The year was 1942. America had yet to enter the second world war. However, a squadron of American volunteer fighter pilots labeled the Flying Tigers valiantly defended the Burma line in China against Japanese forces.
Now travel to the year 2007, sixty-five years later, as the Lakeland Flying Tigers currently reside at Joker Marchant Stadium, former training location for American and British pilots. Unlike the squadron the team was named after, these new Flying Tigers have struggled in their defensive efforts. Shortstop seems to be the most troubling of positions for the Flying Tigers in regards to errors during this 2007 season. Several different players have filled the spot, including Mark Haske, Miguel Linares, and Shawn Roof. As of 8/5/07, the three players have combined for a total of forty-three errors on the season.
Often overlooked, these errors have been costly for the struggling squad. Lakeland pitchers have given up 571 runs, with only 454 of them being earned. You can do the math; that's 117 unearned runs. Only one other team in the Florida State League has come close to this total (Dunedin has 95). This isn't the only factor that has contributed to the team's 46-63 overall record, but it certainly hasn't helped it get any better. Pitchers who rely on groundballs for outs, such as Detroit starter Andrew Miller, have struggled with a less than adequate defense to back them up in Lakeland.
Enter the reinforcements, led by 2007 Detroit Tigers second round draft pick, Danny Worth. The former Pepperdine star elected to skip his senior season and sign with the Tigers, as he was originally predicted to join Oneonta in the short-season New York-Penn League. However, an injury to regular shortstop Mark Haske and the ever-present inefficiency of the Lakeland infield prompted management to give the rookie a shot in High-A ball.
As noted in a prospect profile compiled by TigsTown's own Mark Anderson, Worth finished his college career at Pepperdine with an impressive .964 fielding percentage, and he looks to bring his hard work ethic and defensive prowess to the professional level as well. In twenty-four games, the young shortstop has committed only three errors, a much needed improvement from the cast of remaining shortstop candidates in High A ball.
While known primarily for his defense, Worth's batting at Pepperdine improved vastly over his last two seasons, prompting the Tigers to select him with their second round pick. Worth batted .310 with thirty-eight RBIs and twenty-four doubles in his junior year and then started his minor league career at the plate on an impressive note as well.
He debuted against the Clearwater Threshers on July 5th, batting 2-for-2 with two doubles and two RBIs. Since then, he has cooled off, but is still batting .229 on the year, despite major slumps in consecutive series against the Ft. Myers Miracle and Tampa Yankees. The Florida State League, noted for its exceptional pitching in 2007, should continue to be a difficult, yet beneficial challenge for the Flying Tigers newest shortstop.
Look for Worth to finish his season in High A ball as a regular starter at shortstop (with Shawn Roof filling in on an occasional day off). Dependant on his performance in the Fall Instructional League and Spring Training, Worth's efforts could earn him a promotion for the 2008 season.
Realistically, though, he will most likely join a successful squad from West Michigan and remain with the Flying Tigers for the start of next season. Time will only tell for sure what the future holds for Danny, but the young shortstop has a good head on his shoulders and a solid understanding of baseball fundamentals that are necessary for his position in the infield.