The Big Four – Four of the Tigers top five picks last June were hard-throwing college righties. Three of the four were on the mound this week, while a fourth is unlikely to take the hill until next spring. Scott Green is in Florida doing some minor rehab right now, and though I was told in later conversations that it is in fact minor in nature, he's had injury concerns in recent years, so it'd be nice to see him healthy.
Brett Jacobson looked exactly like I expected based on the comments of several Midwest League coaches. Basically, he looked like the first round pick he was projected to be coming off the Cape in 2007. His fastball was electric, coming out of his high arm slot with a tremendous downward plane on hitters. He worked low in the zone with easy mid-90s velocity and good command. His curveball showed well and gave hitters fits after they worked to try and catch up with his heater. His delivery has some deception that helps his fastball get on hitters even quicker than the velocity suggests. He will move quickly.
Cody Satterwhite also looked good this week, though as expected he did look more raw than Jacobson. His fastball was overpowering, and both his slider and change were average pitches with above-average flashes. Braves prospect Cody Johnson was overheard saying ‘He throws that hard and still drops in that kind of slider; that's just not fair.' His velocity alone will allow him to move quickly, but he needs more refinement than Perry or Jacobson.
Perry's brief appearance on the mound wasn't what was expected, as it appeared they were having him focus on mixing in an inordinate number of breaking balls and change-ups. Both pitches looked solid, though he's never going to be able to pitch off of them. He needs the blazing fastball to make them more effective. One of the treats of the week was watching Perry square off with Gorkys Hernandez in a very nice at-bat on Thursday. Gorkys came out the victor with a single to right on a letter high fastball, but the at-bat was exactly what you would expect from two elite prospects. Wrapping up the talk of these four prospects, it appears from my discussions this week that all four will be worked in the bullpen to start 2009. While most people I spoke with were non-committal, reading between the lines and watching what they're having them work on, it leads me to believe all four will be pitching in relief next season, and likely long term.
Casey Crosby – He wasn't on the hill while I was in town, but he was around plenty. He's bulked up quite a bit since the draft, and he flat out looks great. Barkett told me he's been 94-97 with his fastball this fall, and it has been absolutely electric. He's not as polished as someone like Porcello, but his raw stuff is mind boggling, particularly for a left-hander. I'll be surprised if he's anywhere except West Michigan next spring, though he may have a chance to head to Lakeland.
Alfredo Figaro – All reports out of the Midwest League had him working at 93-96 most of the summer, but he was only working at 88-92 on Thursday. Though I couldn't get a definite answer, some seemed to indicate he was dialing it back for more movement and control. The results were positive, and if the intent is to keep him in the rotation, it may be a change worthy of consideration going forward. If he is to move to the bullpen, I think he'd be better off dialing it back up to the mid-90s. Either way, the raw stuff is still impressive and he is in fact becoming more of a pitcher. If he doesn't see Erie in 2009, I doubt he makes it to Detroit, but given his stuff and improvement over the last twelve months, Erie isn't out of the question to start.
Matt Hoffman – He's added more bulk than I was told, particularly in the lower half, but that's a good thing given his mechanics and drive off the mound. He worked down the mound well, and showed an ability to pitch rather than just throw. His curveball flashed as a plus offering, but was inconsistent in both its command and quality. Hoffman's biggest issue right now is regularly spotting his fastball to both sides of the plate. As with many young pitchers, he has some difficulty repeating his mechanics, which is leading to many of his problems throwing quality strikes. I expect him to refine his delivery and get a consistent arm slot, and that will be a major step forward for him.
Gabriel Herrera – Another one of the Tigers live-armed Latin prospects, Herrera had a rough outing when I saw him my first day there. He couldn't find the strike zone and looked like a pure thrower instead of pitcher. Several coaches in town indicated that outing was the aberration, not the norm. He has a chiseled physique with tons of strength and a fastball with explosive late life at 90-94 mph. I didn't many of his sliders outside of warm-ups, but it looked like an average offering. With his arm strength, I'd expect him to be stateside in February.
