TigsTown MLN: Wilkin Making Strides

Another week in the books in the fall and winter leagues in and around the Caribbean, and there have been some interesting new developments, including a highly touted prospect getting time at a new position.

Liga de Beisbol Dominicano

Performances have been very hit or miss in the more advanced Dominican Winter League, as right-hander, and rotation hopeful, Alfredo Figaro has struggled since starting to take the mound for Estrellas. After getting touched up for five runs in just 1 2/3 innings in his first start, Figaro came back and gave up four runs on four hits and four walks in three innings in his next start. After generating plenty of buzz with a strong minor league season and some promise at the big league level, Figaro will have to get things on track if he has a chance to make the Tigers' Opening Day roster.

The struggles have continued for two Tiger representatives seeing action with Escogido, as both Brennan Boesch and Alex Avila have fallen on hard times in their first taste of baseball outside the US.

Avila was only 1-for-9 this week with a walk and two strikeouts, as his season line dips to .149/.226/.170. It's been a long and grueling first full professional season for Avila, and we may simply be seeing him wear down.

After a roaring start by Boesch, he has cooled considerably at the plate, picking up just two hits in fifteen at-bats this week, as his line has dropped to a disappointing .212/.270/.394 over 18 games. Boesch is still hitting for power when he connects, but he'll need to do more than that to cement his place on the 40-man roster this off-season.

Closing the DWL action on a high note, outfielder Wilkin Ramirez has continued his strong showing in everyday action with Licey. Though he is mostly stroking singles, Ramirez is showing progress with less than a strikeout per game, something that hasn't always been possibly for the youngster. His .278 average is solid, and should help build confidence heading towards spring training.

The more interesting trend with Ramirez is his consistent appearances in center field. Long considered a marginal defensive outfield, Wilkin has the speed to handle center, but he has always lacked the instincts to man the position on more than an emergency basis. Some quiet rumblings out of the Dominican indicate that Ramirez has looked surprisingly solid in center. Check back with TigsTown for more on Ramirez's development as a defender as we continue to dig into the winter league happenings.

Liga Venezuela Beisbol Profesional

The only Tigers' prospect of note this week in Venezuela has been right-hander Zach Simons. While Simons only pitched in one game since our last updated, he garners attention this week because his time with the Bravos has come to an end for the 2009 season.

"My original plan was to go down there for two months. The main reason I came home now was I started to feel tired and that I was developing some bad habits. I didn't want to have that happen with such a big camp coming up for me this spring. I want to be ready," said Simons.

For the season, Simons appeared in eight games for the Bravos, throwing four total innings, allowing six hits and seven walks against only three strikeouts; though he managed to only have a 4.50 ERA.

When Zach discussed his up and down season in Venezuela he said, "The style of play is a lot different. I like to come in late in games and work a full inning. Down there, it's just all about winning; it's like the big leagues down there. If you walk a guy or struggle a little bit, they'll yank you out. That was an adjustment for me."

"This was a great experience overall, and I think it will help me. My mindset heading to big league camp is that I think I'm getting close. At some point, an opportunity will come, and I have to seize it."

Simons string season between Double-A Erie and Triple-A Toledo, and now his exposure to international baseball, may just be the combination he needs to get his first shot in the big leagues in 2010.

Liga de Beisbol Profesional de Puerto Rico

Play finally began in Puerto Rico on Thursday, with Casey Fien taking the hill to close out a loss by Ponce. Fien tossed one inning of scoreless relief, allowing two hits, and striking out one.

Fien will be joined on the Leones roster by right-hander Josh Rainwater. Rainwater was eligible to become a six-year minor league free agent this month, but opted to re-sign with the Tigers and likely return to Erie or Toledo for the 2010 season, with a chance at seeing Detroit at some point.

Also with the potential to see action in Puerto Rico this winter will be two of the Tigers newest and youngest prospects. Left-hander Giovany Soto and shortstop Edwin Gomez – both drafted in June – are on the roster for Lobos de Arecibo. It is unlikely either player will see significant time with Arecibo, but they could see some minor action throughout the winter.

Liga Colombiana de Beisbol Profesional

Ramon Lebron continues to impress in the Colombian Winter League, as he has begun blowing hitters away with his over-powering arsenal. With another strong outing under his belt, Lebron has posted a 3.46 ERA in three starts, spanning thirteen innings. Lebron has allowed 13 hits over that span, with only two walks and an impressive 16 strikeouts. The young right-hander has garnered more and more attention as word has spread of his blazing fastball, and he could be a high-riser as we head towards spring training 2010.

Liga Paralela

The Tigers have fallen off a little in Liga Paralela action, with their record dipping to 10-14-1 overall through 25 games. With a 2-4 record over the last week, some of the shining offensive performances have faded slightly.

Two players still standing out at the plate are outfielder Luis Salas and infielder Hernan Perez. Salas got off to a roaring start this week with a 3-for-4 game last Friday, but ended by going only 2-for-15 over the next five games. His season line now sits at .247/.362/.416. The hits aren't always falling for Salas right now, but he's still been one of the team's more impressive hitters.

Perez is still crushing the ball to the tune of a .348/.383/.573 line, after ripping another double and a home run this week, while also tossing in two more stolen bases (four for the season). Perez has been seeing time all over the infield, but one scout I spoke with still loves his glove at shortstop.

The Tigers have gotten a little offensive boost from the arrival of third baseman Francisco Martinez. Martinez is hitting .375 through his first three games, while also stealing two bases.

On the hill, Josue Carreno is making up for some lost innings from the summer. After battling some blister issues during the Venezuelan Summer League season, Carreno is healthy and dealing right now. With a combined ten innings pitched, eleven hits allowed, only one run and one walk, and eleven strikeouts this week, Carreno now sports a 2.84 ERA and 2-1 record in five starts for the Tigers.

Until a rough outing this week, recent signee Johan Belisario had really been showing some strong signs of development at such a young age.

Tigers Director of International Operations Tom Moore has been impressed with Belisario's progress this fall, "Johan has done a fantastic job during his first professional experience. For a 16-year old to compete against hitters 3-4 years older than him is a big challenge and he has really adjusted nicely."

Through five outings spanning 13 2/3 innings, Belisario has allowed 15 hits and ten walks, while striking out nine; but his poise and approach have been far more impressive than the results.

Another newcomer to the organization, Jose Mendoza, has struggled in his first pro experience. Through just seven innings thus far, Mendoza has an unwieldly 20.57 ERA after allowing 16 hits and 16 earned runs.

"Jose's performance so far is not atypical to what several young pitchers experience during their initial stages of pro ball. As he continues to become more consistent with his mechanics and throwing strikes, we expect to see continued improvement," said Moore.

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