On opening day, twelve players on the new roster had seen playing time in Lakeland before, while the other fifteen had yet to play at the High A level, including 2007 first round draft pick Rick Porcello.
Porcello made his professional debut in the season opener with a 4-1 win on the road in Tampa, allowing one hit in five innings of work, while striking out three. Perhaps by plan, Porcello would never pitch more than six innings in any game with Lakeland. Quite frequently, the Tigers' top prospect's fastball would reach 95-97 MPH consistently. Several other pitches were mixed in throughout the season with the most interesting being a slurve. Porcello would end the season with an 8-6 overall record in twenty-four starts with a 2.66 ERA.
Rick's major highlight of the season came from a combined no-hit, seven inning game by the Flying Tigers pitching staff. The nineteen year old pitched five hitless innings but was still credited with an earned run. Regardless, he registered the win as Robert Weinhardt pitched an inning for the hold and newcomer The major highlight of the week came from a combined no-hit, seven inning game by the Flying Tigers pitching staff headlined by top prospect Rick Porcello. The nineteen year old pitched five hitless innings but was still credited with an earned run. Regardless, he registered the win as Robert Weinhardt pitched an inning for the hold and newcomer Cody Satterwhite pitched the last inning to register his first save with the Flying Tigers. Porcello would go on to make the Florida State League postseason All-Star team.
Another Flying Tigers' starting pitcher that excelled this season was Oregon State product Jonah Nickerson. Perhaps more impressive than Porcello's combined no-hitter were the two times that Nickerson took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. Nickerson finished the season with 114 strikeouts and a 12-4 record.
In addition to minor league pitchers that impressed, there were also a couple of Major League rehab assignments that took the mound in Lakeland, with the first of them being flamethrower Joel Zumaya. Before heading to AAA Toldeo, Zumaya would appear in two games for the Flying Tigers and pitch a total of three innings. In his first outing, the Major Leaguer looked more trim than usual and was threw in the high 90's consistently according to the stadium's radar gun. He even reached 101 at one point and there was some movement on his fastball – this was major progress towards getting back to Detroit as Dave Dombrowski watched from behind home plate. In his second and final appearance for Lakeland, Zumaya pitched a hitless inning and struck out one.
The second Major League pitcher to take the mound in Lakeland was Dontrelle Willis, former Rookie of the Year. Willis relieved Duane Below in his first appearance with the club and struggled from the mound, giving up one hit and one earned run while walking three batters in a predetermined two innings of work. At one point, manager Andy Barkett and the trainers visited the mound in the seventh inning to check the health of the struggling pitcher. As the rehab assignment progressed, Willis would stretch his outings longer and longer as time went by. In one of his better early outings, Dontrelle pitched three innings against St. Lucie, giving up one earned run on four hits and one strikeout while walking zero. There was a noticible change in the famous leg kick and the delivery also seemed like less effort was needed. His location pitches registered in the low 80 MPHs while the harder thrown pitches ranged anywhere from the mid-80's to low 90's. In his longest outing of the season at Lakeland, Willis then pitched five innings while giving up one earned run and walking three. He also struck out three batters. Reports claimed that he still struggled to throw strikes and narrowly escaped several dangerous situations, stranding multiple Sarasota baserunners. Regardless, progress was being made. Overall, he pitched in six different games in the Florida State League before being moved up to AAA Toledo.
Also pitching for Lakeland this season with Major League experience was Jordan Tata. In his first start for the club, Jordan pitched five innings and gave up five runs, but only three of them were earned. He looked on spot for the first several innings until he gave up a home run. From that point on, Tata looked pretty rattled. Battling injuries and control issues, Tata never really found his niche this season, also spending time with the GCL squad. The pitcher's status with the team at this point is uncertain. Most recently, Freddy Garcia also joined the Flying Tigers for one game upon being signed despite not playing since 2005. Garcia pitched two innings while only giving up three hits and walking one batter before being sent up to AAA Toldeo after Chris Lambert was promoted.
While all of the rehab assignments drew a decent amount of attention, the one that drew the biggest crowd locally was that of Gary Sheffield who joined the team to rehab his strained left oblique and took the role of designated hitter for five games. Over those five games, the Major League veteran batted 2-13 for an average of .154. His only two hits were both home runs. In his first game with the team, Sheffield was designated hitter for the night, going 0-2 with two long pop-outs and a walk. He did manage to score a run though as the team scored the victory 3-2. In his first appearance in front of the home crowd and also uncle Dwight Gooden, Sheffield swung at the second pitch on both of his first two at bats and flied out. The third at bat he drew a walk and then finally he was walked intentionally. In his second home game and final rehab game in Lakeland he hit a home run.
Shifting focus now to the minor league hitters, the highlights were few but impressive in this 2008 season. Leading the team in average was catcher James Skelton who batted .307 while also leading the team in walks with sixty-four. Several other batters pieced together impressive weeks, including Michael Bertram who batted .409 this one week with a double, a triple, and four home runs, and then followed the next week by batting .409 again with three doubles. Also, shortstop Cale Iorg batted .251 and was named to the Florida State League postseason All-Star team despite being injured during parts of the second half of the season.
Outfielder Jeramy Laster led the league in home runs for a large part of the first half of the season before being passed by first baseman Ryan Strieby who would exceed the franchise record of twenty-five despite being injured for some time at the end of the season. Strieby would go on to bat .278 and would be named the Tigers minor league player of the year.
Laster, on the other hand, ended up striking out at record paces, hitting his mark of two hundred strikeouts on the dot, despite batting .300 the final week and not playing the last game of the season. Jeramy, however, did hit for a significant amount of power this season and hit home runs in his last three games, bringing his season ending total to twenty-four.
As the season drew to a close, there were several interesting moments for Flying Tigers' fans. Three 2008 draft picks took the mound for the squad – Robbie Weinhardt, Cody Satterwhite, and Ryan Perry. Weinhardt started the season off well, lasting almost twenty-four innings before giving up an earned run. Satterwhite impressed as well, but the real focus was on first round pick Ryan Perry. Ryan's fastball was consistently around 100 MPH and he was throwing a secondary pitch that was generally 90-91 MPH. High-A ball really wasn't too much of a challenge for this year's first round pick.
While those three players were expected to join the team toward the end of the season to help the bullpen out, one unlikely candidate that would pitch some was already on the roster –Brandon Timm. The outfielder pitched in two games in the last week of the season. In his first appearance during the week, he pitched one inning with a strikeout while giving up zero hits. The second showing wasn't as promising, as he gave up one earned run and walked three before rain would come and cancel the rest of the game with two outs to go in the ninth. Control seemed to be lacking in the second game but his fastball was registering in the low 90's. Regardless, it was interesting to see Timm used in this way (and he claims that we planned to go to college to be a closer).
Overall, the Lakeland squad was interesting to watch, even though they were not all that successful. In the first half of the season, the team registered a 35-34 record, and the second half wasn't any better with a 32-36 record, placing them at three games below .500 for the season. As always, instructional leagues will resume this offseason and many changes are to be made before and during spring ball. Tigstown wishes the best of luck to all who participated on the 2008 Flying Tigers roster.