Humberto Sanchez is putting things together nicely this season; and the longer this impressive streak continues, the less it looks like a mirage. Sanchez has battled wildness, injuries, and even aloofness to becoming one of the more aggravating prospects in the system. Things are straightening out for the big sinker baller, and there is reason to be excited. When a pitcher with the ability to throw his sinker in the 94-96 range logs a 1.84 ERA in 63.2 innings to start the new season, you don't have a choice but to take notice. The key to Sanchez' season will be two-fold; can he remain healthy, and can he be this effective the second time through the league? Watch closely through June and July. If Humberto emerges from the mid-summer months with his stellar numbers intact, Detroit could have another power arm at its disposal down the stretch.
On the other end of the spectrum, Florida State League hitters have been giving Dallas Trahern fits this season. After a 2005 season that saw Dallas perform as one of the luckier pitchers in the minor leagues, it is not entirely surprising to see a huge spike in his numbers this time around. As a pitcher who relies on groundballs and his defenders performing behind him, Dallas is at the whim of his teammates. With inconsistent fielders and more balls falling in, Trahern has struggled to get outs routinely and much of his prospect shine has tarnished. Dallas has the raw physicality to be an effective pitcher, but he must make improvements in his slider, curve, and change before he's going to realize any sustained success. Keep an eye on two things as the season progresses; his strikeout rates and his hit rates. For Dallas to succeed, his strikeout rates must rise, forcing his H/9 rate to fall. If that doesn't happen, it's going to be a very long season for him.
There has been a lot of frustrating outfield performances thus far, including Brent Clevlen, Garth McKinney, Clete Thomas, Jeff Frazier, and Vincent Blue. Instead of focusing on those miserable starts, that have little to remain optimistic about, I'm going to highlight the turnaround of second-year player Matt Joyce. Despite joining the Tigers out of Division II Florida Southern, there was abundant talk of Joyce skipping West Michigan this spring and heading straight for Lakeland. When he was sent to the Midwest League to start the season, it appeared the organization had measured him correctly, as he looked overmatched; posting a .222/.333/.389 line in April. With warmer weather came a scorching bat, as Matt hit .290/.372/.493 in the season's second month. Joyce has a very discerning eye at the plate, and his gains are likely more than just a hot streak. With McKinney back in Lakeland, it doesn't appear that a spot is likely to open up soon for Joyce, but don't be surprised to see him force the issue. As long as he continues to walk at outstanding rates, he should continue to rake the ball around Old Kent Park.
In all seriousness, someone needs to tell Brian Rogers that it is okay to walk a batter occasionally. With only three walks in 31 innings at AA, Rogers is making a statement that he isn't just your average relief prospect. As long as he continues to control the ball this well, he'll be tough to hit. While Rogers has walked a batter roughly every ten innings, Eulogio de la Cruz has walked a batter roughly every other inning, but he's still starting to come around. Contrary to my early season suggestions that ‘DLC' was overmatched and unready for AA, he has started to figure out what to do with his blazing fastball. His strikeout rates are still lower than you would expect from a player that consistently reaches the upper 90s, but he's slowly learning how to pitch instead of just throw. Keep an eye on his strikeout rates as the season progresses. As the approach one per inning, it's likely that you see him become more dominant.
There's always a pitcher out there that defies the odds, and the Tigers have that in D-III product Corey Hamman. As Hamman's alma mater works towards the Division III National Championship, Corey works towards a big league shot. He doesn't have overpower stuff, or an exceptional off-speed pitch on which he can rely, but he understands pitching theory and simply outwits his opponents. Despite his success at the minors highest level (3.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP), Hamman is still a long shot to get a chance. Watch him out of the corner of your eye this summer. He doesn't have the sexy appeal of some of the Tigers top prospects, but he might just parlay his lefty-throwing tendencies into a lengthy career in a Major League bullpen.
While this certainly isn't an all-encompassing look at the Tigers minor league system, it should give a glimpse of some interesting things to watch as the season progresses. The Tigers have done well to restock their system with a lot of solid players who should maintain the interest of minor league fans. Keep an eye on those things highlighted above, and watch out for other intriguing trends, and you just might see some future Tigers roaming around the various minor league fields. I'll take a similar look at some of these trends, as well as some new players next month.