Minor League Playoffs Scouting Reports

The minor league playoffs get underway on Wednesday, and TigsTown has you covered, with all the playoff information plus scouting reports on the Tigers' first round opponent at each level.

West Michigan Whitecaps vs. Lansing Lugnuts
Schedule - Best of Three
Sept. 5 @ Lansing 7:05 PM
Sept.6 vs. Lansing 7:00 PM
Sept.7 vs. Lansing 7:00 PM (if necessary)

Lugnuts Report
By Bobby Vangelatos, InsideTheDome.com

The key to stop the Lugnuts falls right into the middle of their order - starting with standout prospect Travis Snider. Lansing has lived by the home run ball this season, ranking third in the Midwest League with 104. Travis Snider is the key to their offense. Teams that have stopped him, have often found a way to win. Outfielder Brian Pettway and catcher Matt Liuzza have joined Snider as long ball threats at the plate. The Lugnuts pitcher have not been spectacular this season, but they do feature some young and talented arms capable of shutting down an opponents on a given night.

Erie SeaWolves vs. Akron Aeros
Schedule - Best of Five
Sept. 5 vs. Akron 7:05 PM
Sept. 6 vs. Akron 7:05 PM
Sept. 7 @ Akron 7:05 PM
Sept. 8 @ Akron 7:05 PM (if necessary)
Sept. 9 vs. Akron 6:05 PM (if necessary)

Aeros Report
By Chuck Murr, IndiansInk.net

The Akron Aeros (80-61) made a late charge to gain a spot in the Eastern League playoffs against Erie. Now, they will try to win their third straight Southern Division title and make a fourth appearance in the EL Championship series in five years. Akron won the title in 2003 and 2005.

An early August slide in which they lost 10 of 14 put the Aeros in danger of missing the playoffs, but they put together a six-game winning streak in the final week and nearly edged Erie for the division title. The SeaWolves took the season series from Akron, winning 15 of 28 meetings.

Eastern League MVP Jordan Brown helped key Akron's late run. The first baseman/outfielder, who was the MVP of the Class A Carolina League in 2006, batted .333 with 11 homers, 85 runs, 76 RBI and 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts in 127 games this season.

Three players who were instrumental in leading Akron to the top of the division in the first half were promoted. Outfielder Brian Barton moved up to Buffalo, while infielder Asdrubal Cabrera and reliever Jensen Lewis each made short stops at Triple-A and are now with the Cleveland Indians.

Manager Tim Bogar likes to employ the running game. Outfielder Trevor Crowe had a team-high 28 steals, second baseman Argenis Reyes stole 27, while Cabrera and Barton stole 23 and 20, respectively. Third baseman Rodney Choy Foo provided a balance of power and speed with 12 homers and 13 steals.

Left-hander Chuck Lofgren, considered one of the top pitching prospects in the Indians' organization, will open the playoffs on Wednesday night at Erie. Lofgren, who was 17-5 with a 2.32 ERA at Class A Kinston a year ago, went 12-7 with a 4.37 ERA for the Aeros, but was 0-3 with a 6.82 ERA against the SeaWolves. He was 9-4 overall, however, on the road. Right-hander Jake Dittler, who opened the season at Triple-A Buffalo, went 6-1 with a 4.25 ERA after being sent back down to Akron. He was 1-0 against Erie.

The bullpen is strong. Setup lefty Reid Santos was 8-3 with two saves and a 2.72 ERA. Right-handers Randy Newsom, Jim Ed Warden and Jeffrey Stevens can all close games. Newsom, who throws submarine style, went 4-1 with 18 saves after being called up from Kinston. Stevens, acquired from Cincinnati in the trade that sent star second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Reds in early 2006, was 3-1 with two saves. Overall in 49 games between the Aeros and Kinston, the hard thrower went 6-3 with a 2.81 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 83 1-3 innings. Warden, sent down from Buffalo early in the year, was 4-4 with a 2.81 ERA and six saves for the Aeros.

Toledo Mud Hens vs. Durham Bulls
Schedule - Best of Five
Sept. 5 @ Durham 7:00 PM
Sept. 6 @ Durham 7:00 PM
Sept. 7 vs. Durham 7:00 PM
Sept. 8 vs. Durham 7:00 PM (if necessary)
Sept. 9 vs. Durham 7:00 PM (if necessary)

Bulls Report
By Tyler Hissey, RaysDigest.com

The Durham Bulls have enjoyed an excellent year in the International League South Division, compiling an 80-63 record in the 2007 regular season. A talented starting pitching staff – led by southpaw J.P. Howell, Jeff Niemann, one of the top pitching prospects in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays' organization, and more recently, veteran right-hander Jae Seo – is, arguably, the biggest reasons for the Bulls' success over the past three months.

In a relatively healthy season, an unusual occurrence in the immediate aftermath of being selected by Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2005 draft, Niemann, a former standout at Rice University, has turned in an impressive season, compiling a 12-6 record to along with a 3.98 ERA in 25 starts. The organization has delayed a potential call-up for Niemann with the hopes that the 6 foot 9 righty will pitch Durham deep into the playoffs.

After eight starts in the big leagues, Howell has been successful in his return to the Triple-A level. The soft left-hander, who broke Roger Clemens' all-time strikeout record during a stellar collegiate career at the University of Texas, is fourth in the International League with a 3.38 ERA. He is expected to start the series opener, squaring off against Dennis Tankersley.

Since being acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers before the trade deadline last summer, Seo has struggled to regain the form that helped him become a mainstay in the New York Mets' pitching staff earlier in the decade. But after being designated for assignment in June, the one-time baseball icon in Korea has been surprisingly consistent, especially when compared to a tumultuous first two months pitching with the Devil Rays earlier in the year (8.13 ERA in 11 starts), during a brief stint in Durham. Since his demotion, Seo is 9-4 with a 3.69 ERA overall, highlighted by six wins over his last 10 starts.

Led by outstanding closer Chad Orvella, the bullpen, a continuous headache for the Bulls' parent club, has been surprisingly effective throughout the duration of the season. Orvella, who was converted to a pitcher after a strong career as a shortstop at North Carolina State, is among league leaders with 20 saves. Opponents are batting just .203 against the hard-throwing right-hander, who also has an impressive WHIP, 1.12.

From an offensive standpoint, slugging left fielder Justin Ruggiano has carried the Bulls on his shoulders in the second half of the season. Ruggiano recently joined the 20/20 (home run/stolen bases) club in what could prove to be his finest season in his professional career. For the season, the former Texas A & M standout is batting a robust .309 with a team-leading 20 homers and 73 RBIs. Evan Longoria, one of the top infield prospects in all of Minor League Baseball, was recently promoted to Durham from Double-A. Prior to the promotion, Longoria was a force for the Montgomery Biscuits, belting 21 home runs in only 381 at bats – statistics that eventually translated into the Southern League Most Valuable Player Award. The 21-year-old third baseman, the Devil Rays' first-round draft choice, third overall, in 2006, could be a force for the Bulls in the postseason.

Also look for: Mitch Talbot, leading the Bulls with 13 wins, will make a start in the series for Durham. Since coming over from the Houston Astros – along with Ben Zobrist in the Aubrey Huff trade in 2006 – Talbot has established himself as a legitimated big-league prospect. But he got off to a slow start the year, which appeared to slow down a fast track to the back of the Tampa Bay rotation. First baseman Wes Bankston, a serious home run threat every single time that he steps up to the plate, is second on the Bulls, trailing only Ruggiano, with 15 home runs.


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