2010 GCL Tigers Season Preview

In recent years, the Tigers GCL roster has seen an influx of Latin American players coming stateside from their growing programs in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. That trend continues in 2010, while also mixing in several recent draft picks to keep an eye on.

The GCL rotation will be led by high school lefty Kyle Ryan. Ryan's body and stuff scream projection and he could be the most interesting member of the rotation this summer. One amateur scout that saw him regularly this spring said "He could have fun against inexperienced guys in the GCL. He knows how to pitch."

Joining him in the rotation will be another recent draft choice, right-hander Jeff Ferrell out of Pitt Community College. He and fellow righty Steven Crnkovich (pronounced SIRN-ko-vich), a non-drafted free agent out of Tennessee, should provide additional experience and polish to the rotation this summer.

Adding a Latin flare to the rotation will be 21-year old righty Fernando Celis. Celis has improved his ability to compete over the last few years, while still flashing fringe-average to average stuff most of the time. He is joined by the last member of the rotation, Wilsen Palacios. As of right now, Palacios is still assigned to the Tigers High-A Lakeland affiliate, but he should be returning to the GCL soon.

The bullpen is a touch thin right now, but the Tigers are expected to add additional arms through the signing of draft picks in the coming weeks, and potentially signing additional non-drafted free agents.

The back end of the GCL squad's games will likely be held down by right-hander Bruce Rondon. He is a well-built kid with a true power arm and he can air it out in short stints out of the bullpen. The Tigers had brought Rondon stateside last year, but opted to send him back to Venezuela after just three outings. He is back this year, and his stuff and makeup have both been improved.

The Tigers will feature three Latin American arms in the bullpen, highlighted by the very duo of Antonio Cruz and Ariel Medina. Cruz has some projection left, but he relies mostly on his pitchability and his off-speed stuff to keep hitters off balance. Long term, some scouts project him as more of a starter, but he will continue to build strength and develop his stuff in the bullpen this summer.

Medina is another arm that could move to the rotation at some point, and he is coming of a dynamite season in the DSL last year. The rail thin lefty started thirteen games for the Dominican Tigers last summer, notching at 2.15 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning. If his frame fills out and his command improves, he could be the next in a long line of promising arms in the system.

A third lefty in the GCL bullpen will be 19-year old Yadiel Polanco. Signed last spring, Polanco surprised many with his performance, by posting a 3.18 ERA in 14 games (12 starts). Polanco has a quick arm, and as he adds strength to his frame, most scouts see a kid with the potential for a solid-average to above-average fastball.

One draft pick that may not be long for the GCL is Bradley right-hander Patrick Cooper. Cooper has flashed legit power stuff in the past, and early reports out of the Jayhawk League this summer had his velocity returning to the low- to mid-90s with ease. Cooper is a guy that the Tigers could decide to push if they plan to keep him in the bullpen, and his stay on the back fields in Lakeland may be a short one.

The final definitive member of the bullpen at this time is one of the Tigers Asian imports, left-hander Hua-Wei Lo. Lo is a converted outfielder who has flashed intriguing stuff in the past, and has spent the spring building up arm strength in hopes of him being ready for the GCL season.

Catching this eclectic pitching staff will likely be a collection of four backstops that all bring differing levels of ability and experience to the table.

The two primary catchers are likely to be eighth round pick, and son of current Detroit skipper Jim Leyland, Patrick Leyland, and Venezuelan youngster Gabriel Purroy. Patrick is still quite raw, but he is a guy the organization likes and he should see plenty of time. One NL scout that saw Leyland this spring said, "You can see the raw ability in there, and it just needs time on the field to come out. He might struggle this summer, but you'll see signs of improvement."

Purroy is one of the top young defenders in the organization, and the Tigers are excited about the potential he brings to the table. His bat has some pop in hit, though his understanding of the strike zone remains raw. He should see plenty of action on the field this summer, and he will be one to watch closely.

Also seeing time behind the plate will be one of last year's draft choices, Edgar Corcino, along with two other foreign players in Australian Byron Aird, and second year stateside player Adolfo Reina.

Corcino is a converted infielder who is a big-bodied catcher with a love for the game and plenty of physical gifts. For those few fans that hit the back fields and check out the GCL games, his enjoyment of the game should be evident.

"You can just see how much he loves being out there," said former Director of Player Development Glenn Ezell during last year's Fall Instructional League. "He's always smiling, always working, and always having fun."

