TigsTown MLN: Fall Leagues Underway

This week, check in for the recap on some of the pitching performances in the Fall Instructional League, while also diving into the early AFL, Dominican and Venezuelan league results. Check inside to find out who is playing where, and what their prognosis may be this off-season.

FIL Pitcher Wrap

The Tigers seemingly have been all about developing hard throwing pitchers over the last few years, and there were a host of those on display during the team's annual Fall Instructional League.

The two big horses everyone seems to be asking about are first round pick Jacob Turner and second round pick Andrew Oliver.

Turner pitched in only one game during the FIL; a game I happened to be present for early during the program. Lasting only one inning before being pulled for precautionary reasons, Turner did not take the mound again for the Tigers in game action this fall. Instead, he worked only in flat ground situations as he prepared for 2010. "He just wasn't ready. He hadn't thrown since May," said TigerTown Pitching Coordinator Greg Sabat, who continued to say "I like him a lot. He is mature for his age. I like his delivery. I really just like everything about him. There's a little bit of Porcello in him."

While Turner didn't see any additional game action, left-hander Andrew Oliver saw action in a few more games before heading west to participate in the Arizona Fall League. Sabat liked what he saw in Oliver too, stating "He's got a chance to be dominant. A lefty throwing 96 or 97, a slider, and a change-up. He's not far away either."

Another member of the 2009 draft class drew praise from Sabat, in left-hander Austin Wood. Wood drew national fame for tossing 169 pitches in a classic extra-inning affair against Boston College while he was still hurling for Texas in post season play. "He could be a lefty specialist really quickly. He's a nice arm," said Sabat.

Rumors are swirling that Wood could be headed to big league spring training in 2010, at a minimum providing him an opportunity to impress the big league decision makers for a potential late-season call-up.

One of the FIL's more impressive arms belonged to power righty Ramon Lebron. Lebron made big strides as the GCL season progressed, and according to Sabat and other observers, he continued that progress this fall. "I think he only walked two guys the entire time, and he struck out a bunch. He's getting more consistent and working lower in the zone," said Sabat.

Lebron will continue pitching this off-season in the Columbian Winter League. Expect to see Lebron enter minor league spring training with a very good chance to land in the West Michigan rotation.

One pitcher drawing increasing praise as the off-season calls continue is big right-hander Luke Putkonen. A mellow guy that can be difficult to see the fire in, Putkonen has often let his pitching speak for itself this season. "He's really got everything working for him right now. He's so smooth. We worked on his change-up a lot this fall, and with that fastball, he doesn't look like he's throwing 94. He looks like he's lobbing it up there, then it just jumps out of his hand," said Sabat.

Arizona Fall League Notes

"That Polanco decision is getting easier with each hit, isn't it?"

That was the first question one NL scout asked in conversation the other day, when referencing the Tigers impending decision on whether to re-sign Polanco for 2010, or to give the job to the youngster, Scott Sizemore. Sizemore has gotten off to a roaring start for Peoria, ripping extra-base hits with ease, and pumping a .368/.462/.947 line through the AFL's first six games. Sizemore caught his foot on a double play turn in Thursday's game, tweaking his ankle. The extent of the injury is unknown at this time.

Also getting off to strong starts are outfielder Casper Wells and right-handed starter Scot Drucker. Wells has seemingly settled into a rhythm of hitting the ball very hard, or not hitting it at all. As a player who will always strike out with some frequency, Wells whiffs aren't a significant concern as he doesn't tend to flail at balls outside the zone, and he still manages to work quality at-bats. Not to mention the payoff when he does connect, as he has excellent extra-base power and the speed to be an aggressive base runner.

Wells' AFL season has been highlighted by a grand slam off of uber-prospect Steven Strasburg, helping him to a .476/.500/.1.000 line in five games, with eleven RBI on five extra-base hits.

Drucker is seemingly taking on the hitter friendly environment of the AFL without fear. Through two starts, Drucker has a 1.80 ERA in five innings, allowing one run on four hits, with two strikeouts. A friend of TigsTown, we will be checking in with Drucker throughout the AFL season to get his thoughts on his progress and the competition he is facing.

Right-handed reliever Robbie Weinhardt and shortstop Cale Iorg haven't gotten off to the type of start prospect watchers would have hoped, but both are still flashing tools that keep scouts interested.

"He got touched up in both of his two outings, but I like the fastball-slider combo. He just needs to locate more consistently," said one AL scout that has seen both of Weinhardt's fall outings. Weinhardt has yielded runs in each of his three outings, but observers indicate he has looked better each time out.

