After bouncing around like organizational fodder in 2005, he settled in as a cog in the West Michigan rotation last year; posting promising numbers in the process. The 2006 season saw French's walk rate consistently fall throughout the year, while also slicing his homerun rate in half. The improved command over his arsenal helped immensely, and it was punctuated by allowing just a hair over two walks per nine innings over his final 16 starts. If such progress continues in 2007, French could cement himself as the organization's top lefty not named Andrew Miller, and he could also make a strong push for the top ten of next year's prospect list.
Another pitcher who made significant strides in 2006 was GCL'er Adriano Santos. After two seasons in the GCL with a combined ERA hovering around 4.50, something clicked with Santos last year; as he posted a 2.35 ERA in 30+ relief innings for the low-level Tigers affiliate (as well as 2.2 innings with West Michigan in September). Santos has long had the raw power arm scouts love, but he lacked the ability to control it and use it to become a solid pitcher.
Things were different last year, as after a rocky first month, Adriano settled in to cut his walk rate from its career level around five per nine innings, to about 3.5; all while giving up four fewer hits per game and striking out nearly a batter per inning. With all those strong indicators, and his improved poise on the mound, Santos looks like the next reliever ready to post some shiny numbers in his first taste of full-season ball. After pitchers like Matt Rusch, Ricky Steik, and Anthony Claggett emerged at West Michigan in 2006, Santos could follow right in their footsteps.
Lastly, we'll touch on a pitcher in the midst of changing roles; moving from the rotation to the pen, where the organization hopes he can take off. 2006 draftee and Michigan State alumnus Jeff Gerbe will likely be moving to the bullpen on his way to West Michigan for the 2007 season. Gerbe has always been at his best when he's been able to pump mid-90s heat without much concern for lasting several innings, and a move to the bullpen as a pro, should allow him that luxury.
Upon signing last summer, the coaching staff in Oneonta began immediate work on developing Gerbe's change-up, and toning down his arm action to make it a more effective pitch. If the extensive work on his primary off-speed pitch pays off, the move to the bullpen could be a very fruitful one for this hometown boy.
It's always difficult to anticipate which players will suddenly have the game "click" for them, but there is never a shortage of players that have indicators of that process taking place. The Tigers have their share of players – as highlighted here – that could make that leap this season; and I'm quite certain there will be others. I'll check back throughout the season to see how these particular players are doing, and whether their breakouts are really happening.