TigsTown Offseason MLN: Making Their Case

Things are heating up, as all of the off-season leagues are underway, with great baseball continuing beyond just the World Series. Two more young Tigers are now in game action again, and there progress will be closely monitored as they could have a profound impact on the direction of the 2009 Tiger season.

Kicking things off in Puerto Rico, catcher Dusty Ryan has seen action in three games for Ponce so far; picking up just two hits in twelve at-bats. He has already walked three times and driven in a run, so there have been some positives. Despite the paltry .167 average, Ryan has gotten on base in each game he has played; a nice continuing trend from his breakout 2008 campaign.

Moving over to the Mexican Pacific League, Matt Joyce had a last minute change of plans and has taken the field in Mexico instead of joining Ryan in Puerto Rico. Joyce has seen action in ten games for Aguilas, posting a .206/.282/.382 line thus far. With three doubles and a home run, Matt has driven in seven runs already, and is continuing his slugging trend from this summer in Detroit.

Playing opposite him in the MPL, Max Leon still hasn't gotten things rolling. He has collected just three hits since November 4th, a span of seven games and 16 at-bats. Max appears to be seeing the ball better, with six walks in that same span, but the hits just aren't falling. For those hoping Leon may be able to contend for a roster spot in Detroit after hitting for average and getting on base at both Erie and Toledo in 2008, that optimism may have been a touch premature.

Out in Hawaii, Kyle Peter continues his tear. With five more hits in just 14 at-bats since our last update, Peter is now hitting at a .354/.407/.463 clip. The speedy second-year outfielder is clearly showing that he can hit the ball around the field and get on-base with the best of them. His shiny .354 average is good for third in the league, behind only San Francisco catcher Buster Posey and Philadelphia outfielder Dominic Brown; both of whom have yet to play as many games as Kyle. Peter also ranks eight in both on-base percentage and OPS, and third in steals.

Contrary to Peter's continued hot streak, James Skelton has cooled a bit in the warm Hawaii weather. Over his last four games, James is just 2-for-13 with a double and two runs driven home. His strikeouts have also jumped, with a pair of three whiff performances in his last four games. Skelton still sits at .281/.405/.391, which clearly shows he's still capable of drawing walks, but he may be being overpowered and attacked more as scouting reports circulate about his lack of power.

Rounding out the Hawaii action, right-hander Andrew Hess didn't have the best of weeks, giving up two runs on four hits in just three innings last week, and then giving up three runs on a walk and two hits without recording an out over the weekend. The rough outings have jumped Hess' ERA to 3.86 for the fall season.

Having played as the reserve shortstop in Detroit the last two years, 29-year old Ramon Santiago was hoping to use the Dominican Winter League season as a spring board to competing for the full-time job in 2009. So far, so good for the slick fielder, as he has hit an impressive .308/.429/.385 in his first 15 games. After a season in which he hit well in limited action, Santiago is continuing that trend, showing that he may have found that swing that made him a highly thought of prospect coming up through the Detroit system.

The early returns haven't been nearly as good for outfielder Brent Clevlen. For a player out of options, needing to make the big club out of spring training, you'd like to see something a little more inspiring than a .250/.368/.292 line. Though the walks and defense are there, he's simply not hitting the ball with authority. The Tigers are going to have a very difficult decision with the multi-tooled outfielder, and could be at risk of losing him if he can't show enough to make the Opening Day roster.

Jumping back to the states, the Arizona Fall League is trucking along, with both Jeff Larish and Casper Wells continuing to shine. Larish now leads the circuit in RBI with 27, all while hitting an outstanding .324/.383/.559 for the Solar Sox. His performance at the plate has been supported by some nifty glove work as well, as he has shown solid ability at third base; a nice sign for the big club that would like to see him work in a reserve role at the position in 2009.

Wells is riding a very nice six-game hit streak, in which he has gone 11-for-23 with three doubles and three home runs. Casper's fall line is now up to .327/.462/.615, and despite some tight roster restrictions, he may be forcing Rocket Wheeler to find more time on the diamond for him.

While Wells and Larish are flying high with extra-base hits in Arizona, infielder Will Rhymes continues his singles barrage. Of his six hits in the last five games, all of them have gone for singles. Rhymes has just one multi-base hit so far this fall, a double nearly two weeks ago. Despite never being known for extra-base power, it is a little discouraging to see the complete lack of pop from Will this fall. He'll need to hit with a touch more authority – simply mixing in some doubles – if he's to continue making progress toward a big league job.

On the mound in Arizona, Casey Fien has continued his amazing run of avoiding walks. Always known as a strike throwing machine in West Michigan and Erie the last two years, Fien has yet to yield a free pass to anyone in the AFL thus far. In 12 2/3 innings of work, Casey has fanned 13 hitters and given up 13 hits. A 2-0 with two saves and a 2.13 ERA, Fien continues to make a very strong case for a big league bullpen job next spring.

Zach Simons and Rudy Darrow also have big league aspirations in 2009, and they both continue to turn in solid performances for Coach Wheeler. In 11 1/3 innings on the hill, the hard throwing Simons is sporting a 3.97 ERA, while Darrow has a 2.61 ERA in just one less inning of work.

Though his ERA does not necessarily reflect it, Luis Marte has started firing on all cylinders again. After missing a couple of weeks with some muscle soreness in his shoulder, Marte was back on the hill last night with two innings of one-hit ball. Marte has now fanned 19 hitters in just 14 innings of work.

Rounding things out on our fall tour, right-hander Guillermo Moscoso got back on track after a couple of rough outings. In a three-inning stint last week, Guillermo allowed just one hit and two walks to earn the win in relief for Caracas. The performance dropped his season ERA to 3.24. There is still a large red flag with Moscoso thus far, and that is the combination of a .306 batting average against, and a groundout-flyout ratio of 0.55; both numbers that could be problematic as he attempts to make a push for the big leagues in 2009.

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