TigsTown MLN: First Fall Notebook

The Detroit Tigers Fall Instructional League is coming to a close, while the Arizona Fall League is ready to get rolling, and other off-season leagues are beginning to prepare for action. Check inside for a preview of the AFL, some thoughts on FIL hitters, and other news.

FIL Hitters Wrap The Tigers Fall Instructional League is always an opportunity for hitters to get more individual and small group attention, allowing them to work on their skills to continue developing as all-around players.

One of the most intriguing hitters attending the FIL this year was Dominican teenager Steven Moya. Signed in 2008 as one of the Tigers most highly coveted international signings, Moya is a beast of a young man, with tremendous power potential. He is a strong athlete that is still learning his body and where his limbs are in space at any given time.

While observing the Instructional League, Moya impressed with his raw power and desire to learn and grow as a player. Lakeland Manager and FIL Instructor Andy Barkett was also impressed by Moya.

"I think he is going to be a good hitter. You could see him get better as a hitter everyday. He works really hard and catches on quickly, and with that much raw potential, he really has a chance to be pretty good."

Moya is far from a polished product, but his showing in the FIL this year may have lined him up for a job in the US in 2010; possibly landing in the Gulf Coast League.

Another very intriguing Latin American player is 18-year old Venezuelan outfielder Avisail Garcia. Garcia was thrust to West Michigan this summer, and while his numbers were not flashy, he held his own and impressed many Midwest League Managers. "He has a ton of tools, he just has to get more at-bats. I like his potential," said one MWL skipper.

"He is very coachable, and he is going to be a good player for a very long time. His whole game stands out when he is on the field. You can see it in his eyes, he is going to be a championship caliber player," said Barkett.

The 2009 draft yielded several promising young hitters that were showing well in Lakeland this fall. Outfielder Jamie Johnson draws comparisons to current Tigers prospect Kody Kaiser because of his small stature, but he is definitely his own player. One scout who saw him play this fall, called him a "top of the lineup spark plug" and continued by saying "he just grows on you the more you see him."

Barkett has only seen him in limited action this fall, but he noticed that "he really likes to play, without a doubt. He can surprise you with the bat a little too."

Three other hitters that offer power potential, but are at different points in their development are first baseman James Robbins, third baseman Wade Gaynor, and catcher Edgar Corcino.

Gaynor had a rough go during the New York-Penn League season, but everyone that sees him play thinks there is enough there to merit optimism. Oneonta Manager Howard Bushong was adamant in my last conversation with him, that Gaynor would eventually be a legitimate power hitting threat. Andy Barkett saw similar things this fall; "He has bat speed and power, you can see it. He is really coachable, but he is really, really raw. He hasn't been taught a lot, but he definitely has a chance to be an MLB third baseman."

Robbins on the other hand is a relatively polished offensive player, particularly considering he just left high school to turn pro this summer. "There is lots of raw power there. He is a good hitter right now and he can get better," said Barkett.

Corcino is another very raw young player, but that doesn't stop Barkett from seeing promising things from the young teenager. "He is a great athlete, with a great body, and some real power potential. He has a chance to be a very good player."

Arizona Fall League Preview

The Tigers have an eclectic mix of players getting a chance to play in the AFL this year, led by their middle infield duo of the future, Cale Iorg and Scott Sizemore. Sizemore is coming off an outstanding 2009 season split between Double-A and Triple-A, and he could be in line for a starting spot in Detroit in 2010. If Sizemore continues his offensive onslaught this fall, he could cement his stance as not necessarily the Tigers second baseman of the future, but the Tigers second baseman of the present.

Iorg is coming off a much different 2009 season, one in which he struggled in every way at the plate. Iorg never got going with the bat, and his numbers reflect that in every way possible. Defense is not the question for the talented shortstop, but how he handles his offensive struggles, and whether or not he can rebound with a strong fall season, will be the key.

"There have been a lot of ‘oohs' and ‘aahs' over those two up the middle. It is really exciting to see them out there together. It should be fun," said Tigers' pitching prospect Scot Drucker.

Drucker will be joining – and relying on – Iorg and Sizemore in the desert this fall, and the opportunity he has is a great one. "This is my second time here [in Arizona], and it is always a treat to be here. I am really excited for this opportunity to get better, and it is an honor for me to be here," said Drucker. Scot will be working hard to gain additional consistency in his entire game, and he says his arm feels strong and he is very excited.

Peoria Manager Kevin Bradshaw has tabbed Drucker his opening day starter in Arizona, and Drucker is thrilled with the chance, "He told me yesterday [Saturday] that I was getting the ball, and I am just really excited."

