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 Lynn Henning: The state of the Tigers 2009

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PostSubject: Lynn Henning: The state of the Tigers 2009   Fri Nov 21, 2008 10:28 am

Friday, November 21, 2008
Lynn Henning: The state of the Tigers
Tigers still have work to do
Detroit has fleet of young arms, but holes elsewhere

Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers president and general manager, keeps a running tab on the Tigers roster that extends five years forward.

He never shares it with outsiders. It's up to them to figure out who will be here, who won't, and who will have emerged from the minor leagues as the Tigers look to 2009 and beyond.

Stitching together a solid, 25-man active roster for 2009 is Dombrowski's biggest issue as he prepares for next month's winter meetings in Las Vegas. And that could be a touchy task for a team whose minor leagues feature a fleet of promising pitchers who probably will be ready closer to 2010 than 2009.

Replacement parts are at a premium as Dombrowski searches for help in his bullpen, at shortstop and at catcher. But how the youth corps develops will determine not only how quickly the Tigers acquire baseball's most precious mineral -- pitching -- but how much latitude they'll have replacing aging players or making trades for more serious needs in ensuing seasons.

Pitching lit up the faces of the Tigers front office, manager Jim Leyland and the minor league brass during October's Instructional League at the team's Lakeland, Fla., headquarters.

"All the feedback was that our inventory of young arms impressed a lot of people," said Dan Lunetta, Tigers director of minor league operations, whose team took eight pitchers with its first 10 picks in this past June's draft. "In a relatively short period of time, we've made some significant strides in replenishing that talent."

Building from within

Lunetta referred to eight young pitchers the Tigers traded the past two offseasons. The Tigers not only intend to restock their shelves, but pitching remains the most valuable trade chip a club can hold.

The Tigers would prefer, of course, to hang onto their arms and develop a line of succession at the various positions by way of their farm system.

A prime example there is second baseman Placido Polanco. He turned 33 last month and is signed through 2009. It's likely Polanco will move on after next season, when he'll be a free agent and when the Tigers will be interested in breaking in a younger second baseman.
The question today is whether that second baseman will be
Cale Iorg, the highly regarded infield prospect who also could end up at shortstop; or whether an ascending minor leaguer such as Will Rhymes, or an on-the-cusp Scott Sizemore, will have excited the Tigers as they prepare for Polanco's departure.

The Tigers will be weighing the same kind of consideration a year from now, when, presumably, power-hitting prospect Jeff Larish will have had a year to work on developing his new position, third base.It's the likely destination for a natural first baseman who is staring at Miguel Cabrera's incumbency there through 2015.

What will happen in the Tigers outfield? Where will serious power-hitting candidate Matt Joyce play with Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen under contract, and with no real options to work at designated hitter while Gary Sheffield is around?

What about one of the most talented athletes in the system, Wilkin Ramirez, a 23-year-old outfielder who could bust through next season?

And what will happen at catcher, and how soon, when Dusty Ryan appears close to being named next year's starter and when hot prospect Alex Avila, a fifth-round draft pick in 2008, already has made a splash in his first months in the system?

Arizona arsenal

Some of the Tigers' organizational depth is on display this month at the Arizona Fall League, where baseball's better prospects can find themselves if they aren't playing winter ball someplace in the Caribbean.

Young pitchers Casey Fien, Luis Marte, Rudy Darrow and Zach Simons are playing for the Mesa Solar Sox. So too, is outfielder Casper Wells, as well as Larish and Rhymes.

"We try to determine (who goes to Arizona) by who can continue the season and get the most out of this program career-wise," said Glenn Ezell, Tigers director of player development, who recently was in Arizona checking out the Tigers' prospects. "It's a matter out here of facing better pitchers and pitching to better hitters.

"We like to select guys who we feel will gain the most from competing at this level."

It does not necessarily mean that a system's best prospects will play in Arizona. Iorg, for example, is the Tigers' best position prospect. But he signed in 2007 after a two-year layoff while serving a Mormon mission in Portugal.

He had some minor injury issues in 2008, then played in the Tigers' instructional camp in Florida last month.

"He has wonderful talent," Ezell said of Iorg, whose father, Garth, and uncle, Dane, played in the big leagues. "But in talking with Dave (Dombrowski) and our roving instructors, our thoughts were, he got a good foundation in our instructional league. Now, let's have him take a break and prepare for spring training in 2009."

Sizemore, too, was bypassed for an Arizona assignment because of some lingering injury issues. So, too, was shortstop prospect Danny Worth, whose shoulder is healing nicely after a cyst was removed at the end of the summer.

Joyce is playing winter ball in the Caribbean, as was Ramirez, at least until a serious intestinal ailment picked up in the Dominican Republic sidelined him.

It has left Ezell to focus on his Arizona group, including some pitchers who might find their way to Detroit next year.

The grooming process can be long. Baseball is notoriously unpredictable when projecting talent, or whether that talent ever will contribute regularly in the big leagues.

But a minor league system injected with a mass dose of pitching from June's draft is beginning to bubble.

The question is whether all that anticipated help will arrive quickly enough to take some of the pressure off Dombrowski and the Tigers heading into 2009.

Organizational depth chart

A breakdown of the Tigers, position-by-position (starter's contract status in parentheses):

First base


Miguel Cabrera (2015)

On deck

Jeff Larish-x

Ryan Strieby

Ryan Roberson

Second base


Placido Polanco (2009)

On deck

Cale Iorg-y

Scott Sizemore

Michael Hollimon

Will Rhymes

Justin Henry

Third base


Brandon Inge (2010)

On deck

Jeff Larish-x

Mike Hessman

Santo De Leon



To be determined

On deck

Cale Iorg-y

Brent Dlugach

Danny Worth

Brandon Douglas

Audy Ciriaco

Left field


Carlos Guillen (2011)

On deck

Wilkin Ramirez

Clete Thomas

Center field


Curtis Granderson (2012)

On deck

Casper Wells

Luis Salas

Andy Dirks

Kyle Peter

Right field


Magglio Ordonez (2011)

On deck

Matt Joyce

Brent Clevlen

Deik Scram



Dusty Ryan

On deck

James Skelton

Alex Avila

Utility players

Marcus Thames

Ramon Santiago

Ryan Raburn

Starting pitchers


Justin Verlander (2011)

Jeremy Bonderman (2010)

Armando Galarraga

Zach Miner

Nate Robertson (2010)

Dontrelle Willis (2010)

On deck

Rick Porcello

Luis Marte

Mauricio Robles

Casey Crosby

Josh Rainwater

Jonah Nickerson

Alfredo Figaro

Brandon Hamilton

Relief pitchers


Fernando Rodney (2009)

Joel Zumaya

Aquilino Lopez

Bobby Seay

Freddy Dolsi

Clay Rapada

On deck

Ryan Perry

Robbie Weingarten

Cody Satterwhite

Guillermo Moscoso

Rudy Darrow

Jon Kibler

Scott Green

Brett Jacobson

Thad Weber

Zach Simons

Andrew Hess

Matt Rusch

Jared Gayhart

x-Larish currently is working at third base in the Arizona Fall League.

y-Iorg could me moved to shortstop or third base.

You can reach Lynn Henning at
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PostSubject: Re: Lynn Henning: The state of the Tigers 2009   Fri Nov 21, 2008 7:41 pm

Things will be OK

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PostSubject: Re: Lynn Henning: The state of the Tigers 2009   Sun Dec 07, 2008 3:46 pm

Rafael Furcal remains unsigned....
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