Starting behind the plate, the Tigers have more guys floating around than you can shake a stick at. The list of catchers looking for playing time this summer includes Cole Miller, James Skelton, Cody Collet, Daniel Sandoval, Angel Flores, and the newly acquired tandem of Joe Bowen and Jordan Newton.
With Newton's collegiate experience, he is certain to head directly to Oneonta; and while he was drafted as a catcher, there is a chance he could see some time in the outfield as well. Joining Jordan in Oneonta could be any of several players, with Daniel Sandoval and Cody Collet two of the more likely candidates. Sandoval hit well for the GCL Tigers last year, posting a solid .314/.351/.467 line, and playing good defense along with his offensive display. Collet has battled injuries since joining the Tigers as a 6th round choice in 2003, but with him healthy so far this spring, they must see what they have by pushing to Oneonta at some point. All three are a good bet to be used in rotation at Oneonta.
Miller and Skelton are likely to return to the GCL after struggling mightily in 2005. Both players have the raw offensive and defensive skills to succeed at the pro level, but neither has been able to put it together quite yet. Joining them will almost certainly be recent draftee Joe Bowen, whose defensive abilities could earn him significant time behind the plate. Lastly, Angel Flores could garner some playing time with the GCL squad, although it is also somewhat likely that he returns to the Dominican Summer League after an .111/.286/.148 season in his stateside debut.
In addition to this litany of catchers, the Tigers will also have two defensive wizards joining the organization. Former U of M backstop, Jeff Kunkel, has already signed, and Clemson's Adrian Casanova will likely sign after the College World Series. Because of their advanced defensive skills, both players could land anywhere from Oneonta to Lakeland. If either (or both) players land in Oneonta, don't be surprised if Jordan Newton's move to the outfield happens sooner rather than later.
Moving around the diamond, Oneonta could see the return of 2004 and 2005 first baseman Rafael Mendez from West Michigan, come next week. Mendez has struggled, and the Tigers will be looking to challenge 4th round choice Ryan Strieby. West Michigan's first base production has been lacking as Ryan Roberson and Mendez both continue to struggle; meaning Strieby's polished power bat could be a huge help in Grand Rapids. Angel Reyes did little in 2005 to warrant a move up from the Gulf Coast League, leaving him likely to return to the GCL Tigers this season.
Up the middle of the diamond, the players looking for playing time will include second basemen Jose Patino, Pedruin Bautista, Scott Sizemore, and Hayden Parrot, along with shortstop Audy Ciriaco. Sizemore is likely to command most of the at-bats at the keystone spot for Oneonta, and his double play partner will likely be the raw, but talented Ciriaco. Both Patino and Bautista bring defensive skills to the table, but struggle at the plate. Both players are candidates to play either position with the GCL Tigers, or backup with Oneonta. 2006 draftee Hayden Parrott will log significant time in Florida, as he tries to build on his sensational high school season that saw him hit .491.
Three additional players who could make their American debut are Dominican middle infielders Alvaro Cabrera, Jose Constanza, and Joaquin Guzman. Cabrera is the most likely to come stateside this season, as he is already 20-years old. None of the three projects as much offensively at this time, but the raw tools are there to warrant interest.
Since the days of Travis Fryman, the organization has been looking for someone to fill the hot corner slot. Cory Middleton has struggled mightily with the adjustment to the Midwest League, and could lose his spot to second round pick Ronnie Bourquin. Bourquin's advanced offensive approach and collegiate experience could make him better equipped to handle the more difficult pitchers of the League. If this happens, Middleton is almost certain to receive the bulk of the playing time at Oneonta, with Kentucky graduate Michael Bertram (2006 – 39th Round) filling in as needed.
Manning third base for the GCL Tigers will likely be some combination of last year's third baseman Santo de Leon, and two new prospects from the Dominican Summer League; Gustavo Jimenez and Carlos Ramirez.
Touring the infields of the two short-season teams, it appears the O-Tigers should benefit from solid defense with some significant offensive upside, while the GCL Tigers could struggle with both aspects of the game. Neither infield is going to carry the teams, but there is enough promise to warrant watching. Check back tomorrow as we break down the outfielders and pitching staffs for the two short-season clubs.