Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Sleeth was the Tigers first round choice (3rd overall) in the 2003 draft out of Wake Forest. The draft experience was nothing new to Sleeth, as he had previously been taken by the Baltimore Orioles in 2000 (18th round). Kyle experienced a highly successful collegiate career, being named a Freshman All-American, 1st Team All-ACC in both 2002 and 2003, as well as 2nd and 3rd Team All-American in 2002 and 2003 respectively. While at Wake Forest, Sleeth set the school's single season win record (14), on his way to an NCAA record 26 straight victories. In the midst of all this collegiate success, he managed to turn in a dominating performance for the US National Team (7-1, 1.44 ERA) in 2002.
After impressing the front office that spring, Sleeth was assigned to High-A Lakeland to begin his professional career. Despite solid numbers, Kyle struggled with consistency during his first pro test. After nine starts, the Tigers promoted him to Erie, where his struggles increased. Kyle posted a 6.30 ERA in 13 starts (80 innings) as the organization tweaked his mechanics to try and alleviate the strain being created by throwing slightly across his body. After missing the entire 2005 season recovering from elbow reconstruction surgery, Sleeth back into game action at Lakeland in June. After struggling to start the year, he was sent down to the GCL Tigers for additional work, before returning to Lakeland down the stretch.
Kyle's scouting report is a tale of two players. Prior to surgery, his fastball sat consistently in the 92-94 range, with the ability to reach back for mid-90s heat when needed. He complimented his power fastball with a deadly curveball/slider combo that could destroy any hitter's confidence, and an average change-up. Since going under the knife, Sleeth's fastball has barely reached the 90 mph threshold, and his other offerings have lagged even further behind. As a pitcher who never possessed outstanding control (even less so now), Sleeth must see the overall quality of his top pitches return, if he is to have any success.
Kyle has always been a standout athlete – having been an All-State football player in high school – and this should help him in his long road to recovery. Despite his extensive collegiate experience, Kyle is still a little rough around the edges in terms of his overall game. He must work on fielding his position as well as his understanding of situational baseball. He has always been a hard worker, and if his stuff can return to prior form, he still has a chance to become a middle of the rotation starter.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP WHIP R
Kyle's elbow reconstruction is now behind him, and he must work hard to complete his recovery. While many pitchers are able to return in full about 12-months post-surgery, Sleeth seems to be the exception. Word coming out of instructional league had his control improving slightly, and hopefully his velocity will follow heading into next spring.
The 2007 season will be a classic "make-or-break" year for both Sleeth, and the Tiger decision makers. Kyle must make progress, or face the real possibility that his prospect star has burnt out. In an effort to move him along, look for Sleeth to move to the bullpen to start the '07 season, a move that may allow him to be more aggressive on the mound. If Kyle's fastball can find the return of the velocity that made him a high draft choice, a bullpen role may offer him the best chance to make an impact at the Major League level. Sleeth will face a huge challenge this season, a challenge the Tigers are hoping he can take head-on, and prove once and for all that he wasn't a wasted pick.
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.