The Tigers will have two additional starters in the Arizona Fall League this year, with 2008 draftee Thad Weber and 2009 draftee Andrew Oliver. Weber's season ended a bit short in Erie this year, as he battled some shoulder soreness, but he was back strong during his FIL appearances, and he should be ready to go in the AFL. Weber's progress has been rapid, as he reached Double-A in just his second season, and as he continues to mature as a player, he could be on the radar for a big league job sometime late in 2010.

The Tigers gave the lefty Oliver an over-slot bonus to entice him away from his senior year at Oklahoma State, and after getting some game action in the Instructional League, he will be challenged with an aggressive assignment to the AFL. Oliver's stuff should play well, as he features a mid-90s fastball along with a very good slider and change-up.

Oliver's fall season could be a harbinger for another aggressive assignment in 2010, as the Tigers will likely debate sending him to either High-A Lakeland, or Double-A Erie to start the season. Either assignment will be aggressive, but as evidenced by their faith in challenging him in the AFL, the Tigers believe they may have a special talent.

A former teammate of Oliver at Okalahoma State, right-hander Robbie Weinhardt will be looking to continue refining his mechanics to become the dominating reliever some see as his potential.

"I'm really honored that they selected me to come out here. It really is an honor," said Weinhardt.

Weinhardt split his season between Lakeland and Erie, and the AFL is just the next step in his progression toward the big leagues. With a strong fastball that sits in the 92-93 range and can touch higher, Weinhardt attacks hitters and could be a solid late inning option.

When Tigers' GM Dave Dombrowski spoke of over ten prospects capable of helping in the big league bullpen next season, Weinhardt was certainly one of those young pitchers. His ability to get after hitters is his strong suit, but as he admits, he is learning to get the job done with less pitches.

"I can't always strike guys out. Sometimes I gotta go right at them and get a first or second pitch ground ball. I can be too fine with my pitches, and I have to work on that," said Weinhardt.

The final Tigers player seeing action in the AFL will be outfielder Casper Wells. Wells drew high praise from Detroit Manager Jim Leyland during spring training, and his second AFL appearance in a row could be an indication that the Tigers want him to get all the at-bats he can in anticipation of a potential spot in Detroit next season.

Wells missed time at Double-A Erie this summer, with a broken hammate bone in his wrist, causing him to miss valuable developmental at-bats. Wells has power, speed, defense, and plenty of arm strength; a host of tools that make him an intriguing big league prospect. His arm strength has stood out to teammate Robbie Weinhardt; "He has one of the best outfield arms I have seen in the minor leagues so far."

The Tigers are part of an AFL team (Peoria Javelinas) filled with prospects from the Brewers, Mariners, White Sox and Dodgers, and they could have an excellent opportunity to be a very good team.

"I think we could be really good this fall," said Weinhardt. "There are a lot of hitters on this team that I definitely would not want to pitch to."

Fellow Jevelina pitcher Scot Drucker sees some good things too; "It is a little early yet. We might still have some new guys joining the team. Pitching is really the key out here, and our arms look pretty good right now."

This crop of Tigers' prospects might be one of the most exciting in recent memory, and the collection of arms and bats could play an integral part in the success of the Peoria squad this fall.

Liga Paralela

The Tigers will again have many of their Venezuelan prospects participating in Liga Paralela, working on their games and improving as they head to the 2010 season. The team's roster will feature much of the 2009 VSL Tigers roster, as well as several players who played in the Dominican. The most interesting players to watch will be those recently signed, making their first appearances against professional pitchers. Sixteen year old hurlers Johan Belisario and Jose Mendoza will debut for the Tigers, along with position players Jesus Ustariz, Erick Soto, David Lizardo, and Daniel Carranza.

Carranza will be a particularly interesting case to watch this fall, as he will likely see time at shortstop, third base, and the outfield. "He is a priority guy for us, and as you can see, we have a ton of infielders," said Tigers Director of International Operations Tom Moore.

The Tigers Liga Paralela roster will be chock full of raw players in need of experience and at-bats, but those of particular interest will includ Carranza, infielders Dixon Machado and Luis Cortez, catcher Gabriel Purroy, and outfielders Luis Salas and Avisail Garcia. For the full Liga Paralela roster, check out the TigsTown.com Premium Message Board.

Tigers' Liga Paralela Roster

Quick Hits

Three additional Tigers prospects will see time in various winter leagues. Outfielder Brennan Boesch, catcher Alex Avila, and right-handed reliever Zach Simons will all continue playing this winter. Avila will look to get additional at-bats as he prepares for what is likely a time-sharing role with incumbent Detroit catcher Gerald Laird in 2010. Boesch and Simons will look to get valuable experience in hopes of cracking the Tiger roster at some point next season.

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