Starting with the good – Cameron Maybin has obviously had a very successful start with West Michigan, including blasting his first pro home run on Wednesday. Maybin is hitting .385 with five extra base hits in just six games. Clearly, he's off to a hot start and wasn't blown away in his first of pro ball.
So are those claiming that he could be in Detroit by 2007 on the money? It's still way too early to tell. One thing is for sure though, beating up on low-A pitchers isn't a sign of greatness to come. That's not to take anything away from Maybin, it's simply to point out the fact that most pitchers at this level rely heavily on their fastball and don't like to consistently use their breaking pitches – mostly because they're not fully developed (how many pitchers have we discussed over the years stating that the Tigers love the fastball but need them to start using something off-speed?).
And it is with breaking stuff that Maybin has so far shown his biggest struggles. Of course, most teams don't know that because he has a total of 25 pro at bats to get a scouting report on. As teams begin to discover that Maybin struggles with off-speed, he'll likely to see a healthy diet of breaking balls. If he can handle that assault, he'll likely see a bump up to Lakeland mid-season. If he struggles, he'll likely be tagged for West Michigan for the remainder of the season.
On the downside, Eulogio de la Cruz has had one of the most disappointing starts of any prospect in the system. A 45.00 ERA in three games is not what the Tigers were expecting, and it appears they've already taken him out of the closer's role. De la Cruz is finally going to have to learn how to pitch if he hopes to take that next step in competitive baseball. In A-ball, a high-90's fastball can often overwhelm a hitter. Double-A hitters aren't that easily fooled.
And because de la Cruz has only two mediocre off-speed pitches, hitters can sit on his fastball because he struggles to get either his curve or change-up over the plate. And with de la Cruz throwing a ball with so little movement, once you get used to the speed, he can be easily hit. Hopefully these recent struggles with force de la Cruz to wake up to the fact that he is going to have to come up with something else to throw, because a one-pitch pony just won't make it all the way to ‘the show'.
Finishing up with some players that didn't make the roster when camp broke two weeks ago. Matt O'Brien, Jay Sborz and Brendan Wise were all held back from full-season competition, and barring injury or making significant strides in the next few weeks, won't be pitching competitively until late June when Oneonta's season gets under way. Sborz's control problems have been well documented, and while they're not ready to give up on his live arm, the lack of progress is certainly a point for concern. Still no firm reports on why O'Brien and Wise were held back. O'Brien is especially puzzling, as at 23 he's certainly not young, and was one of the top starters in Oneonta last year.
Another starting pitcher whose control issues have been well documented is former 2nd round pick Eric Beattie. Unfortunately, his struggles continued throughout the spring, and after experiencing some pain while throwing in his elbow. For now, they're taking a wait-and-see approach, but if the pain doesn't subside, Beattie could go under the knife soon.
Finally, notes on a couple other players. Three players' careers have likely come to an end with the Tigers (though not officially yet) as all three are now on the Tigers' Inactive List. Schuyler Williamson was brought in after lengthy negotiations to get him out of his contract with the military, but ultimately, his call to duty was too loud for him to stay on the sidelines and play baseball, and he has returned to fulfill his military service.
The other two, despite both having some success last season, have both decided to retire from baseball. Those two are reliever Matt Norfleet and second baseman Agustin Guzman. There was high hope for both players, as Norfleet was very successful coming out of the ‘pen last year for Oneonta, while Guzman was drafted at just 17 years old out of Junior College showing great patience and some pop for just a young hitter. But, both players have elected instead to bring their baseball careers to an end. Guzman comes as a big surprise, while Norfleet has had plenty of injury problems in the past, and might have elected to simply throw in the towel due to pain. It's an unfortunate end to the careers of two promising players.