Leading a pitching staff that had both plenty of youth and several returning contributors, was a group of pitchers signed after the start of the season, in an attempt to help fill in some gaping holes on the field. Bill Castillo, Jorge Medina, and Henry Mejia all turned in solid seasons as emergency options for the club.
"We had a slew of injuries on the pitching side, but we battled through," said Director of International Operations Tom Moore. "Guys like Castillo and Medina really helped us out. The season would have been a lot tougher without them."
Castillo may not offer the projection scouts look for in big league prospects, but he was a find for the Tigers this summer.
"He works from a different arm angle that throws those young guys off," said an NL scout. "His curveball is a bit more advanced than most in the league, and with his ability to throw strikes, he ate guys up this summer. I NP'd (non prospect rating) him this summer, but he was valuable to them."
Entering the season, the Tigers had likely expected to get serious contributions from right-hander Emmanuel Del Orbe, but he was shut down after just five appearances with some shoulder tightness. The team took the cautious route with his recovery, and he didn't return to the mount again in 2010. That type of blow was big for the team, as Del Orbe posted a 2.44 ERA in 59 innings last year.
An invaluable resource for the DSL coaching staff this summer was left-hander Darlyn Duran. Working largely out of the bullpen, Duran provided the ability to pitch in several roles, and still piled up a team leading 68 2/3 innings on the hill.
Picking up much of the vacancy left by the absence of Del Orbe, and the ineffectiveness of returning pitchers like Greg Morillo and Alvin Acosta, was a crop of youngsters that should peak the interest of all Tiger fans.
"[Those two guys] have lots of arm strength and they're pure velo guys," said Moore.
"I really like the arm strength [those guys] offer," said one AL scout. "They can really bring it, particularly at their age, and I think they've got more in the tank as they fill out."
Walter Lachapel and Luis Hidalgo worked a combined 110 1/3 innings on the season, and both struck out more than a batter per inning. As teenagers, both pitchers have plenty of room for development, but both succeeded in 2010 with solid secondary pitches and good command. To continue their success at higher levels, both will need to add additional velocity.
The final member of the staff that proved to be a critical piece was right-hander Carlos Alvarado. After serving a 50-game suspension for violating Minor League Baseball's policy on performance enhancing substances, Alvarado reported to the DSL, and was a dynamic reliever for them down the stretch. In 13 games, Alvarado notched a 0.95 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 19 innings.
"He gets a good angle on his fastball," said Moore. "He has some sink on his ball, flashes a plus slider, and he's very aggressive."
In the end, all the turmoil surrounding the Tigers pitching staff, left them ranked in the bottom third of the league in ERA, though they did demonstrate an ability to strike out the opposition, registering a whiff rate of 9.6 per nine innings; good enough to top the entire DSL.
The Tigers pitching staff wasn't the only part of the team to be forced to deal with injuries, as the offense was forced to add players throughout the year as well. With injuries at various points to catchers Raynolds Guzman and Ricardo Olivo, and Victor Ovalles, while outfielder Robinson Figueroa has been moved to the pitching mound.
With tools abound on the offensive side of the ball, the DSL offense was one that would likely be boom or bust, and with tools not translating to the field as expected, it was much more bust this year.
"Guys like Delgado and Crafort had some good stretches, and some not so good stretches," noted Moore. "They will get there eventually, but sometimes the tools can take time."
Neither player managed much in the way of a triple-slash line, finishing with .486 and .527 OPS', respectively. There were some positive signs as the season went along, as scouts have indicated they saw better approaches, and more solid contact as the year progressed.
Two highly athletic outfielders continued the trend of plenty of tools and a lack of production, as Confesor Lara and Daniel Carranza both struggled in their time in the DSL. Lara, a six-figure signing before the season began, had missed the last year of action due to an MLB suspension for irregularities in his background investigation prior to signing in 2009.
His .198/.279/.239 line looks positively brutal on the surface, but scouts remain high on his upside, as does the organization.
"[He] really has to work and get games in," commented Moore. "I think he's going to catch up eventually. He's just got so many tools, its hard not to like him."
Carranza joined the DSL squad after a successful debut in the VSL, in an attempt to give him exposure to more velocity and a bit tougher competition over the season's final weeks. In 21 games with the DSL club, Carranza hit a paltry .108, and he struck out 24 times against just one walk, but scouts weren't deterred by his statistical struggles.
"You can see the athleticism and tools," said an AL scout emphatically, "and you know its going to come together at some point. He just needs time to adjust to the additional velocity, but when he does, keep an eye on him."
Two players that may have exceeded some expectations this year were infielders Francisco Contreras and Carlos De Los Santos. The numbers don't show the progress either player has made throughout the year, having hit just .242 and .261, respectively, but they both began to translate their raw skills to the field over the second half of the season.
"[De Los Santos] has a very interesting set of tools," commented Moore. "He doesn't have a lot of game experience, but as he continues to get more, you can see the tools starting to take off. "
"Contreras has really made a lot of progress over the last six to seven months," continued Moore. "He's turning himself into a nice player."
Overall, the Tigers record may have been disappointing, but that doesn't stop scouts and talent evaluators from seeing enough raw tools to keep them interested.
"We've got some kids with some arm strength," concluded Moore. "That is certainly interesting. You may not see it in the numbers all the time, but there are some really interesting arms. There is also a nice crop of athletes and toolsy guys that could improve if things come together."
While it is always nice to see players put up big numbers and demonstrate without a doubt that they are ready for whatever challenge could face them the next season, the raw talent on display in the DSL this year still gives hope to the future of the organization.