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 Tigers might start turning to prospects to fill holes

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PostSubject: Tigers might start turning to prospects to fill holes   Fri Jun 19, 2009 10:24 am

Friday, June 19, 2009
Tigers might start turning to prospects to fill holes
Lynn Henning / The Detroit News

It's a safe wager phone calls from Comerica Park are being traded on a daily basis with general managers from other clubs. Scouts who track both big league and minor league talent are likewise on the hunt for players that other organizations might be tempted, for the right price, to send to Detroit.

And then there are the Tigers own minor leagues. It is a daily source of inspection and consultation for the Tigers front office: Who might be ready for the majors? Who might be able to fill in if the situation were critical, even as a short-term answer?

Thursday provided one answer, not unanticipated: Right-hander Alfredo Figaro, impressive during spring camp and steady at Double-A Erie, will join the team as Dontrelle Willis' replacement in manager Jim Leyland's starting rotation. He will start Saturday against the Brewers.

Figaro's call-up could be an isolated promotion -- or, given the Tigers' slide during the past few weeks, it could trigger other trips to Detroit.

"The tough thing about baseball is trying to decide about a young guy," said Triple-A Toledo manager Larry Parrish, who managed the Tigers in 1999, and who defers to Leyland and his boss, Dave Dombrowski, on all personnel issues. "Do we make the change? Do we let him play (in the minors)? Or, especially for the Tigers, do we trying figure this guy can help us?"

Erie manager Tom Brookens put it this way: "You've got a lot of good-looking prospects. But they need to show consistency. Not just one day, but over time. It's the same with any player -- consistency is what matters."

The Tigers have their candidates in the minors, perhaps a half-dozen who could push for a promotion as roster problems in Detroit become more acute.

Help is on the way

The players extend beyond the position players who already have spent time in Detroit this year, such as Clete Thomas and Jeff Larish. The cast includes one who got the good news Thursday:

• Figaro, 24, had respectable numbers at Erie (5-2, 4.10 ERA), particularly on the secondary side: 56 hits and 59 strikeouts in 68 innings, against 17 walks.

He also has four pitches, although his curveball is a distant fourth compared with his fastball, slider and change-up.

"Live fastball, a good slider, and his change is getting better," Brookens said Thursday. "His curveball is probably his fourth-best pitch, but at this Double-A level, he's been good at throwing his breaking ball in fastball counts."

• Luke French, a left-handed starter for Toledo, could get the call as early as Saturday. French, who briefly was with the Tigers earlier this season, is 4-4 with a 3.24 ERA. Throw out one bad start May 23 against Gwinnett (eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings) and in his last nine starts French, 23, would be 4-3 with a 2.35 ERA.

French has an average fastball and a decent change-up.

"He sort of looks like a young (Tom) Glavine," Parrish said. "He's got a feel for pitching. He'll slice and dice. And because he's a Glavine-type, who can mix speeds, he can be just as successful against right-handers as left-hand batters."

• Dusty Ryan, a right-handed hitting catcher for Toledo, was with the Tigers for 15 games last season and at least briefly loomed as the team's answer to its starting catcher question heading into 2009. Gerald Laird instead arrived as did Matt Treanor as the team's back-up.

A cold start dropped Ryan from consideration when Treanor got hurt, but Ryan has heated up (.259, seven home runs) after batting .309 in May and .294 into mid-June. He has a powerful throwing arm and could soon end up as a replacement for Dane Sardinha, whose own impressive arm and catching skills aren't matched by his bat.

Also for consideration ...

The next wave of prospects is, from the Tigers perspective, at least as interesting for the simple reason so many could end up as full-time players in the next season or two. Among them:

• Scott Sizemore, 24, Toledo second baseman. He was promoted Sunday from Erie and is a percentage bet to replace Placido Polanco, who is in the final year of his contract.

Sizemore batted .307 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 59 games at Erie. When he saw Sizemore during spring training, Leyland believed he was all but a big league hitter, and the Tigers farm gurus agree. The only hang-up: his glove. He had 12 errors at Erie, although Brookens said the number was misleading.

"I don't get real concerned," Brookens said. "He's pretty solid out there. He had a few basic sloppy errors -- threw a few balls away, missed some relay throws. He just has to be more fundamentally sound. But I think he can handle big-league defense up there. If he wants to win any Gold Gloves he has to get better and get the job done. But he just needs to play more and get some more experience."

• Wilkin Ramirez, 23, Toledo outfielder: He is the fastest of all the Tigers prospects with enough power to have slammed a 430-foot-plus home run into the distant shrubbery at Comerica Park during a brief stint in May.

Ramirez is batting .272 with six home runs and 17 RBIs in 49 games with the Mud Hens. The numbers are surprisingly thin, as are his three triples and five doubles. But it never has been a breeze for Ramirez, who has struck out 56 times. He also is young, which is why the Tigers are prepared to wait for a gifted athlete to develop better contact and pitch recognition.

"I think he's making strides, he's a lot better than he was last year," Parrish said. "He's learning to handle the inside fastball and the breaking stuff. He's one of these guys, if he gets it, he's a scout's dream. He's loaded with tools. And the son of a buck can run. He looks like a fullback and runs like a halfback."

• Brent Dlugach, 26, Toledo shortstop: Back from a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Dlugach has been hitting the fastball (.270, six home runs, 28 RBIs) and playing silky smooth defense, which could leave him in contention for a starting job in 2010. Adam Everett is signed only through this season.

"He's a big kid," Parrish said of the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder. "He's soft-handed, a smooth mover at shortstop. He almost plays like (golfer) Ernie Els. You know how they call Els the Big Easy? That's sort of the way Dlugach plays shortstop. And he's making some progress with the bat, hitting the fastball pretty good, and learning how to hit off-speed pitches."

Wait, there's more

Behind the front-runners is a group at Erie that could find its way to Detroit as early as this season: outfielder/first baseman Ryan Strieby; outfielders Deik Scram, Brennan Boesch, and Casper Wells (just returning from a broken hamate in his left wrist); and catcher Alex Avila.

Some prospects who were viewed as potential help by 2010 haven't had the years expected.

Freddi Dolsi, 26, pitched in the Tigers bullpen much of 2008 because of a fastball that could hit the high-90s. But the right-hander isn't throwing as hard and has pedestrian numbers: 2-2, 4.50 ERA, 31 hits in 30 innings, 18 strikeouts, 11 walks.

Another right-handed reliever who had been high on the food chain, Casey Fien, 25, is 2-1 with a 5.28 ERA. In 29 innings, he's allowed 38 hits with 28 strikeouts.

Perhaps the organization's biggest disappointment is at Erie. Cale Iorg, 23, a second baseman projected to battle for next year's shortstop or second base job in Detroit, is batting .214 with 61 strikeouts in 59 games. His glove is first-class, but his bat has been so unimpressive that the Tigers fear they may have struck out with what looked two years ago like a steal in the sixth round.

lynn.henning@detnews.com


“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers might start turning to prospects to fill holes   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:38 pm

Good
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PostSubject: Re: Tigers might start turning to prospects to fill holes   Mon Jun 22, 2009 8:41 pm

Hmm. Go Cale Iorg!
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