TigsTown MLN: Injuries and VSL Pitchers

The Tigers have begun to make a habit out of signing large classes of Venezuelan prospects, and it looks like many of those signings have showed well in front of some onlookers. Check inside for the scoop, as well as some injury updates from extended spring training.

The Tigers have three notable pitchers working on the back fields at TigerTown in Lakeland, Florida, trying to come back from injury. The closest to a return is right-hander Jeff Gerbe. The local Shelby Township product has been throwing well after undergoing shoulder surgery last spring, and he is nearing a return to game action with a full-season club.

Gerbe is scheduled to throw in an extended spring game on Thursday, and with any luck, he will be ready to exit extended spring training and head to a full-season roster. Gerbe is currently listed on the Lakeland disabled list, but the organization has yet to make a determination as to where he will make his 2009 debut.

Since coming over from the Atlanta Braves, Macay McBride seemingly hasn't caught a single break when it comes to the health of his left arm. After undergoing surgery last year after just one start at Triple-A Toledo, McBride continues to have trouble with his elbow.

"The ball is coming out of his hand okay, but there is just something that isn't right in there," said TigerTown Pitching Coordinator Greg Sabat. McBride will be headed to see an additional doctor for further evaluation, as they continue to try and get him healthy and back on the mound at the upper levels of the system.

Another left-hander, West Michigan's Jade Todd, has a timeline for his return, but it isn't a quick one. Todd has reported to extended spring training to work with the training staff there, and he is currently on a ‘no-throw' program for about a month according to Sabat. After roughly one month without throwing, Todd will begin flat ground work, progressing from there into bullpen sessions and eventually to live batting practice. At the earliest, it appears Todd could be looking at a late-July return to competitive action.

Injured VSL pitcher Frank Penalver is back to throwing off a mound, and he could be nearing a return to the VSL pitching staff. Don't be shocked if we see him back in game action in the next ten days to two weeks.

One of the Tigers most recent signings in Venezuela seems to be making quite an impression. Left-hander Wilfredo Ramirez was released by the Cleveland Indians this spring after being nearly thirty pounds over weight. After some intensive work, he is back in playing shape and ‘looks like a picture of health,' said Sabat.

Ramirez has shown both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, complimented by a curveball and change-up. His four-pitch mix and ability to command it very well, has Sabat hoping the organization can get him back in the United States this summer.

"He's got some talent. He shows more velocity when he throws more aggressively, and we just need to teach him to post up and let it fly."

Another pitcher that impressed Sabat on his tour through Venezuela was right-hander Gino Aguirre. Aguirre started ten games for the VSL Tigers last year, posting a 4.71 ERA in 36 innings. While pitching live batting practice, Gino was showing a below-average MLB fastball that was working at 86-88 with some movement, as well as a nice slider and change-up. He has command and a good delivery according to Sabat, and he only needs additional strength to see an increase I velocity. Aguirre also showed he could get to the plate quickly, working consistently in the 1.20 to 1.35 range to home plate.

Two newcomers that the Tigers saw plenty of during the off-season, Yonny Mosquera, and Jose Tablante were both showing well in pre-season workouts. Mosquera was showing good command of a mid- to high-80s fastball with clean mechanics and knowledge of how to pitch. Tablante has ‘an arm that works' and a fair delivery, with a diverse repertoire that includes an average fastball, change-up, and curveball.

Carlos Alvarado is another pitcher making noise at the Tigers Venezuelan complex, with a live arm and a very aggressive approach on the mound. Though he is extremely raw, Alvarado has a fastball-curveball-change combination that could work for him. He is not afraid to just let his fastball fly, and as he fills out his 6-foot-4, 175 pound frame, he could see even more velocity.

Two additional pitchers worth noting from pre-season VSL workouts include Manuel Morandi and Leonel Vasquez. Sabat noted that Morandi was a bit of a ‘back-footer' in that he doesn't always get out over his front foot on his delivery, which could be sapping some of his power. Once the organization has an opportunity to further refine his mechanics and develop his body, he could see a significant jump in velocity and effectiveness.

Though Vasquez throws slightly across his body, his arm works well and he has the makings of a very nice pitcher down the line. His fastball is below-average at this time, but there is plenty of projection there. The same can be said for his slider and change-up, with his slider being the more promising pitch.

In the Dominican, one pitcher that may be one to watch when he comes back from a shoulder injury is right-hander Crucito Moreno. Since signing prior to the 2005 season, Sabat has been familiar with him. "Since I first saw him, I wanted to bring him to the GCL right away." Moreno has good stuff and has demonstrated a good feel for pitching in the past, but things have regressed over the last two years, potentially attributable to the shoulder problems.

All-in-all, it appears Sabat like what he saw on his tour through the Tigers' Latin American complexes. "There are lots of 16 to 17-year old kids that show good command. If they were in high school here in the States, they would be very successful. We've planted some good seeds, and we could have another bumper crop in a couple of years."

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