Starting at the bottom of the organizational ladder, the VSL Tigers have seen one Espinoza (Alexis) demonstrate big time potential and take home multiple TigsTown Awards in 2006; but a different Espinoza impressed in June. The recently signed Ivan Espinoza burst on the scene with a .368 average in 13 games last month, while also walking more than twice as many times as he struck out (7 to 3). His two doubles and four stolen bases just added to an impressive month that saw him pound VSL pitching.
Looking at the Tigers' other ‘complex league,' we see that breakout candidate Elvin Soto is in the process of doing just that. Cited by TigsTown as a player to watch heading into the season, he didn't disappoint in his first month of the '07 campaign. A .274/.438/.516 line demonstrates an improved batting average over 2006, continued on-base skills, and emerging power potential. His line also continues a promising trend of improving every month as a professional player. The 18-year old third baseman routinely drove the ball, notching five doubles, two triples, and two homeruns, while driving in 14 runners in 18 games. In a league typically dominated by young pitchers, Soto is making a name for himself at the plate.
Jumping stateside, the West Michigan Whitecaps have seen several huge offensive months so far this season, from the electricity of Deik Scram and Gorkys Hernandez, to the raw power of Ryan Strieby; and that trend continued with a very impressive month from emerging catcher James Skelton. Despite his slight frame, Skelton has finally begun to rip the ball with authority, knocking four doubles and four home runs in 22 games during the month. In addition, Skelton hit at a .325 clip, while posting an OPS well over .900. With another four stolen bases in five attempts, James is now eight for ten on the season, demonstrating his all-around athleticism. With his burgeoning offensive game, and defensive skills, Skelton may yet mold himself into the Tigers catcher of the future.
Offensive dominance by Ryan Roberson and Mike Hernandez continued for the Flying Tigers last month, but they were both bested by toolsy outfielder Wilkin Ramirez. After battling through injuries, and serious inconsistency, Ramirez appears to finally be on track to the stardom that has been projected for him since signing out of the Dominican in 2003. With improving walk rates and dropping strikeout rates, Ramirez's offensive game is coming together; highlighted by a .387 batting average and .653 slugging percentage. An additional nine extra base hits (including five home runs) gives him 21 on the season, as his tremendous power potential appears to be showing in games.
There is plenty of offensive firepower at Erie this season, from the likes of prospects Jeff Larish and Clete Thomas, to those like veterans Erick Almonte and Jackson Melian. After seeing his numbers dip to unusual lows in May, newly transformed second baseman Mike Hollimon came back in a huge way in June; posting one of his best months since his dynamite July as a rookie in the New York-Penn League. Hollimon hit .343 for the month, and logged an OPS well in excess of 1.000. Working all throughout the lineup, Mike smashed 16 extra base hits – 10 doubles, one triple, and five home runs – while also managing to drive in 26 runs for the Seawolves. As some other players faltered for Erie last month, Hollimon more than picked up the slack.
In true TigsTown fashion, it would quite be right if we didn't save the best month for last; and that we did. After several years of middling performances, Jack Hannahan is putting together a season along the lines of what the Tigers have been expecting for years. Having now demonstrated his ability to handle third base, second base, and first base with incredible defensive ability, Hannahan's stock may be back on the rise. In a rare display of power, Hannahan slugged seven home runs in 26 games, leading to an impressive .663 slugging average, and an OPS of nearly 1.200. His discerning eye at the plate showed through again, as he walked exactly once a game, and drove in nearly a run per game as well.
With hot weather always come hot bats, and the Tigers minor leaguers were no exception to that rule. From top prospects to wily veterans, the potential future Tigers were pounding balls all over minor league parks from Venezuela and the Dominican, to Erie and Toledo. As always, it is easy to expect some continued hot performances as the summer continues to heat up. Check back in a few weeks to see which players came out on top in July.