Darwin De Leon – The tiny lefties fastball looked to have gained a bit more velocity since I last discussed him with some coaches last spring, and he was working at 89-92 pretty regularly on Saturday. His curveball needs refinement, but showed promise as a quality second offering. There was little doubt about his desire to attack hitters with his best stuff from the first pitch, and he consistently worked ahead in the count. Stamina appeared to be a bit of an issue, but it has been a long season for him, and I expect that is not normally such a concern. I think he's ready for full-season ball, and he has a good chance of establishing himself as a legitimate prospect. Victor Larez – One of the most impressive pitchers I saw in my three days on site, Larez has a huge ceiling on the mound. He has a long, lanky frame with plenty of room for added strength and bulk. He was already working at 90-93 with ease, and the ball just jumped out of his hand. As you might expect, he was a bit raw in terms of command, but his mechanics are smooth and simple, and something he should be able to repeat as he develops further. I liked both his breaking ball and change-up, though both are merely average pitches right now, they have the potential to be much more. He's already a real prospect, and he should be considered someone that could be a big time riser in 2009.
Robbie Weinhardt – While his extended scoreless innings streak at the start of his career set high expectations, there is reason for legitimate optimism with Robbie. His fastball was working at 92-93 with good sink, and he was absolutely coming right at every hitter he faced. Despite giving up the Astros' first hit of the day on Saturday, he wasn't rattled, and came right back with strikes to the next hitter. His slider showed as above-average at times, and needs only increased command to remain there all the time. Those clamoring for him to be a contender for Detroit in April, may be on the wishful side, but I wouldn't rule out 2010 for him.
Anthony Shawler – Shawler was another guy that attacked hitters with strikes. He showed more deception with his breaking ball, and it was more a of a swing and miss pitch for him. He has a deeper arsenal than many of the Tigers '08 college draftees, and he knows how to use it. He mixed all four pitches to all parts of the zone, and confounded many of the Astros hitters he faced in three innings of work. Even with a deep arsenal that could lend to a starting role, he profiles a touch better in the bullpen, where he could work in any number of roles.
Thad Weber – Yet another strike throwing machine from that second tier of draftees from this summer, Weber didn't show the blazing 94-95 mph fastball he was reported to have shown in college, but he did show some good stuff and a certain guile on the mound that made his stuff play up a tick. With the velocity down a touch, I like him in the rotation, and think he may have a chance to work there going forward. There's nothing overwhelming about his total package, but he's a quality arm with a chance at success at the higher levels.
Jay Sborz – The numbers don't lie from his performance in Lakeland this summer; he's found the raw stuff that made him such a high draft choice. Sborz flashed mid-90s gas with good control, and a nasty curveball that buckled one set of knees in three batters. He has a closers mentality, and comes in firing his best stuff from the first pitch. He didn't mess around with any of the hitters he faced, preferring to just get in, fire smoke, and end the game. Detroit in 2009 is not out of the question after a stop in Erie to start the year.
Trevor Feeney and Rob Waite – Both pitchers looked good in their limited roles this past week, pumping fastballs at 88-92 with a bit of sink. Feeney flashed a nice breaking ball and a promising change-up, both of which will work as quality pitches in the bullpen; allowing him to get outs at obscene rates. Waite looked like the raw pitcher he was projected to be; firing fastballs without much command and a breaking ball that showed plus potential low in the zone.
Lester Oliveros – Though I'd never seen him live before, this was precisely what I expected to see based on scouting reports. Lester is a guy that attacks hitters with his best stuff; a fastball and slider that look like plus pitches with a little more refinement. He didn't show a ton of pinpoint command, but he showed an ability to fire strikes low in the zone with both pitches, and that should be enough for him to get outs at higher levels once he settles down and just chucks it. Despite his relatively poor showing in Lakeland, I expect him to be in a position to move quite quickly as a high leverage reliever in an organization that loves power arms.