Position: First Baseman
Larish joined the Tigers as a 5th round choice out of Arizona State in 2005. Prior to ASU, Jeff was a standout high school player, garnering a litany of regional, state, and local awards as a junior and senior. Leaving high school, he was drafted in the 32nd round by the Chicago Cubs, but chose to honor his commitment to the Sun Devils. As a freshman, Larish posted a .328/.447/.477 line but only managed an Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 nod.
His stock began to soar as a sophomore, as he knocked an incredible .372/.528/.697 line, and took home more awards than one can count. He took home 1st Team All-Pac 10, NCBWA 3rd Team All-American, Collegiate Baseball 2nd Team All-American, ABCA 3rd Team All-American, and All West Regional honors. In addition, Larish set the ASU single-season record for grand slams with four, and became only the schools second member of the 70-70 club (RBI-BB). His efforts in 2003 landed him on the US National Team where he notched a .255/.381/.539 line while playing in 20 Pan-American games.
Despite his sophomore success and pre-season accolades (Street & Smith's Pre-season Player of the Year and Pre-season All-American), Larish's junior season came as a disappointment. His .308/.396/.468 line was hampered by a wrist injury that sapped much of his power. He still managed to earn Honorable Mention All-Pac 10 as well as the Mr. Sun Devil Award, but was only drafted in the 13th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Jeff turned down a $660,000 offer to return to ASU for his senior season. As a senior, Jeff came alive again, posting a much more impressive season and making the Golden Spikes Award watch list. After a three-homer game in the NCAA tournament, Larish's stock soared heading to the draft. In the end, he finished his Sun Devil career ranked 2nd on the career homerun list behind Bob Horner, 2nd on the career walk list, 3rd on the career runs list, and 4th on the career RBI list.
After a long final season at ASU, Larish's professional debut was delayed until August when he spent a brief 6-game stint with the GCL Tigers, before moving on to post a .297/.416/.625 line in 18 games for the Oneonta Tigers. In his first full season, Jeff skipped all the way to High-A Lakeland, where he enjoyed a truly banner year, finishing in the league's top six in runs (76), doubles (34), homeruns (18), walks (81), and OPS (.829). He was easily Lakeland's best player that season, taking home Player of the Month honors in May, June, and August, while also being named the TigsTown Lakeland Player of the Year to complete his season.
A jump to Erie in 2007 didn't slow Jeff's assault on the Detroit roster, as he again posted another impressive season; raising his batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging while moving up a level. Finishing the year on fire (.333/.448/.625 in August) gave Larish his second TigsTown Erie Player of the Month award of the year, and his sixth award total. Jeff finished the year ranked first in the Eastern League in both home runs (28) and RBI (101), while also drawing 87 walks, good enough for second in the circuit.
The Tigers made the next logical step with Larish in 2008, promoting him to Triple-A Toledo. As much as things change, they often do stay the same, as Larish continued to slug the ball in his first month at Triple-A; ripping seven doubles and seven home runs in just 26 April games. He continued to hit in May and made his big league debut in June. He was back and forth from Detroit to Toledo throughout the rest of the season, and then spent the fall working at third base in the Arizona Fall League. He mashed in the AFL and showed enough progress at third that the Tigers are optimistic about his versatility.
Larish's strongest offensive tool is his exceptional strike zone judgment and ability to recognize pitches. He is a patient hitter who is focused on finding his pitch and driving it when it arrives. Larish has great strength in his wrists and snaps the bat through the zone with exceptional force, generating loads of power from pole-to-pole. He has a unique stance that sometimes precludes him from getting around on inside fastballs, but he's shown the ability to adjust without revamping his mechanics. Larish can hit pitches in all quadrants of the strike zone with great power, and is willing to drive tough pitches to all parts of the park in order to be a complete hitter.
While his power is obvious, he has a tendency to focus too much on driving the ball out of the park, making his offensive game incomplete at times. He is at his best when he uses the whole field, and allows his raw strength to power the ball out of the park.
Larish is an average athlete with moderate speed, but good instincts around the bag at first. He has a very strong and accurate arm that is hidden at first base. Though many scouts were skeptical of his ability to handle third base at the pro level, he has showed solid actions and a strong arm. His range isn't exceptional, and his hands must improve, but his AFL coach Rocket Wheeler liked what he saw and felt with additional reps that he could become an average defender.
Jeff is an intense competitor that thrives in big situations. He appears to increase his focus late in games and with runners on base. In the season's final game with Erie in 2007, Larish needed a home run with runners on to crack the 100-RBI barrier. In his final at-bat, he not only accomplished that feat, but he also put the game out of reach, ensuring Erie would head to the playoffs.
Larish is an excellent power prospect, but the other components of his offensive game leave some wondering about his ability to succeed at the Major League level. He has the defensive ability and 30-35 home run power to be a serious threat on a big league roster.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% AAA
Larish has been very healthy as a pro, and that is a large testament to his strong work ethic and exceptional physical condition. He had some hand/wrist troubles in college, but those are well in the past and they have yet to resurface.
Larish is in a tight battle with Brent Clevlen, Marcus Thames, and Ryan Raburn, for the final spot on the Tigers' Opening Day roster. His left-handed bat and plus power are attributes the Tigers could use on their bench; but options and contractual figures could conspire to keep him in the minor leagues to start the year. With Miguel Cabrera firmly entrenched at first base, Larish will have to continue to grow as a defender, showing average ability at third and possibly resurrecting his outfield skills to become a power hitting utility player that could fill a significant hole in the Tigers lineup. Larish likely has a big league career ahead of him, but his ultimate role is still undetermined.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.