‘Rabs' has been with the Tigers since the summer of 2001, joining the organization as a 4th round draft choice out of the University of Tampa. While at UT, Mike enjoyed a very successful three-year career that included a career .324 average as well as multiple awards. As a freshman he was named 3rd Team All-South Region, then to 2nd Team All-South Region as a sophomore and junior, as well as 2nd Team All-Sunshine State Conference and NCAA South Regional All-Tournament Team as a junior. Between his second and third collegiate seasons, Rabelo played in four games for the Hyannis club in the Cape Cod League.
Mike enjoyed an impressive debut with the Oneonta Tigers in 2001, but fell on hard times upon reaching full-season ball at West Michigan in 2002. The Tigers sent Mike back to West Michigan in 2003, and he rebounded to post a respectable .274/.328/.353 line for the Whitecaps. A promotion to Lakeland in 2004 saw even more progress for Mike, as he upped his line to .287/.349/.361. A 2005 season spent getting his first taste of AA saw much of the same progress for Rabelo, as he put together another fairly solid campaign. As the Tigers signed minor league veterans to fill the catching roles at Toledo, ‘Rabs' returned to Erie for another season, posting a very solid .277/.361/.432 line that included being named May's TigsTown Player of the Month. A July promotion to AAA-Toledo didn't slow him down at all, as he posted a nearly identical .270/.333/.423 line in his first taste of the minor's highest level.
Mike has an interesting skill set, that never really impresses scouts, but he continues to make adjustments and perform at an adequate level. His offense will never carry him to the big leagues, as he possesses only modest power and reasonable plate discipline. Over the last 12-18 months, he has begun to generate more line drives to the gaps, which is a promising trend. He has demonstrated the ability to hit for a reasonable average, and draw a fair number of walks. His speed is below average, but he does well to take extra bases when they are available.
Defensively, Mike is pretty much middle of the road. He has a solid arm with good accuracy, but his mechanics are a little slow and cumbersome. He gets caught in the transfer frequently, delaying the release to second base. He has improved greatly in terms of receiving the ball, and his pitching staffs seem to have more confidence in his game calling than during the early parts of his career. He has demonstrated the ability to exude confidence and spur his pitchers to remain confident in themselves, both signs of a quality leader behind the plate.
All along, Mike's ceiling has been as a backup catcher, something that seems even more attainable with last season's offensive surge. If he suddenly experiences a substantial power spike, Mike may draw attention for more than a backup role, but that seems unlikely at this point.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AA
Aside from the standard bumps and bruises that come with wearing the "tools of ignorance" on a daily basis, Rabelo has remained healthy throughout much of his career.
With Vance Wilson still under contract to handle the backup duties in Detroit, Mike will head back to AAA-Toledo for the 2007 duties. I expect him to handle the bulk of the catching responsibilities, and his composure under pressure should help young pitchers like Jordan Tata, Jair Jurrjens, and potentially even Andrew Miller later in the season.
If Pudge or Vance goes down, Rabelo will be the first in line for a call to Detroit, and I won't be surprised to see him get extensive time on the roster throughout the season. If the Tigers have locked up a playoff spot down the stretch, he could get in several games during September, in an effort to rest the regulars prior to the post season. His minor league free agent clock is ticking loudly, and his first true chance at a backup job in the Major Leagues may have to come with another organization in 2008.
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.