TigsTown Analysis: The GCL Tigers

At long last, the final Detroit minor league affiliate gets their season underway on Thursday. The GCL Tigers will open their 2008 campaign with a roster that should be very interesting to follow throughout the season. With 13 players from this year's draft, and several intriguing players making their stateside debut, there should be some exciting moments on the back fields at Tigertown.

The Tigers will carry three catchers, two of whom will be in their second season in the organization. Brandon Harrigan and Derek Lehrman both saw time with short-season clubs last summer, and they will be joined by undrafted free agent Keith Hernandez. Lehrman will be the defensive stalwart of the bunch, with both Hernandez and Harrigan having potential at the plate. I would expect Harrigan and Lehrman to split the bulk of the duties, as Hernandez's defensive limitations may keep him from working with a staff that needs the most it can get from its battery mate.

Up the middle on the infield, the GCL squad has some serious intrigue. Led by newly drafted shortstops Brett Anderson, Brandon Douglas, and Adam Frost, there is plenty of potential at the infield's most demanding spot. Frost has the potential to be a premium defender with a cannon arm, and he also brings well above-average speed to the table. Anderson has the potential at the plate, but will need some work in the field in order to stick at short long term. Douglas is easily the most polished of the trio, and he might have the most likelihood of becoming a top notch prospect. He's flashed excellent tools in the past, and after a tough 2007 season, he bounced back in 2008.

Also recently drafted, second basemen Josh Workman and Carmelo Jaime will split time at the keystone. Workman's physical tools are what scouts dream of, but they have yet to translate to total on-field success. Jaime is a contact and defense type that should succeed right out of the gate. The middle infield is rounded out by two Latin players in their first season stateside; with Luis Palacios and Gustavo Nunez capable of playing either shortstop or second base. Both players have patient approaches and good hand-eye coordination, so we could see them on base routinely if they get playing time.

Moving to the infield corners, you will likely see players like Nunez and Palacios spend some time at third, and there is a chance Anderson could move over there right off the bat. There are no true third basemen on the roster, so it will be interesting to see the direction the organization takes. At fist base, stateside rookie Luis Grullon will look to translate his 2007 success in the DSL to the GCL fields. He has improving glove work around the bag at first, and some juice in his bat. Splitting time between first and designated hitter will be 2008 draftee Jordan Lennerton, out of Oregon State. Lennerton has a solid all-around skill set, but nothing that will blow you away.

The outfield should be a blast to watch on this team, highlighted by uber-athletes like Londell Taylor and D'Andrea Vaughn, Asian import Chao-Ting Tang, and Venezuelan standout Alexis Espinoza. Taylor will be taking the field after an ugly broken ankle that ended his rookie season in the GCL. With his incredible athleticism and tremendous raw tools, he should be exciting to watch develop.

The Tigers finally broke into the amateur market on the Pacific Rim with the signing of Tang, and it will be very interesting to see what he brings to the table in the States. TigsTown.com has been hyping Espinoza's package for two years, and its now time to see if it can translate to the American game. Espinoza has excellent raw power, a strong arm, and good all-around baseball skills. Also in the outfield will be Luis Salas, who joins the team after being sent down from an emergency stint in Lakeland, and the recently drafted Billy Nowlin. Despite being announced as a catcher on draft day, the Tigers have listed Nowlin in the outfield on the Opening Day roster. Nowlin's bat is his ticket to the big leagues, so removing the rigors of catching may prove a wise decision.

The GCL pitching staff has the largest surprise on the roster; with third-round pick Scott Green reportedly debuting at the rookie level in spite of rampant rumors that he may be starting with West Michigan. Green has wonderful stuff and he just needs to prove healthy and improve his command to become a serious prospect.

The pitching staff also features several Latin prospects, including Victor Larez, Luis Sanz, Darlyn Duran, Brayan Villareal, Dario Carvajal, and Orlando Perdomo. Duran was exceptional in the DSL last year, and he has plenty of projection heading into his stateside debut. The tiny lefty will be one to watch on this year's roster. Villareal and Perdomo are both returning from Tommy John surgery, with Perdomo's return having been more problematic. If healthy, there is some hope that Perdomo may return to his prior form quickly and move up the ladder in short order.

In addition to Green, the 2008 draft will also be represented by Rob Waite, Nick Cassavechia, Jade Todd, Thad Weber, and Robbit Weinhardt. The assignment of Waite and Cassavechia to the GCL is a bit of a surprise, as both possess the stuff and experience to logically handle the New-York Penn League. Keep an eye on Weber, whose electric stuff tailed off late in the year at Nebraska, but a nice rest over the last couple of weeks may be just what he needed. Rounding out the arms will be undrafted free agent Hayden Lackey and 2007 draft choice Richard Zumaya. Zumaya's presence on the roster will be one to monitor closely, as some scouts believe he may be inclined to see a huge spike in velocity, similar to that of his brother, Joel.

In the end, there are plenty of very talented prospects worth following on this year's GCL roster, so pay close attention. There could be breakouts from stateside rookies, translation of tools to skills from supreme athletes, and plenty of high-powered fastballs crossing home plate. While results in the standings may not say so, this is one of the most promising GCL rosters in recent memory.


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