TigsTown MLN: Javelinas Claim Title

For five young Tigers prospects and one Tigers instructor, Saturday afternoon's game on the MLB Network was the last piece of an amazing experience that culminated in a championship ring. The Peoria Javelinas defeated the Phoenix Desert Dogs in dramatic fashion to take home the 2009 Arizona Fall League title.

Coming on in the fourth inning of Saturday's matchup, Scot Drucker gave up two runs on two solo shots, yielding the Javs' lead for the time being.

"They took a little advantage of me, but that's going to happen. If you're going to give up home runs, it's best to make them solo shots," said Drucker in an interview on Sunday.

Left-hander Andrew Oliver came on after Drucker and dominated over two innings of work, and the game was closed out by Tiger right-hander Robbie Weinhardt. The two hard throwers combined for four innings of stellar relief with no hits, no walks, and six strikeouts.

Weinhardt's spectacular final two innings earned him the win in the contest. "I didn't feel a lot of pressure in the eighth, but when CJ [Retherford] that homer, I felt a little more pressure in the ninth. I enjoyed it though," noted Weinhardt.

Though the championship is always a nice bonus of fall and winter leagues around the world, the Arizona Fall League is about additional development for talented young players, and many of the Tiger prospects felt they achieved or made progress toward their goals during the fall season.

"I am glad I got to see the competition. These lineups are top notch! I was in Triple-A this year, and these lineups are more potent than those. I learned a better grip on my curveball, and that helped with the consistency of my breaking pitches. I've just gotta work on better damage control and limiting two-out RBI. That's something I can continue to work on in Puerto Rico this winter," said Drucker.

For one of the Tigers prospects in the AFL, this experience was more about gaining experience against pro players as he heads to his first season of pro ball in 2010.

Tigers' second round pick Andrew Oliver signed too late to debut in any of the regular seasons, but he did manage to get some exposure in the AFL, "The league helped me get my feet wet. I've got to keep working on my secondary pitches, but this helped a lot."

After the Tigers selected Oliver in June, many analysts were concerned over the disappearance of both his slider and curveball during his junior season at Oklahoma State. After getting some work in the Fall Instructional League, and then more competitive game action in Arizona, Oliver thinks things are on the right track, telling TigsTown.com "I made progress with the slider. I've got more confidence in the pitch now. I've got more confidence throwing it 3-2. That's something I wouldn't have done in school."

While the 2009 AFL season was Oliver's first ever pro experience, Casper Wells was returning to the AFL for the second year in a row.

"It's amazing to come out here a second time. Last year I was on the losing end of both the Rising Stars game and the championship. To come back and come through with a win in both; it feels really good," said Wells.

Wells also had some specific goals in the AFL, noting in an earlier interview that he needed to focus on his ability to recognize pitches and his ability to stay back on the ball. " I felt great, amazing really. I was right where I wanted to be about a week and a half ago. I started feeling myself get a little fatigued, but got myself re-focused and finished strong."

After the organization worked with Cale Iorg after the Double-A season to make several changes to his stance and swing, there were lots of things to work on in the AFL. While the overall numbers were off, some progress was made late in the year. Over his last six games in the AFL, Iorg finished 6-for-21 with a home run and two RBI.

One veteran AL scout quipped "This last week or so, he's actually looked like a guy that might be able to hit a little bit in the big leagues. He's not all there yet, but you can see some things getting closer."

While some players are working diligently on specific pieces of their game, right-hander Thad Weber had a different take on the value of the AFL.

"I think the biggest thing I gained in the AFL was the confidence that I can compete at a high level. I came in wanting to show that I have the ability to pitch against some of the best prospects in baseball, and I think I accomplished that," noted Weber via email.

Development and improvement aside, nothing can take away the feeling of winning a hard fought title in any league. "It feels amazing. It was a great ride with this bunch of guys. Not many teams have the chemistry we've had," commented Drucker.

"We dog piled and had a great time enjoying the win as a group. It was certainly a nice way to end an enjoyable fall and season as well," said Weber.

While enjoying the thrill of a title, Casper Wells makes sure to note that there is still more work to come. "I am going to keep training here in Arizona. I will be here until the end of January, and then I'll head to Florida early and get some extra work in there."

That type of commitment is evident from all of the Tigers prospects participating in the AFL, and with continued commitment of that nature, maybe more prospects will get a treat similar to that which Wells has had the pleasure of experiencing the last two years.

"My birthday is [Monday], so this title is a great birthday present. Last year my birthday present was being added to the 40-man roster, and this year a championship. That makes it a lot of fun. I'm not sure what can top it next year though," said Wells.

With any luck, maybe Wells and his 2009 Peoria teammates will be able to figure out a way to celebrate his birthday after a successful run helping the big league team to a long post-season run.

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