TigsTown MLN: Coming to America

With minor league camp underway as pitchers and catchers begin daily workouts, it is time to announce those players that the Tigers are bringing stateside for the first time in their professional careers. This year, the Tigers have opted to bring 14 players to the states; five position players and nine pitchers.

Of the five position players coming stateside, the Tigers brought two catchers, two infielders, and one outfielder.

As expected, outfielder Steven Moya is returning stateside after coming over for the Fall Instructional League in 2009. Moya is a monster of a prospect with imposing size and a work ethic to match. Already the owner of a true big league body as a teenager, Moya's raw power has been rated as high as a 70 tool by some scouts I have spoken with. Much of the rest of Moya's game is still very raw, but his potential is tantalizing.

Behind the dish, the Tigers have brought Venezuelans Gabriel Purroy and Luis Sanz over to continue their development. Purroy has been billed as a defensive wizard behind the plate, while also possessing intriguing pop and offensive potential for such a young player. His game calling, leadership ability, and catch-and-throw skills are all positive tools as well.

Sanz is another positive defender behind the plate, though he has also spent time at first base while in the VSL. Sanz doesn't have the raw arm strength or natural catching ability of Purroy, but he has enough skill to remain behind the dish until playing time needs force him from the position. Offensively, Sanz has a solid approach and good contact ability, but there are some questions surrounding his ability to handle the improved pitching he is likely to face in the states.

At the shortstop position, two of the Tigers brightest young prospects, and two members of the TigsTown Top 50, Javier Azcona and Dixon Machado will be working out in Extended Spring Training.

Azcona is the more natural baseball player with a wider skill set and the better pro body. He has all five tools that show on the field at various points, and he simply needs game experience to turn all those tools into consistent production. One scout that has been covering the Tigers organization for years, tossed a loose Audy Ciriaco comp on Azcona, as the type of player he could potentially develop into.

On the other hand, Machado provides a brilliant glove at the infield's toughest position, with above-average to plus arm strength, excellent natural instincts, good foot speed, and tremendously soft hands. Machado also displays some promise with the stick, with an ability to recognize pitches, square up balls, and the strength in his wrists to drive the ball to the gaps. All of these skills are combined with Machado's plus speed that rates as some of the system's best.

On the mound, the distribution settled out with five right-handers and four left-handers. The left-handers bring the higher ceiling to the table, including Antonio Cruz, Yadiel Polanco, Wilfredo Ramirez, and Ariel Medina. Medina is a huge young man with a nearly unlimited ceiling on the mound. If things come together for him, he could develop into a front line starting pitcher, but that type of ceiling is a long way off.

Cruz and Polanco both offer some level of pitchability and plenty of remaining projection. Both pitchers continue to battle consistency with their mechanics and release point, but the raw stuff is there. The 2010 season could be a very up and down experience for both pitchers, but it will all be a positive learning experience.

Rounding out the lefties, Wilfredo Ramirez could be the quickest mover of the group. Having already pitched in the New York-Penn League while in the Cleveland organization, Ramirez is a dark horse candidate to make a full-season club (presumably the Whitecaps) out of spring training. Ramirez is a very intelligent pitcher with good enough stuff to be a solid bullpen lefty.

Tossing from the other side of the rubber, right-handers Josue Carreno, Fernando Celis, Vladimir Ortiz, Bruce Rondon, and Wilsen Palacios will make their stateside debuts this summer. Carreno has received the most publicity of the five; having ranked within the TigsTown Top 50 following the 2008 season. Carreno gets good movement on his fastball, works quickly, and has outstanding makeup, giving him a chance to be a mid-rotation starter if things break properly.

Ortiz, Rondon, and Palacios are all relievers with a variety of backgrounds. Ortiz and Rondon have both been stateside before, but under very different circumstances. Like Steven Moya, Ortiz came stateside last fall for the Instructional League. He was mildly impressive during the fall, showing decent stuff and solid competitiveness on the hill.

Rondon was brought stateside last year by the Tigers, but was sent home to Venezuela as he dealt with improving his maturity and discipline to the level required to perform in the U.S. Rondon's raw stuff is far from in question, as he possesses an above-average, heavy fastball with the potential to continue improving.

Wilsen Palacios will get a chance to work in a variety of roles once stateside, and he showed promise in 2009 after returning from a suspension for violating the league's performance enhancing drug policy. Palacios has a quick arm and a solid breaking ball, with improving makeup on the mound.

Fernando Celis' role will remain up in the air until the short-season leagues open, but he could serve as either a starter or a middle reliever. He is an experience right-hander with solid stuff across the board, but he must continue to improve his ability to compete on the mound in tough spots. The ceiling for Celis is limited, but he still bears watching as he steps forward for this next challenge.

After such a robust class of Latin American players in 2009, the Tigers have scaled things back slightly as the extended spring program looks pretty full in the early going. There is still a chance additional players could come stateside at some point this year, but unless the Tigers suffer a rash of injuries, most of the at-bats and innings will be spoken for at this point.


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