is Ryan Raburn, who was taken in the fifth round from South Florida Community College. After hitting .155 with the GCL Tigers, Raburn tore the cover off the ball at Oneonta, hitting .363 with eight homers and 42 RBIs.
Raburn seemed to be on the fast track, but then he dislocated his hip in an all-terrain vehicle accident and his career was in jeopardy. Raburn got back on the field in time to get 180 at-bats, but he hit just .220 at West Michigan.
Raburn's health improved and his numbers got a little better in 2003, as he first hit .351 at West Michigan, and then clubbed 12 homers at Lakeland, but hit just .222.
During the offseason, the Tigers moved him from third base to second base and his '04 campaign earned him a trip to Detroit, as he hit .301 with 16 home runs and 63 RBIs in 98 games at Erie. With the Tigers, Raburn hit .138 with one RBI in 12 games. Raburn got his first taste of the International League last year and hit .253 with 19 homers and 64 RBIs.
With Placido Polanco entrenched as the second baseman in Detroit, the Tigers are tinkering with a possible move to the outfield, but for Raburn to play his way back into the Tigers' plans, he must stay healthy and improve his defense.
The Tigers went for another catcher in the sixth round when they took Jason Knoedler from Miami (Ohio). Knoedler hit .402 as a junior in college, but his bat never came around as a pro. He hit .226 at Oneonta after signing and hit .209 with five home runs and 33 RBIs in 135 games at West Michigan in 2002.
Knoedler returned to West Michigan in 2003 and hit just .210 in 91 games. A third trip to West Michigan didn't perk his bat up, as he hit .242 in 70 games. Knoedler did see time at Erie, hitting .177 in 27 games. Knoedler split time between Erie and Lakeland last year, hitting .228 at Erie and .281 at Lakeland and was released during the offseason.
The Tigers tabbed a hero of the College World Series with their seventh-round selection in right-hander Tom Farmer from Miami (Fl.). Farmer was the starting and winning pitcher in Miami's 12-1 shellacking of Stanford in the title game in 2001, which capped a sterling senior year where he went 15-2.
After signing, he got as far as Erie in his pro debut and went 6-8 with a 5.33 ERA in 18 starts in 2002, before being promoted to Toledo.
Farmer made one start for the Mud Hens before being shipped to the Dodgers for Hiram Bocachica on July 25. The trade proved to be costly one for the Tigers, not because of Farmer, but because Jason Frasor went to the Dodgers as a player to be named later. Frasor would go on and reach the majors with the Blue Jays, while Farmer has stagnated at Triple-AAA Las Vegas, posting a 15.19 ERA in 20 appearances last year.
The next potential big-leaguer from this draft could be Don Kelly, who was selected in the eighth round out of Point Park (Pa.) College. Kelly hit .286 with 25 RBIs at Oneonta after signing and he also hit for the same average at West Michigan in 2002, adding one homer and 59 RBIs.
Kelly's stock continued on the upswing in 2003, as he hit .317 with a homer and 38 RBIs at Lakeland before earning a promotion to Erie. Kelly held his own with a .265 average, one home run and 13 RBIs in 22 games.
However, 2004 would be a lost season for Kelly, as he got just 111 at-bats doe to a nerve injury in his shoulder.
Kelly came back with a vengeance last year and had his best year as a Tiger, hitting .340 at Erie before tailing off to a .250 clip at Toledo. Kelly set career-highs in homers with 10 and RBIs with 67, and also hit .300 with seven RBIs in the postseason for the Mud Hens. Those solid numbers earned him a spot on the 40-man roster this past winter.
Kelly doesn't have the range, quickness, or agility to be an everyday shortstop, but his hands and arm make him nicely suited for third base. Kelly is tough to strikeout and is a solid line-drive hitter. He figures to get a chance to play everyday at Toledo, and profiles as a solid utility player down the line for the Tigers.
In the ninth round, the Tigers selected outfielder David Mattle from Kent State. Mattle struggled in his pro debut, hitting just .204 with one homer and 22 RBIs at Oneonta. Mattle's first year of full-season ball was a good one, as he hit .272 with seven homers and 68 RBIs with West Michigan in 136 games.
Mattle went to Lakeland in 2003 and struggled mightily, hitting just .227 with eight homers and 52 RBIs. A return trip to Lakeland in 2004 didn't help things for Mattle, as he hit .242 with four home runs and 37 RBIs. Mattle was released last spring.
The player who could make the biggest impact out of the first 10 picks is outfielder Vincent Blue, who was one of only three high school players taken by the Tigers in the first 20 rounds of the draft. Blue came from Lamar High School in Texas, where he was a teammate of 2004 first-rounder Jeff Niemann, now with Tampa Bay.
Blue was considered a project when he was drafted and he showed it by hitting .248 and .219 in his first two years with the GCL Tigers. He went to Oneonta for his final year of short-season ball, and he began to grow into his tools, hitting .288 with two homers and 26 RBIs. He also swiped 13 bases. Blue finally got his first taste of full-season ball in 2004 at West Michigan, and he finished with a .260 average, two homers, 43 RBIs, and 19 steals. But he really emerged last year at Lakeland, where he had career-highs in average (.297), RBIs (50), and stolen bases (40).
Blue is a very good defender in center field and has terrific speed, but he won't have any power and he must refine his base-stealing approach after getting caught 29 times last year. Blue will head to Double-A Erie, where he will face his stiffest test as a pro.
LAST MAN STANDING
Ian Ostlund, taken in the 34th round out of Virginia Tech, is the player selected after the 10th round that is still with the organization. He has carved out a niche as being a left-handed setup man. Ostlund was 2-5 with a 3.15 ERA at Oneonta in 14 appearances (10 starts) in his debut. Ostlund went to the bullpen permanantly in 2002, and went 2-3 with a 2.89 ERA at Lakeland. Inexplicably, he went down a level to West Michigan in 2003 and went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA in 44 games before returning to Lakeland, where he was hammered for an 8.59 ERA in 17 games.
Injuries limited Ostlund to 18 games in 2004, where he 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA. Demoted to West Michigan for a second time, Ostlund went 2-3 with a 2.40 ERA and a pair of saves, before going 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA in 19 games with Lakeland.
At this point, Ostlund has become an organization soldier and may get squeezed out given the number of pitchers the Tigers have added since he signed.
If ever there is a reason to not judge a draft within the first year it occurred, this is it. As I mentioned in the open, Baseball America declared Detroit's draft the best one in baseball. Five years later, this draft right now ranks as the worst of the decade, considering the 2000 draft produced at least two major-league players in Nook Logan and Mark Woodyard, and this one has produced only a cup of coffee for Ryan Raburn.
The present fortunes of this draft ride with Preston Larrison and the hope that he can recover and show the form he had back in 2002, and Vincent Blue, who still needs refinement in a few areas of his game.
The Tigers also made a big mistake by not signing Adam Harben (38) as a draft-and-follow in the spring of 2002. The Twins drafted him in the 15th round and signed him after the Tigers passed on him, and Harben has grown into one of the top prospects in an outstanding system, going 28-19 with a 3.23 ERA since turning pro.
If you're looking for a reason why the Tigers have still have very little depth in the organization, take a hard look at this draft, and also don't rush to make the 2005 draft a great one just yet, because we have been down that road before, and this organization cannot afford to so again.
Jason Avery is an Associate Editor at TigsTown.com, covering all amateur baseball topics for TigsTown. He can be reached at Jason@TigsTown.com.