Part of the process that allows players to move into the rankings is the graduation and loss of prospects from prior lists. Three very notable names will be absent from the mid-season Top 50 as a result of their accumulated big league experience; in fact three members of the top ten will have graduated.
Stud right-hander Rick Porcello, reliever Ryan Perry, and first baseman Jeff Larish will all have exceeded playing time or roster limitations for rookie status, and will therefore eliminate them from the rankings. The loss of two of the top pitching prospects in the organization, and one of the top power hitters in the system, will be a blow to the overall quality of the organization's minor league depth, but it will also afford the opportunity to others to move into the rankings.
Also leaving the Top 50 rankings will be three players no longer with the organization. Via trades, catcher James Skelton and right-hander Guillermo Moscoso have both left the organization, while left-hander Darwin De Leon was released near the end of minor league spring training.
Not only is space created through the departure of players, but as unpleasant as it may be to discuss, some players do regress or stagnate, and therefore fall in the rankings. Two players that filled slots near the back of the rankings that may be in jeopardy of slipping out are infielders Luis Palacios and Mike Gosse. Palacios still owns the same line drive bat and solid defensive abilities that drew attention last year, but he may be further away from announcing himself as a legitimate prospect, than first thought. Gosse has been challenged by the organization with an aggressive assignment to fill in at High-A Lakeland, but the power he showed in college has yet to resurface, and his approach at the plate and defensive chops are more in question than they were at the end of last season.
Outfielder Brent Clevlen squeaked into the back of the Top Ten last fall, and his trip back to Toledo yet again, combined with some regression in his performance, may see him begin to fade in the rankings. Once a player considered a five-tool talent with the ability to be an everyday right fielder, there are serious questions whether or not he will ever be able to become a true fourth outfielder at the big league level.
Three other pitchers that are grasping at a tenuous Top 50 spot in the rankings are all guys with some level of Double-A experience. Left-hander Jon Kibler was pushed assertively to Double-A Erie after a dominating season in the Midwest League, and though he has started to turn things around of late, he has still looked overmatched in many cases against more advanced hitters. Though he will likely cling to a spot in the Top 50, he could fall below some prospects with a higher ceiling.
Two right-handers that have struggled to keep their firm grasp on lofty rankings are Jonah Nickerson and Jay Sborz. Nickerson has been struggling right alongside Kibler, and as many scouts predicted, he may have finally reached a point where his fringe-average arsenal is maxing out its ability to get outs.
Sborz was a breakout player in 2008 for the organization, and he flew up the TigsTown rankings, falling in the 32nd slot last fall. In a shocking move, Sborz was kept in extended spring training to start the year, as he struggled with the consistency of his mechanics and in tern with his ability to throw strikes. The stuff is still definitely there, but Sborz will need to demonstrate that he can routinely throw strikes and stay ahead of advanced hitters.
Just as players within the rankings can fall, others within the rankings can do things to improve their stock; including in some cases, players showing well enough to fly up the charts.
One player making noise from the absolute back end of the Top 50 is outfielder Avisail Garcia. Garcia came stateside after just one season in the VSL, and after destroying the competition in extended spring training, the Tigers pushed him to Lakeland and West Michigan. Not only are those aggressive assignments for a 17-year old prospect, but scouts and coaches alike are raving about the progress his tools have made and the poise he has shown this year. Garcia could be in line to make an enormous jump in the rankings.
Also making strong cases to rise rapidly up the rankings are right-handed pitchers Alfredo Figaro and Robbie Weinhardt. Figaro has long been considered a fantastic talent on the mound, and he may have finally refined his control to the point where he is simply taking off.
Weinhardt on the other hand is quickly proving that his showing in Lakeland last year was not a fluke and he is banging hard on the door to Erie for a promotion. Though relievers are notoriously difficult to project, a successful stint in Erie before the new rankings debut could be exactly the tonic needed to cement a nice rise up the Top 50.
Since returning from injury, lefty Charlie Furbush has done nothing but show why scouts and coaches were so excited about him coming out of LSU two years ago. He's showing the same excellent raw stuff that he showed prior to surgery, and he is just lacking the consistency in command along with the stamina necessary to go deep into games, before he is considered one of the organization's premier pitching prospects.
Three other players worth noting from the upper half of the rankings are right-hander Cody Satterwhite and second basemen Brandon Douglas and Scott Sizemore. Satterwhite's raw stuff is off the charts, and while some scouts questioned his mental toughness on the mound and his ability to throw strikes, that hasn't been a question this year. Satterwhite's power arsenal could be in Detroit before the year is out, and he should be flying up the rankings as well.
Sizemore and Douglas are both more known for their ability to hit than their ability with the glove, and they are both fulfilling that this year. The tandem are tearing the cover off the ball at their respective levels, and don't be shocked if Sizemore – now healthy – makes a strong run towards the middle of the Top Ten.
Coming from outside the Top 50, there are literally dozens of players who have improved their stock since the rankings debuted last November. For the sake of some reasonable brevity – all prior prose to the contrary – we will touch on a few players who may be on the verge of being Top 50 locks come the end of June.
Seven pitchers have made their case in a strong way at this point, and that list includes left-hander Matt Hoffman. After struggling with his command last season, Hoffman has been a dominating force early in 2009, and he may finally be showing the talent needed to become a Top 50 prospect.
From the right-side of the rubber, hard throwers like Brayan Villareal, Thad Weber, Melvin Mercedez, and Ramon Lebron have all demonstrated electric arms so far this year, and though they are all at varying degrees of their development, they are making noise as prospects. Mercedez and Lebron have been lighting up the extended spring training pitching mounds, while Villareal and Weber have been tearing up A-ball to date.
Two other players that continue to fly under the radar are right-handers Andrew Hess and Pat Stanley. Hess has moved into the rotation at Lakeland and he has done nothing but perform at a high level, and Tiger prospect watchers will want to take notice of what he is accomplishing.
Stanley on the other hand has been a surprise performer coming out of the independent leagues last year; Stanley has been so impressive he has moved quickly from Lakeland to Toledo, and now Erie in under two months. Don't be shocked if he gets some time in Detroit this season.
Four additional players worth noting include outfielders Deik Scram and Andy Dirks, catcher Jordan Newton, and infielder Javier Azcona. Both Scram and Dirks were stars during spring training and they have continued by getting off to roaring starts in the regular season. Both have the speed, defense, and hitting ability to make noise further up the ladder.
Newton has resurrected his prospect status by showing the potent bat that made him a solid prospect coming out of Western Kentucky, but also by improving his stock behind the plate. After nearly being moved to the outfield permanently last season, Newton is back behind the dish and he is playing better than ever before. Power hitting catchers with speed are a rare commodity, and when they perform well, they move up the rankings in a hurry.
Rounding out the discussion is a player who has yet to play a professional game, but still earns nothing but rave reviews from on-lookers and scouts. Dominican shortstop Javier Azcona was a premium signing for the Tigers last year, and his talent has the potential to be out of this world. A player with five-tool potential, Azcona will be one of many reasons to check the DSL Tigers' box scores on a daily basis.
We are still over a month away from the debut of the mid-season updated rankings, but that doesn't mean it isn't time to get excited about those who could be making noise when the list hits the front page. Make sure to check back for updates on how they guys are performing, and get primed for an updated release of the top Tiger prospect rankings in the business; the TigsTown Top 50!
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.