Aird is reportedly finally healthy after some minor medical issues this spring, and a wrist injury last year in Australia, and it will be very interesting to see how he handles the GCL. Aird's bat is well ahead of his glove at this point, and while the Tigers see him as an intriguing catcher, he may see time at several other positions just as he did last summer, including second base, third base, and the outfield.

Reina may not see the field right away for the Tigers, as recent reports indicate he's been out of action for most of extended spring training with some type of injury.

The Tigers will also be well-stocked at first base this summer, with three Latin American players and one recent draft pick projected to be on the roster.

The lone first base draft pick currently on the roster is San Diego's James Meador, and he will still be out of action for several weeks with a broken arm suffered during his collegiate season. When healthy, he could provide a solid college bat with some versatility in the field.

Elvin Soto has bounced around a bit this year, opening the season with West Michigan before being bumped back down to the GCL recently. The Tigers are still waiting for his power bat to show up and provide some punch to the middle of the lineup, though some scouts are souring on his long term prognosis.

"He just doesn't look like he wants to be out there," said one AL scout. "He looks completely disinterested."

If his head is in the game and he's ready for action, Soto can provide power from the left side, while also possessing the ability to play third base in a pinch.

Two newcomers to the states will be Dominican first sacker Juaner Aguasvivas and Venezuelan Gilbert Gomez. Both players bring plenty of power to the table, but their games also remain quite unrefined. One scout that saw Gomez several times last season in Venezuela recently commented that "when he hits it, it probably goes a mile. But he misses a lot."

Both players should see time at first base and designated hitter this summer, and if things break properly, they could be potent sticks for the middle of manager Basilio Cabrera's lineup.

Across the diamond at third base, the Tigers are likely to rely heavily on talented teenager Javier Azcona. A shortstop last year in the DSL, Azcona has enormous hands and feet, and he projects to grow off the position in short order. Though he may still see some time at shortstop this summer, third base is his likely future home. Azcona's bat has the potential to be a potent weapon, but he will have a big adjustment to make at such a young age.

Working alongside him will be Venezuelan shortstop Dixon Machado; a player known for his outstanding glove work and speed. Machado is a legitimate base stealing threat and a premium level defender, despite his youth. His bat perked up in the eyes of scouts last fall, and he should be an interesting player to watch this summer.

The two other infielders on the current roster are small college products Pete Miller from this year's draft, and Pat McKenna from the 2009 draft. Both players have the ability to play around the infield, and they could see action at second base pretty regularly.

The outfield is likely to be a crowded place for the GCL team this summer, with up to six players currently on the roster. Two priority guys are likely to be last year's high-round draft pick and former shortstop Edwin Gomez, and one of the Tigers higher profile Dominican signings of recent years, in Steven Moya.

Gomez made the switch to the outfield this spring, and his development is likely to be slow given his youth and raw skill set. He will likely get plenty of at-bats this year to try and get his career moving in the right direction.

One scout that saw Gomez this spring noted, "He looks like a kid with potential, but that potential is a long way off. I will be curious to see him six months from now, because he could be a dramatically different player."

Moya is a much different player than Gomez, both in build and in ability. Moya's power has been noted on this site over the last two years, and it should be evident all season long. He has improved rapidly this spring, with Connecticut manager Howard Bushong noting during extended spring training that he's "been really impressed with his progress. He gets it, and he could be very good."

Two players who will be making their stateside debuts will be outfielder Samir Rijo and Alexander Moreno. Moreno is a toolsy kid from Venezuela, who the Tigers are hoping can take the next step in his development.

Rijo on the other hand is largely a bat-only prospect, but he has the potential to hit his way onto the map if he can make the adjustment to the faster pace and better pitching of the stateside leagues.

The final two players currently on the roster are recent draft picks Les Smith and Bo McClendon. Smith is a left-swinging outfielder with some speed and arm strength out of St. Louis Community College. The Tigers are intrigued by his potential, and he can be expected to be in the lineup nearly everyday.

McClendon is the son of the Tigers current hitting coach, Lloyd McClendon, and after a solid career at Valparaiso, Bo will be looking to continue his baseball experience in the same organization as his father. Built much the same as his dad, Bo will need to improve his ability to hit off-speed stuff if he is to develop into any kind of legitimate prospect.

In total, the GCL roster will again be extremely young in 2010, and that alone makes it an intriguing team to keep an eye on. It should be expected that the club will have a significant amount of roster flux throughout the year, but a few priority players like Machado, Azcona, Moya, Leyland, Purroy, Gomez, and Ryan should see regular time on the field no matter what.

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