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 Tigers add six to roster, outright Ni to Triple-A

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PostSubject: Tigers add six to roster, outright Ni to Triple-A   Fri Nov 19, 2010 6:31 pm

Tigers add six to roster, outright Ni to Triple-A
By Jason Beck / | 11/19/10 2:02 PM EST

DETROIT -- On the day the Tigers officially added Joaquin Benoit, they filled up the rest of their roster, too. Detroit purchased the contracts of six prospects to protect them from being available in next month's Rule 5 Draft. The Tigers also outrighted left-handed reliever Fu-Te Ni to Triple-A Toledo, keeping his rights but putting his Major League future in question.

Among the additions are Cale Iorg, the Tigers' shortstop prospect who has had an up-and-down career in the farm system, and left-hander Charlie Furbush, whose breakout season at Double-A Erie opened eyes. Detroit also added lefty Duane Below and right-handers Lester Oliveros, Jose Ortega and Brayan Villarreal.

None of the decisions are particularly difficult, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. Still, the implications are important.

Iorg was pegged as Detroit's shortstop of the future two years ago, when Dombrowski mentioned him at TigerFest as part of his reasons for encouragement about the Tigers' farm system. Realistically, the Tigers saw the promise in him way back in the 2007 Draft, when they selected him as a sixth-round pick signed him with a $1.5 million bonus. His first pro season at Class A Lakeland in 2008 and a Spring Training invite the next year gave reason to believe he was on a fast track.

Since then, Iorg has had a tough learning experience. While the Tigers have loved his defense, he hasn't been able to find consistency at the plate. He batted .211 at Double-A Erie this year with 10 home runs, 33 RBIs and 139 strikeouts in 110 games, but those numbers include a late-season tear that earned him a promotion to Triple-A Toledo. He hit .242 (16-for-66) with the Mud Hens with six doubles, a home run and nine RBIs.

The late-season run earned Iorg a return trip to the Arizona Fall League, where he struggled last year. He seemed on the same path this time around before going on another tear, this one a 13-for-22 stretch over six games to close out his season. He finished in Arizona batting .304 (17-for-56) with 11 runs, two triples, two home runs, nine RBIs and five stolen bases in 15 games.

"I think last time, I went out there still searching for something," Iorg said earlier this fall. "I went out there hoping I would find my rhythm there, as opposed to this year, I'm going out there feeling like I've already kind of got that rhythm. I know what I want to do. Now, it's just perfecting that.

"I'm not still out here searching. Last year, I went out there and still didn't know exactly who I was as a hitter. And now this year, I go out there and I know what I can do."

Though the Tigers re-signed Jhonny Peralta to play shortstop for at least the next two seasons, Iorg sees Detroit as a potential stop in the future. The Tigers were concerned enough that another team would take a chance on him that they had no debate about protecting him.

"He continues to make progress from an offensive standpoint," Dombrowski said. "He's an outstanding defensive player. We think his bat will be the key for him."

Furbush jumped from Class A Lakeland to Erie, then Toledo over the course of the season, using a low-90s fastball and a deceptive mix of pitches to rack up 183 strikeouts -- second-most in the Minors -- over 159 combined innings. He went 8-9 with a 4.25 ERA over 27 starts between the three levels.

Like Furbush, Villarreal was a midseason All-Star in the Florida State League for Lakeland, where he went 7-4 with a 3.47 ERA and 90 strikeouts over 85 2/3 innings before a late-season stint at Erie. He has allowed two earned runs over 19 innings with 11 strikeouts in 13 relief outings for the Caribes of the Venezuelan Winter League.

Ortega had a similar jump to Furbush, starting out at Class A West Michigan before getting promotions to Lakeland and Erie as a middle to long reliever. He went 3-4 with a 3.03 ERA and 61 strikeouts over 68 1/3 innings. Oliveros closed at Lakeland and Erie, racking up 23 saves while fanning 60 batters over 44 1/3 innings.

Below went 7-12 with a 4.93 ERA in 28 starts at Erie, striking out 103 batters over 126 innings.

The Tigers made a major foray into the Far East when they signed Ni out of pro ball in Taiwan. He was a second-half find in 2009, posting a 2.61 ERA with just 20 hits allowed over 31 innings. Once Ni made the Tigers' bullpen out of Spring Training this year, however, he struggled with command. He walked 19 batters over 23 innings while giving up 27 hits and 17 earned runs, good for a 6.65 ERA. The vast majority of that damage came in June, including a four-run, four-walk debacle against the Twins on June 29.

The moves leave the Tigers with one open spot left on the 40-man roster. They can sign a free-agent hitter without having to move somebody else, or they could potentially select somebody in the Rule 5 Draft.

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

“It takes pitching, hitting and defense. Any two can win. All three make you unbeatable.”    
–Joe Garagiola
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