Scouting the New Signings
As we approach the start of the Dominican and Venezuelan Summer League seasons, some of the Tigers newest signings will be getting ready for their professional debuts.
Among those signings are four position players with a variety of skills. Shortstop Samuel Crafort is a raw athlete that hits from both sides of the plate. He has some strength in his wiry body and some scouts see some projection for at least average power down the line. He is a plus runner with solid instincts despite his youth, and his arm is also a plus tool.
Behind the dish, the Tigers liked what they saw from catcher Gabriel Tenia during Liga Paralela last off-season, signing him in time for him to make his debut in the VSL this summer. Tenia is a well built 17-year old with raw strength that translates to both his raw power and arm strength. His hit tool is very unrefined, and he has a long way to go with the bat, but there are some tools to work with.
Roaming the outfield, the DSL Tigers will have at least two new faces this summer. Left-handed hitter Sandy Acevedo has a good body and he projects for power down the line. His swing has natural lift in it, but he will have to tighten his strike zone to take advantage of that. Defensively, he's a solid runner, but probably destined for a corner outfield spot, and his solid-average arm may keep him in left field long term.
Javier Romero will likely see plenty of action alongside Acevedo, working on the opposite corner many days. Romero has a strong body with some physical maturity, and that translates to above-average raw power and above-average raw arm strength. He is still quite raw and he will need refine his game quite a bit.
On the mound, Gregorio Solano should be toeing the rubber for the DSL Tigers once play begins. Solano has good arm speed, but that hasn't translated to exciting gun readings yet. His fastball is currently below average, though most scouts see projection in the next few years. He shows the ability to spin a breaking ball and some feel for a change-up.
Another player that made an impression during Liga Paralela was pitcher Danny Hernandez. He already has the body scouts look for, and there is more in there as he matures. His arm speed and body give him projection for added future velocity, which could make him an exciting prospect. Despite his youth, Hernandez understands the art of pitching and he has good makeup on the mound with some pitchability.
Extended Spring Training
For all those players left behind after minor league camp breaks, they are forced to toil in relative anonymity until injuries happen or the short-season leagues begin. Though there are no formal statistics or game recaps, that doesn't mean some guys haven't been standing out to the coaches and development staff on the back fields in Lakeland.
One reliever that was held back in EST was right-hander Rob Waite. A year removed from an aggressive initial assignment to High-A Lakeland, Waite was back in EST to work on his consistency. According to TigerTown Pitching Coordinator Greg Sabat, Waite has done just that.
"He's getting more consistent. He's getting stronger. His fastball has been 88-92, and his curveball has looked better," said Sabat.
Waite's EST performance was rewarded on Thursday, when he was re-assigned to Lakeland to fill one of the bullpen roles vacated by Tyler Stohr and Lester Oliveros; both of whom were placed on the disabled list.
Another reliever standing out this spring has been 2009 draft pick Michael Morrison. With a better fastball than Waite, Morrison's focus has been more on control and command, than adding strength.
"He's working at 92-94 pretty much all the time. He's got good stuff. We've just got to keep his delivery tight and consistent, and he could be on a roster if there's space."
In the field, several young Latin players have made a name for themselves with Connecticut Tigers manager Howard Bushong. Three of those young players could well be heading north with Bushong to the New York-Penn League later this summer.
Third baseman Francisco Martinez has long been on the radar of TigsTown readers, and he may be on more radars than that by the end of this season.
"He might be the best third base defender we have in the minor league system," said Bushong on Thursday. "Most people just can't compete with him. He has the arm, hands, speed, everything. The bat will come too. He's a bona fide, true blue prospect, and I think he will be a big leaguer."
Another infielder that just might be helping Bushong win games in Connecticut this summer is second baseman Alexander Nunez. Nunez was in the running for a job in West Michigan, but an up and down spring ultimately kept him back in EST to continue improving and get everyday work with the coaching staff.
"There are some sparks there," remarked Bushong. "There are sparks of him becoming a really, really good player. He's got some athleticism and a little juice in his bat. It's just a matter of consistency."
Rounding out the Latin trio that Bushong noted could be heading to Connecticut with him is catcher Julio Rodriguez.
"He's a big, strong kid with a fantastic arm," said Bushong. "There's lots of strength and power there."
Rodriguez is known for his defense where he was one of the only catchers that could handle the filthy stuff of Ramon Lebron in the GCL last summer. If his bat continues to improve and he starts flashing his power during games, he could start moving up prospect charts.
Though they may not be slated for the New York-Penn League to start the season, Bushong noted two more impressive hitters from EST.
"Moya? He keeps improving everyday," touted Bushong. "There's a chance he becomes a big time guy. He can hit the ball a ton…a ton!" One of the big questions surrounding Moya has been his outfield defense, and while he is admittedly still very raw, Bushong believes he's becoming a bit smoother out there and getting close to being a solid defender.
First baseman James Robbins has also continued making a name for himself after a very strong debut in the Gulf Coast League late last year.
"He might be in the GCL this year, depending on what we do in the draft," commented Bushong. "But I'll tell you what; if we don't take a first baseman too early, I'll gladly take him in Connecticut!"
"He's got some legit juice in that bat of his," continued Bushong. "He still strikes out a bit too much, but he's a good defensive first baseman. He's a hard worker. It's just a matter of learning the strike zone. He's a player."
Injuries have been all too common in the early going this season, and it seems to be striking the organization's top prospects particularly hard. At present, the system's disabled lists are the owner of seven of TigsTown's top fifty prospects.
Second baseman Brandon Douglas is getting closer to a return from his hamstring injury. At last check, he was about ten days to two weeks away from being activated, barring any setbacks.
Left-handed reliever Austin Wood is also drawing closer to a return, and he may be in line to take the open roster spot with the Flying Tigers. He threw a scoreless inning of relief last week and has been looking very strong on the mound in EST action. If Wood can remain healthy, he could be a fast mover through the system.
TigsTown's number one prospect, left-hander Casey Crosby doesn't appear to be getting any closer to a return from his elbow injury. As of Wednesday, he was still working with the training staff, and hadn't begun a formal throwing program with the developmental staff. Until he makes that transition, it is a pretty fair guess that he is still at least a few weeks away from returning from the disabled list.
The two most recent casualties, right-handers Tyler Stohr and Lester Oliveros may have very different timelines for returning to the Lakeland roster. Oliveros is suffering from soreness in his right bicep, and he will be rested for a few days. The hope is that the soreness will subside, and he won't need much more than the minimum to return. Stohr on the other hand, may be in a bit tougher spot.
"[He] will be evaluated this week by our doctors in Detroit," said Director of Minor League Operations Dan Lunetta.
Stohr's strained elbow is not a good sign for a reliever that was picking up steam and starting to make noise as a potential big league option as soon as 2011. Pending the results of his visit to Detroit, it may be fair to assume Stohr could be out for a while.