In addition to the names that are in the Tigers' everyday lineup, almost every Tiger fan knows the name Rick Porcello. Porcello, the Tigers first rounder in 2007, rocketed up the charts as the organization's top prospect, and after an impressive spring, will make his pro debut in Lakeland.
Porcello, coming straight out of high school, has arguably even more impressive stuff than the Tigers previous top pitching prospects, including Justin Verlander and Andrew Miller. The only thing standing between Porcello and the big leagues is experience, which he'll begin to get with the Flying Tigers.
Beyond Porcello though, the Flying Tigers still have a handful of other prospects to keep an eye on.
And that list starts behind the plate. James Skelton, after an impressive first full season with West Michigan, will take the majority of the games behind the plate as Lakeland's catcher. Skelton, while undersized, has proven solid defensively and displayed good pop in his bat.
Moving around the diamond, the Tigers have a pair of prospects that will garner plenty of attention this summer up the middle; second baseman Scott Sizemore and shortstop Cale Iorg. Sizemore really came on in the second half of the season and kept that going in the Arizona Fall League, ranking second in the league in batting average and OPS. Iorg meanwhile hasn't put up the numbers yet, but was a highly touted prospect prior to his two year Mormon mission, and received a seven-figure signing bonus from the Tigers. As manager Andy Barkett stated, "Iorg is a special talent." Once the rust is gone, he's someone that could potentially move quickly, especially considering his ceiling based on his prior performance.
At the corners will be Ryan Strieby and Santo de Leon. Strieby put up solid power numbers at West Michigan despite being in a pitcher friendly park and league. De Leon, who will likely share some time with Michael Bertram, has a good glove but has yet to show much more than occasional gap power thus far.
Backing up the infielders will be Shawn Roof and Louis Ott.
Moving to the outfield, where the West Michigan outfield has moved up together and will take the playing time out there. Brennan Boesch was expected to provide more power in '07, but by showing a bit more patience at the plate, he'll likely see his numbers across the board take a jump up.
Meanwhile, it took a couple years, but it appears as if Jeramy Laster might finally be putting it together, translating his impressive athletic ability to baseball production. Laster hit 40 extra base hits in '07, and continued to hit the cover off the ball in the Hawaii Winter League, where he ranked third with a .585 slugging percentage.
Brandon Timm and Justin Justice fill out the rest of the Lakeland outfield, with Justice being the lone holdover from '07. Justice showed good gap power for the Flying Tigers last year, while Timm struggled some with the bat in what was mostly part-time duty. Both will compete for playing time for the final slot in the outfield. Justice has the experience, but Barkett stated Timm "has an above-average major league arm and can go get it in the outfield."
Moving to the pitching staff beyond Porcello, the Flying Tigers also happen to sport TigsTown's 2007 Minor League Pitcher of the Year; Duane Below. Below had 13 wins, an ERA under three, and led the Midwest League with 160 strikeouts.
Two notable members of the Flying Tigers pitching staff will start the year on the disabled list; Jeff Gerbe and Guillermo Moscoso. Both are battling mild shoulder tendinitis. Taking the final slot in the rotation will be another member of the top 50; Luis Marte.
The Flying Tigers will be managed by Andy Barkett, who previously managed the Oneonta Tigers. Joe Coleman returns as the pitching coach, while Larry Herndon comes back as the hitting coach.
The Flying Tigers have had a couple of down seasons, but with a new man at the helm, and some impressive talent, the Flying Tigers look poised to have a great '08 season. Said Barkett, "'We believe we have the makings of a championship club. We inherited a lot of a championship club from last year, and we are really looking forward to the season."