Working as Sizemore's double-play partner up the middle, Iorg's defensive skills have been on display, with one observer indicating at least two of his errors have come on plays that "might not have even been possible with any other shortstop in the league." At the plate, Iorg has only two hits – both infield singles – in twelve at-bats, with two stolen bases.

It was a rough first AFL outing for Andrew Oliver, but he has settled in and started to show why he was given a six-figure bonus in August. After giving up a grand slam in his first outing, Oliver has settled in with three scoreless innings with just one walk and four strikeouts. A strong AFL showing could have Oliver primed for a very aggressive assignment in 2010, with a minimum landing spot of Lakeland and a solid chance at making his official pro debut with Double-A Erie.

Liga de Beisbol Dominicano

The Tigers have a few players to keep an eye on in the Dominican this winter, highlighted by Double-A (and big league) standouts Alex Avila and Brennan Boesch. Avila took things by storm to start the season, skipping Lakeland and jumping right to Double-A in just his first full year of pro ball. Boesch put together a breakout campaign for Erie, playing solid defense and slugging home runs with ease.

Both players will be playing for Escogido, and they should play prominent roles with the club. Already on the young season, Boesch has continued his slugging ways with two home runs in just five games. Thus far, he is hitting at a .250/.273/.600 clip, highlighted by a 3-5 night with his second home run and two RBI. Avila on the other hand has rebounded after a bit rougher start, posting a .313/.333/.375 line in four games behind the dish.

Also figuring to play a significant role in the Dominican, but having yet to start a game for Estrellas, will be right-handed pitcher Alfredo Figaro. Speculation has Figaro factoring into the Estrellas rotation mix, and such an assignment could be great preparation for a dark horse run for the Tigers rotation in spring training.

Wilkin Ramirez debuted with Licey on Thursday, by going 2-for-2 with a double and a walk in his only game on the season so far. Ramirez should see ample time in the Licey outfield, helping to prepare him for a potentially significant role in the big leagues at some time during the 2010 season.

Two other Tigers will likely see time as the winter season continues, but they have yet to report to their respective clubs.. Ramon Santiago could see time with Cibao, while Freddy Dolsi could see the field with Licey.

Liga Venezuela Beisbol Professional

The Tigers are slated to have more representatives in Venezuela, and there are several that will be intriguing to follow. Right-handed reliever Zach Simons will be pitching for the Bravos and so far things haven't exactly gone swimmingly in his brief outings. Simons is a very long shot candidate for the Detroit bullpen to start the 2010 season, and a poor winter performance will likely keep him pitching in Toledo for a while.

Also on the Bravos roster are Venezuelan prospects Gino Aguirre, Josue Carreno, Frank Penalver, and Jose Siso, but all four will likely only see action in Liga Paralela.

Already seeing time with Leones, Luis Angel Sanz is getting valuable innings that could ensure he keeps a full-season assignment in 2010, instead of heading back to short-season ball again. Sanz has appeared in two games so far, and has a 0.00 ERA with four hits allowed in 2 1/3 innings.

Other prominent minor leaguers whose status is still uncertain, but could see time in the league are pitchers Lester Oliveros and Brayan Villarreal, along with infielder Luis Palacios and outfielders Alexis Espinoza and Avisail Garcia. All five players will see action in Liga Paralela, but there is a slim chance they could see action with the advanced Caribes team.

Big leaguers Magglio Ordonez (Caribes), Armando Galarraga (Leones), and Miguel Cabrera (Tigres) could also join their clubs in time to participate in the Carribbean World Series.

Liga Paralela

The schedule for this season's Liga Paralela has been released, and the Tigers are slated to play a 45 game schedule that started last Friday. Game results are not yet available, but stay tuned to TigsTown.com for the latest updates on the performances of Tiger prospects in this winter league.

Quick Hits

Though the Fall Instructional League is complete, there are at least four Tiger pitching prospects still in Lakeland rehabbing injuries. Potential minor league free agents Jay Sborz and Macay McBride are both working with the staff still in Lakeland. McBride is still rehabbing his arm, while Sborz is continuing his recovery from a strained oblique suffered late in the 2009 season.

Right-hander Nick Cassavechia is also still working to rehab his arm in Lakeland, along with left-hander Duane Below. Recovering from Tommy John surgery, Below is making good progress, having recently extended his throwing program out to ninety feet. Below is on schedule to begin throwing bullpen sessions in December, and he could be ready for the start of the 2010 season.

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