Toledo – Luke French (LHP)
It's a different Luke French on the mound in 2009. Right now he looks like the type of pitcher the Tigers envisioned when they selected him in the 8th round of the 2004 draft. After an up-tick in each of his pitches since last year, French took it to International League hitters in his first taste of Triple-A. In four starts spanning 22 innings, French went 1-1 with a 2.45 ERA and 24 strikeouts against only six walks. That type of performance is exactly the step forward Luke needed to take to go from being considered a good 4-A starter to potential MLB back of the rotation guy.
Runner-Up: Freddy Dolsi (RHP)
Erie – Alfredo Figaro (RHP)
There some consternation among analysts and fans over the off-season when Alfredo Figaro was added to the 40-man roster, and all he's done in the early going of 2009 is silence his critics. In his first exposure to Double-A at age 24, Figaro sported a 0.96 ERA and 0.70 WHIP in 19 innings (three starts) against the most advanced competition of his career. Figaro's velocity and some advancement in his secondary pitches has allowed him to maintain a strikeout rate in excess of eight per nine innings, and when you are allowing less than four hits per nine innings, you are obviously doing something right. As his success in the Eastern League continues, we are bound to hear his name surface with greater frequency when talking about potential call-ups to Detroit.
Runner-Up: Brooks Brown (RHP)
Lakeland – Thad Weber (RHP)
Thad Weber may have been an unheralded and under the radar selection by the Tigers in the 16th round of last summer's draft, but he is on the radar now. After being pushed to High-A Lakeland to start his first full season as a professional, Weber has dominated the competition to the tune of a 0.75 ERA over 24 innings. He's lasted an average of six innings per start for the Flying Tigers, and is averaging exactly one base runner per inning. The Lakeland offense let him down in two starts, costing him victories despite stellar performances, but as long as he continues to keep hitters off balance, he'll get chances to win ball games.
Runner-Up: Duane Below (LHP)
West Michigan – Luke Putkonen (RHP)
It seems like ages ago when Putkonen was the Tigers third round pick out of North Carolina, when in fact it was only two years ago. After battling shoulder surgery and soreness in 2008, Luke made his full-season debut this year and he hasn't let down the fans in West Michigan. In four starts, Putkonen has logged one win against zero defeats, while tossing 19 frames of exceptional baseball. His 1.42 ERA and 1.11 WHIP are clearly indicative of his dominance, as are his 19 strikeouts and no home runs allowed to start the year.
Runner-Up: Mauricio Robles (LHP)