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Tigers sign 17 to Minor League contracts

Tigers sign 17 to Minor League contracts

DETROIT -- Mike Rabelo's return to the Tigers organization was among the 17 Minor League contracts the team officially announced Thursday, fortifying the upper levels of their farm system and providing some insurance options in case of injuries at Detroit or Triple-A Toledo.

Macay McBride, Ruddy Lugo, Ryan Ketchner, Jason Waddell, Max St. Pierre and Santo De Leon all resigned with the Tigers after spending last year in Detroit's farm system, while four other signings had Major League time with other clubs last year.

Rabelo, however, returns to his original organization three years after injuries made him a surprise backup to Ivan Rodriguez in Detroit and two years after going to Florida in the trade with Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Though he rejoins an organization that's just about set for catching in the big leagues, he provides some extra depth. He also has an invitation to big league camp.

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Rabelo played in just nine games for the Marlins' Gulf Coast Rookie League club last year in an injury-plagued season before the Marlins released him. His last big league time came in 2008, when he batted .202 (22-for-109) with three homers and 10 RBIs in 34 games as a part-time catcher in Florida.

St. Pierre, who turns 30 years old in April, returns for what would be his 13th year in the Tigers system. He split last year between Toledo and Double-A Erie, batting a combined .242 with eight homers and 24 RBIs while throwing out 21 of 45 would-be basestealers.

Other catchers signed include Robinzon Diaz, whose deal was unofficially announced at last month's Winter Meetings, and Andy Bouchie, who spent last year in independent ball. At least a few of those catchers are expected to be in the Tigers' big league camp alongside Rabelo, Gerald Laird and Alex Avila to work with Detroit's many pitching candidates.

Though the Tigers have starting pitching options in their system, their dire late-season shortage of pitching in Toledo last summer following injuries and promotions prompted them to bulk up in that area. Lugo, Ketchner, Enrique Gonzalez and Phil Dumatrait signed earlier in the offseason.

Dumatrait, a 28-year-old left-hander, and Gonzalez, a 27-year-old righty, both saw bullpen time in the Majors last season. Dumatrait pitched in 15 games for the Pirates, going 0-2 with a 6.92 ERA and 11 walks over 13 innings. He was a swingman for much of the season in Pittsburgh in 2008.

While Gonzalez went 8-11 with a 5.12 ERA for Triple-A Pawtucket last year, he had a 3.16 ERA over his first seven starts and a 7-7 record over the first three months before fading badly down the stretch. He is confirmed to have an invitation to big league camp.

Lugo proved to be valuable in Toledo last year. His 13 wins tied for the International League lead to go with a 4.07 ERA. Ketchner, who is legally deaf, was a midseason signing at Class A Lakeland who was promoted late in the year when the Mud Hens staff went thin. He made an impression by winning both of his starts, allowing 11 hits over 16 innings with two walks and six strikeouts.

Rainwater, too, made it to Toledo later in the year after a strong half-season at Erie. The Tigers' fourth-round pick in the 2003 Draft went 1-3 with a 5.76 ERA in 17 games for the Hens, three of them starts. He went 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA in 22 games for the SeaWolves.

The 28-year-old Waddell went 1-2 with a 3.14 ERA at Erie, striking out 14 batters over 14 1/3 innings.

Other pitchers signed included left-hander Sam Narron, who spent the last four years as a swingman in the Brewers system and topped out at Triple-A Nashville.

Veteran infielders Kory Casto, Cesar Nicolas and Jason Stokes all join the Tigers organization to provide some depth and experience. Stokes, who turns 28 this month, is a former Marlins prospect drafted in the second round of the 2000 Draft, who played seven years in the Marlins system before injuries prompted him to retire in 2007. The same front office that drafted him in Florida will give him a chance at a comeback.

Casto has a chance to take the third-base job at Toledo that Mike Hessman held or shared for five years before signing with the Mets this winter. Casto batted .271 with eight homers and 51 RBIs for Triple-A Syracuse last year. Nicolas was in independent ball last year, batting .335 with 14 homers and 103 RBIs for the Grand Prairie AirHogs of the American Association.

Also signed was outfielder Ryan Patterson, a former Blue Jays prospect who spent 2008 at Double-A New Hampshire.

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