Our first tightly contested battle was at Lakeland, where uber-prospect Cameron Maybin and breakout candidate Justin Justice made strong cases for the award. However, a relative unknown is torching Florida State League parks at obscene rates. On the back of 14 extra-base hits, Mike Hernandez has posted a lofty .289/.351/.542 line. With ten doubles in only 23 games, Hernandez ranks atop the FSL in that category; while also ranking in the top ten in the league in total bases and RBI. Hernandez has been so impressive early on, that he is forcing fans, prospect hounds, and organizational personnel to take notice of his offensive abilities.
Another tight race was on display with the Tigers AA affiliate in Erie; as Mike Hollimon and Jeff Larish were duking it out for top honors. Having skipped Lakeland all together, Hollimon's impressive debut may be garnering more attention, but Jeff Larish mashed the ball from start to finish. With a league leading 23 RBI, and a team leading .865 OPS, Larish has helped fuel an Erie offense that is averaging nearly five runs per game; good for third in the Eastern League. His .520 slugging percentage is good enough for 10th in the league, while his 39 total bases slot him in a tie for 4th among Eastern Leaguers. Larish's success has been maintained despite the jump to a more advanced level, leaving many fans wondering if he could be in the mix for the 2008 first base job in Detroit.
Another player in the mix for the 2008 first base job at Comerica Park is Chris Shelton, who has rediscovered his hitting stroke at AAA-Toledo. Shelton leads the Mud Hens with 7 doubles, and is just one off the team leading pace for RBIs with 14. His .287/.406/.437 line is reminiscent of why Tiger fans were so excited for his future. Shelton has been so good, that his name is littered across the International League leader boards; ranking in the top ten in hits, doubles, RBI, and total bases. Not only is he driving the ball around the park, but he's also showing a discerning eye at the plate, tying for the league lead in walks, with 17.
Rounding out our April awards is TigsTown's #9 prospect, Gorkys Hernandez. After dominating the Gulf Coast League as a raw 18-year old, Gorkys is continuing his dominance in full-season ball. His ability to hit for average has translated nicely, as his .328 mark ranks 7th in the Midwest League. His six stolen bases lead the Whitecaps, and also tie him for 6th in the league. His .397 OBP and five doubles rank first on his team, while his 22 hits 25 total bases are good enough for second in his own lineup. At only 19-years of age, Hernandez is on pace to post a season rivaling that of top prospect Cameron Maybin. Watch out folks, this kid could be good.
For several years, the Tigers have received abundant praise for their pitching talent; but now the hitters are beginning to put on a show. With speedsters and sluggers alike, the Tigers appear to finally be building their position player talent on the farm. Keep an eye on these guys throughout the season, as many of them should figure in the mix for more awards along the way.