Position: Outfielder/Second Baseman
Raburn was drafted twice in a three year span, first by the Devil Rays in 1999 (18th round), then again by the Tigers in the 5th round of the 2001 draft. The University of Florida and South Florida Community College product started off with a bang, knocking a strong .363/.423/.696 line with Oneonta. Following a career-threatening ATV accident after the 2001 season, Raburn was limited to just 180 at-bats, and a .228 average in 2002, split between the GCL and West Michigan. It wasn't until the 2004 season that Raburn proved to be completely healthy, and back to his high octane offensive ways. Playing in 98 games for the Erie Seawolves, Raburn took home the TigsTown.com Erie Player of the Year award with a .288/.375/.510 line. Ryan's efforts were rewarded with a trip to Detroit to close out the season.
Ryan struggled to get his bat going in 2005, with his first taste of AAA proving a difficult one. His middling .253/.323/.437 line was boosted by a tremendous June performance in which he slugged his way to the TigsTown Toledo Player of the Month award. With the acquisition of Placido Polanco in the midst of the 2005 season, Raburn's path to Detroit was blocked; leading to a return to Toledo in 2006. His second tour through the International League went much better, as Raburn adjusted to the stiffer competition. He finished 7th in the League in RBI (79) and tied for 7th in the League with a .490 slugging percentage. An electric May in which he hit a whopping .313/.429/.657 propelled him to not only the TigsTown Player of the Month award, but also the TigsTown Toledo Player of the Year Award.
The easiest way to explain Raburn is as the classic "tweener." He doesn't really hit enough to support playing an infield or outfield corner, and he doesn't really field well enough to man second base regularly. His offensive skill set is quite broad, but he's more a jack of all trades. He has surprising pop and generates good loft. He could likely hit 18-20 home runs annually in the big leagues. His strike zone judgment has remained solid, through he has begun striking out more as he tries to hit for more power. He'll never been a dominant offensive player for more than a short stretch, but he's solid enough to play at the Major League level.
Defensively is where Raburn runs into trouble. After playing outfield at the collegiate level, the Tigers hoped to move him to third base. After several seasons of battling through poor defensive performances and little progress, he was moved to second base, where he seemed to be fitting in a little better. His reactions are somewhat slow and he lacks range, but he positions himself well and has reasonable hands. In the end, the Tigers have moved him back to the outfield, trying to find a way to make him work enough to succeed at the next level. His arm and speed are only average, likely relegating him to left field.
At one time, as Raburn was returning from injuries, there were thoughts that his ceiling may be that of a Jeff Kent type player, but those projections have proven to be far too lofty. At this juncture, Raburn projects as a utility player or a solid bat off the bench.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AAA
Raburn suffered some serious hip injuries as a result of his ATV accident. He has completely recovered, and has come back to be as good as he previously was. Ryan missed some time early in the 2004 season due to an injured thumb, but after healing, Raburn experienced no lingering problems.
Raburn did his part in 2006 to make sure he sticks around and gets a chance in Detroit, but that chance is unlikely to come in 2007. The Tigers roster is pretty much set, and his skill set, particularly his defensive struggles, aren't likely to catch Jim Leyland's eye. Raburn will head north to Toledo in April, and if he puts together an impressive summer in the International League, he could begin to garner some interest around the trade deadline.
He will likely become a 6-year minor league free agent following the 2007 season, and that may be his best bet for getting on a Major League roster. If he can catch on with a club that is in need of a 4th outfielder or power bat off the bench, he could get a legitimate shot.
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.