Starting with the group practicing with the West Michigan squad in spring training, Gustavo Nunez really stood out as the guy to watch. A shortstop with blazing speed, Nunez stood out during the instructional league last fall, but he looked even better a few months later. His instincts at shortstop remain exceptional, and his arm is strong enough for the position. His plus speed gives him outstanding range to both sides, and his soft hands allow him to pick it with the best. Last fall he looked the part of a slap hitting type, but he was staying back and driving the ball more this spring. He still doesn't look like a guy that will rack up doubles or home runs, but with some added strength he could be a true offensive asset. Some in the organization believe he can handle any challenge put in front of him, and I expect him to have a nice showing in the Midwest League this summer.
Brandon Douglas and Mike Gosse both saw time opposite Nunez during the spring, and the excitement around Douglas isn't without merit. He showed a quick short swing that generates average power for a middle infielder, and I really liked his glove at the keystone. He showed better range at second than he had at shortstop, and he could really become a solid prospect if he takes to the position. His concept of the strike zone is sound, but I think he will have some adjustment this year to better breaking balls.
People had warned me just how tiny Mike Gosse is, but it just doesn't register until you see him in person. He really is a small guy, but he swings the bat like he means it, and he can get the ball in the gaps with ease. I like his offensive game, but he looked pretty rough in the field. He's never going to be know for his glove work, but he's also going to have to make some strides at the position if he's going to have any lengthy pro career.
Two other young middle infielders that really showed well in limited action while I was in town were Carmelo Jaime and Hernan Perez. Jaime showed good versatility with above-average defense at both second and short, with plenty of arm for both positions. I love his speed and he demonstrated excellent bunting ability, both on the drag and push. He's raw as an offensive player, but there is promise that merits watching.
Despite just arriving in the states, Perez looked like he belonged on the field with the best of the Tigers prospects. His defense is largely potential right now, but you can see soft hands, excellent range, and improving instincts. He could be a plus-plus defender in time.
I had not seen Justin Henry since he was at Oneonta in 2007, and I really had forgotten how big he actually is. He has size and speed, which both play well at second base. His arm strength on the pivot was impressive, and he stood in without fear as runners barreled in on him. However, the size doesn't really translate to the plate, as he's more of a singles and doubles hitter that uses his exceptional strike zone judgment to get himself in hitters counts. He may not get the attention of guys like Sizemore, Hollimon, and Rhymes, but he should be in with that group in terms of overall potential.
Audy Ciriaco wasn't around too much this spring, spending some time with the big league club while I was there, but there was still some talk of him around the complex. I heard rumblings of a couple of monster shots he had hit recently, and there was some discussion that his power may finally be translating to game action. While he was away, Roger Tomas was playing some shortstop for the Lakeland club, and I suppose you could color me less than impressed. He looked stretched defensively at shortstop, and his bat looked very ordinary. With his ability to passably handle three infield positions, he'll serve a purpose this year, but I'm not a fan of his prospect status.
The Double-A tandem up the middle may be the most exciting group in the organization, with Cale Iorg and Scott Sizemore working as the double-play combination. I addressed Iorg extensively last fall, and he looked just as good this spring. TigsTown Executive Editor Paul Wezner had not seen him live before, and watching him catch him for the first time was quite entertaining. He simply makes the game look easy, and his pitch recognition appears to be making some small strides. He could be in for a big year in 2009.
Sizemore looked better swinging this spring than he did as he just started his comeback from the wrist in jury last fall. He looked to have some of his pop back and I'd expect him to be back to lacing doubles to all fields with ease. The key may be his aggressiveness at the plate. He looked a little hesitant on some swings, which is very uncharacteristic of him. Defensively, he looked solid, though unspectacular. His range is roughly average but he has a head for the position and should be a fine double-play partner for Iorg in Erie.
Rounding things out, we caught just a brief glimpse of Danny Worth on two days while we were there. He has bulked up a touch and looks like a more durable player, something that could be huge for him having battled injuries the last two years. His arm strength showed well after the shoulder had healed, and I liked his actions on balls in play. Offensively, I'm still not convinced he can hit enough to be a regular. He doesn't seem to have much authority in his swing, and he's got the look of a punch and judy type hitter. The glove will get him time in the big leagues, but the bat will keep him from playing everyday.