Position: Shortstop Height: 6-0 Weight: 180
Born: 11/29/1982 Bats: Both Throws: Right
Giarratano, sometimes referred to as TonyG, was taken in the 3rd round of the 2003 draft out of Tulane. While playing for the Green Wave, the slender shortstop followed up an exceptional freshman campaign where he was named to the Freshman All-American Team, by diving into the traditional sophomore slump. Not only did Tony struggle during the collegiate season, but he also struggled mightily during the Cape Cod League season, turning off many scouts along the way.
After a solid showing in 2003, the Tigers were convinced Giarratano would make a fine professional shortstop. During his debut in the New York-Penn League, Tony posted an .845 OPS in 47 games. Making the logical jump to West Michigan in 2004, Tony started off modestly, before a promotion to Lakeland, where he went absolutely nuts. Before a season ending injury, Giarratano was in the midst of posting a .376/.421/.505 line for the L-Tigers, and was named TigsTown's Lakeland Player of the Year. A 2005 promotion to Erie was certainly in line, and after an impressive spring with the big club, Tony got off to a rough start that resulted in a .266/.334/.373 line at AA. After such struggles, a return to the Eastern League was in order, but a continued lack of pop and more injuries resulted in a disappointing 2006 season.
Tony's calling cards are his slick fielding potential, strong arm, and good leadership abilities. He has tremendous actions in the field, with good footwork and exceptional range, stemming from above-average speed. His arm is strong but erratic, and he must control his throws to become the elite defender his tools suggest. As a shortstop should, Giarratano commands the infield and directs traffic during the game, and garners the respect of his teammates easily. The same quickness that allows Tony to have such great range, translates to quickness on the bases as well, and his instincts further accentuate his ability to swipe bags with ease.
Offensively, Giarratano has struggles to gain momentum. He has demonstrated the ability to maintain high contact rates and hit for a reasonable average, but his walk rates have continued to dip as a pro. His swing is quick and compact, but generates very little pop, and he is easily overpowered fastballs that are not much above average. His pitch recognition lags behind that which you would expect from a three-year collegiate player. Overall, Giarratano is going to need his fielding to carry his suspect bat, but if his defense lives up to the hype any offense he can provide will be a bonus.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AA
Giarratano missed the end of the 2004 season as a result of a separated shoulder that required surgery. This injury was a repeat of one suffered during his sophomore season at Tulane. With multiple separations of his shoulder already in his past, it's likely to be a recurring problem throughout his career. As long as the problem remains isolated to his non-throwing shoulder it shouldn't affect his arm strength, but may further deteriorate his offensive capabilities.
Giarratano's 2006 season was yet again cut short after a torn ACL in July, forced him under the knife. Tony should start seeing game action towards the end of spring training, but don't expect him back at full strength until mid-year. Injuries have always been part of the question with Tony, and he must overcome this obstacle to return himself to legitimate prospect status.
With several middle infield options starting to push up the ladder, the Tigers will be in no rush to get Giarratano back on the field at any of the minor league stops. He could spend the better part of the first half working in Lakeland, until he is closer to full strength, and then make his way to Erie or Toledo from there. In the end, even if Giarratano is able to remain healthy for extended periods, he profiles as more of a defensive wizard, utility player, with the ability to play longer in a pinch.
Any offensive gains would certainly mean he comes closer to becoming an everyday player, but it will be tough to realize those gains unless his walk rates come alive, and some power begins to develop. Look for Giarratano to get more chances in the high minors, and likely make it to Detroit in a reserve role sometime late in the 2008 season.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.