Paul Wezner, Senior Editor
It's never easy to pick just one, but I'd probably have to go with Humberto Sanchez. We always knew Sanchez had the talent. What we didn't know is if he had the work ethic or the durability to let his talent shine through. Up until his impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, Sanchez was practically left for dead, after a miserable 2005 season in which he couldn't stay healthy, and when he was, he wasn't effective. Coming into '06, his minor league career ERA approached five, a number outrageous for someone with the type of talent Sanchez possesses. While he has experienced some elbow soreness recently, this particular injury is likely one where he's simply not used to being healthy. In the past, he was struggling because he couldn't pitch enough, now he's struggling because his body just isn't used to pitching as much as it is. Cameron Maybin and Jair Jurrjens have had outstanding seasons, Mike Hollimon is proving his rookie campaign isn't a fluke, and Kevin Whelan may well be a big league closer in the making, but Sanchez has been the biggest surprise of '06.
Mark Anderson, Associate Editor, Minor Leagues
As much as I knew the kid was an absolute stud, the biggest surprise has easily been Cameron Maybin's dominating debut. From day one this season, Maybin has likely been the Midwest League's best player. He's come to the park to play every day, leaving everything on the field, and completely dominating. Maybin's been so dominant, that I'm left wondering how he remaining in West Michigan all season. I expected him to fight through some tough times, some struggles at the plate, some distractions off the field, and what not. That hasn't seemed to be the case at all. Maybin has remained focused in spite of daunting amounts of interviews, public appearance requests, and autograph seekers. Maybin has remained a top performer despite loads of curveballs and change-ups. There is nothing more to be said. He has done everything asked of him this year; and beyond.
Jason Avery, Associate Editor, Amateur Baseball
I don't like to highlight just one thing over the course of the season, because it's possible to with having seven different affiliates so lets start with the good surprises. First, and certainly the most important is the contribution made by the minor leagues to the success the Tigers have had this year. Zach Miner, Jordan Tata, Wilfredo Ledezma, Brent Cleven, and Alexis Gomez are just a few that have performed well when summoned to the big leagues. West Michigan has had a terrific season, and Cameron Maybin has been at the forefront. I thought he was good when the Tigers drafted him, but I don't think anyone thought he would come on so fast. Michael Hollimon has also had a great year, and Justin Justice has also made nice progress a nice year. Burke Badenhop, Anthony Claggett, and Ricky Steik have also had great years sans publicity. The health and emergence of Humberto Sanchez as a premium prospect, as well as Jair Jurrgens' step forward, have given the Tigers two more arms that could contribute in Detroit very shortly. Brennan Boesch and Scott Sizemore continue to rake at Oneonta, and with Alexis Espinoza debuting nicely in Venezuela, hopefully the Tigers can start to make some much needed progress in signing and developing Latin American talent. On the downside, Erie has really had a bad year. Kody Kirkland has showed his power, but is hitting .220. Vincent Blue has also struggled, as have Nook Logan and Mark Woodyard, who both should be removed from the 40-man roster in the off-season. Garth McKinney started at Erie, but has never righted the ship since being demoted to Lakeland. Jeff Frazier and Wilkin Ramirez both hitting under .230 are major disappointments. Tony Giarratano's season-ending knee injury at Erie reaffirmed just how brittle he has been since signing, and it appears the Tigers will get very little out of former second-round picks Jay Sborz and Eric Beattie, although the latter has made baby steps in overcoming Steve Blass Disease.
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