TigsTown Analysis: Ranking the U-25's

Much of the problem with ranking prospects involves the exclusion of young players at the Major League level. While the overall talent and depth of the Tigers' minor league system is not overwhelming, that's largely a result of the young core already present in Detroit.

In an effort to capture these players, and give a picture of how much talent the Tigers have actually graduated to the big leagues, TigsTown has applied their prospect ranking criteria to all 25-man roster players, age 25 and under, and then inserted them in the prospect rankings to see where they fall.

Starting at the top, Justin Verlander would easily be the top prospect in the system. Powered by a plus-plus heater, and a plus curveball that is a true hammer, Verlander would pass Cameron Maybin as the top prospect in the system. There is little to dislike about Justin, as his durability, frame, makeup, and control have all become huge positives over the last year and a half. Were Verlander still toiling in the minor leagues, he would come the closest to a perfect score of 100 than any other player TigsTown has ranked in their system.

With Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller ranking as elite prospects, they continue their hold on the second and third spots in the Under-25 rankings, but reliever Joel Zumaya would be right on their heels. Zumaya's move to the bullpen dropped his "prospect" stock a touch, as he received the standard relief pitcher deduction. Had he remained a starter, he would be pushing Justin Verlander for the top spot in these fictional rankings.

Zumaya's electric fastball and hard-breaking slurve would categorize him as an elite relief pitching prospect; a rare commodity in my eyes. The inclusion of Joel makes for a formidable top four under-25 players.

Rounding out the new top five is 23-year old Jeremy Bonderman. His listing at the fringe of the top five is more indicative of the talent ahead of him, than of his actual abilities. Bonderman has slowly established himself as a potentially dominating starter; one who has continued to improve while at the big league level.

Following the lead of Verlander and Zumaya, Bonderman's ranking is fueled by a plus fastball-breaking ball combination, as well as tremendous durability. The only thing keeping Jeremy from the top two or three slots on this list is his lack of a reliable third pitch in a starting role. If the change-up graded out as average, he would leap-frog both Zumaya and Miller.

Also slotting in the top ten is the Tigers' starting centerfielder, Curtis Granderson. After sitting atop the TigsTown rankings prior to the 2005 season, Grandy has been lapped by some positively elite players in the Tigers system.

Next to uber-prospect Cameron Maybin, Curtis easily ranks as the next best under-25 position player in the organization. Granderson parlays above-average tools across the board into his number seven ranking, and he should be a fixture in Detroit for a long time.

A glance at the under-25 top ten reveals four players currently on the Tigers big league roster that would easily boost the overall talent level of the organizational system. The top seven that encompasses those four players (as well as Maybin, Miller, and Jair Jurrjens) has the potential to leave the Tigers with 80% of a starting rotation, two-thirds of an outfield, and a dominating closer; not too shabby for a team that recently lost 113 games and ranked one of the absolute worst farm systems in baseball.

Two other players that would have ranked in the TigsTown Top 20 are pitchers Zach Miner and Wil Ledezma. Miner, after making last year's top 20 at #16, slots back into the list at #12. With a low-90s sinker, and two other average offerings, Miner profiles as a solid back of the rotation starter. The increased groundball:flyball ratio, and improved command also aided in his rise.

Slotting in at #19 was Wil Ledezma. After sticking with the Tigers as a Rule 5 choice in 2003, Wil had battled inconsistency before finding success last season. Had Ledezma remained a starter after rejoining the Tigers, he would have slotted into the tail end of the top ten on this list, but the reliever reduction knocked him down several pegs.

The last player to be added to this under-25 list was infielder Omar Infante. Relegated to a utility role through the acquisition of Carlos Guillen and Placido Polanco, as well as the emergence of Brandon Inge at the hot corner, Infante's progress has stagnated.

With reasonable tools across the board, Infante just missed the top 50, coming in at #51. If Infante can rediscover the surprising power and patience he has displayed in the past, his stock would certainly rise towards the top thirty. It's quite appropriate that Infante slots in right next to Tony Giarratano, another player who projects as a utility infielder at the Major League level.

Through this little exercise, I think it is quite apparent that while the Tigers may not have an upper tier minor league system, but they have a ton of young talent that could rival any organization in baseball. Detroit is fortunate to have graduated so many high-end players to the Major League level, and the system should not be indicted because of the success of its previous top prospects.

When speaking of the system's depth and ranking throughout baseball, it is important to recognize the young talent at the very top of the ladder. Along with teams like the Marlins, Devil Rays, D-Backs, and Indians, the Tigers are leading the way in terms of bright, young talent.

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