'06 in Review: Lakeland Tigers

When one took a glance at the Lakeland Tigers roster at the start of the season, most remarked that it appeared the club had a lot of good pieces, and with a bit of luck, those pieces would come together and turn the L-Tigers into a productive (and winning) ball club. Unfortunately, that never happened.

On May 24th, it appeared as if Lakeland was going to have all those pieces come together and really produce for the club. The team was 27-19, tied for first in the division, and getting great production from the players the club expected to produce; Jeff Larish, Jeff Frazier and Clete Thomas.

That would be the highest the L-Tigers ever found themselves though. After that game on the 24th, the club lost eight of nine, and could never battle back into first place.

You could point to the drop-off in production of the three aforementioned players as a key to why the club couldn't keep that same pace. Larish's OPS dropped 40 points from that point until the end of the year. Thomas' dropped more than 80, and Frazier's OPS fell over 100 points from where he was. When the key producers drop off, the team is likely to follow suit.

That doesn't mean that the blame for the season should fall on those three; though Frazier's .228/.279/.346 line certainly didn't have the Tigers doing backflips. But there were other concerns.

Wilkin Ramirez flashed his power potential once again, but at the end of the year, still ended up with just 8 homers, 22 errors, and an OPS not that much higher than Frazier's. Both Frazier and Ramirez were among the top 15 prospects in the organization coming into the season; and didn't produce like someone of that caliber should.

On the other side of things, it certainly didn't help that Lakeland lost their ace a couple months into the season. Granted, Jair Jurrjens had earned the promotion with a 2.08 ERA and a WHIP of just 0.86. Losing Jurrjens forced a number of other pitchers to try and step up, but not everyone came up as big as the club would have hoped.

Dallas Trahern definitely stepped up though, even if it wasn't reflected in his win/loss record. From that point that Lakeland was surging through the end of the year, Trahern dropped his ERA a full two points. What's more shocking, is that he made that adjustment while seeing his K:BB ratio drop dramatically. It went from an even 3.0, to a not as impressive 2.09. Trahern may have shown he simply works better when he's not forcing strikeouts and following the Bob Cluck mold of pitching to contact.

Another pitcher that excelled for Lakeland didn't always get a chance to show his abilities, as Lakeland's shut down closer didn't get a ton of opportunities to close games out down the stretch. That doesn't change the fact that Whelan at one point went seven weeks without allowing an earned run. Whelan's 27 saves were good for third in the Florida State League, and will continue to earn Whelan attention as he moves up the ladder.

Overall, it was a disappointing season for Lakeland, marked by key players not producing as hoped, as well as losing a key part (while not getting any big upgrades from West Michigan at the midseason point). But, as always, the beauty part of minor league baseball is that if your roster one season doesn't produce, don't worry, because you're likely to have a whole new cast the following year. Such is the case at the Florida home of the Detroit Tigers.


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