With the 2010 season approaching, MLB.com takes a look at 10 of the Tigers most intriguing prospects that you should keep an eye on.
Prior to the 2009 season, we identified 10 prospects to watch in the Tigers farm system. Of those 10, five remain on the 2010 list.
Alex Avila, C: Things have come together ridiculously quickly for the son of Tigers assistant GM Al Avila. A fifth-round pick out of the University of Alabama, it took Avila less than one full season to reach Detroit, an amazing feat considering he just started catching full-time in 2008 as a junior at Alabama. Not only has the left-handed-hitting backstop shown surprising acumen behind the plate, but he also slugged five homers in just 61 big league at-bats late last year. Even if the Tigers send him to Triple-A so he can play every day, most feel he'll be in Detroit at some point in the future.
Casey Crosby, LHP: Even though the Tigers were very cautious with the big left-hander in his first year back following Tommy John surgery, Crosby was still MLB.com's choice for Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year after he went 10-4 with a 2.41 ERA over 104 2/3 IP. Crosby held hitters to a .195 average and struck out 117. He has an excellent three-pitch mix (fastball, curve, changeup) and, another year removed from the surgery, his feel and command should be even sharper. It stands to reason the kid gloves will come off a bit for Crosby as he moves up the ladder and he could be one of the better pitching prospects in baseball by the time the 2010 season is over.
Wilkin Ramirez, OF: The tools are undeniable. In 2009, Ramirez hit 18 homers and stole 33 bases. He made a nice splash in the big leagues, going 4-for-11 and hitting his first Major League homer. He hit .297 in just more than 100 at-bats in winter ball as well. It's also clear the 24-year-old has some things to work on. Ramirez struck out 143 times in 113 Minor League games a year ago. He got a good amount of playing time in big league camp and will go back down to Triple-A to continue to sharpen those tools.
Ryan Strieby, 1B: Strieby has been an All-Star in each of his three full seasons of pro ball. Even though he's struggled some with wrist/hand issues, he still hit .303 with 19 homers over 86 games for Double-A Erie in 2009. The big first baseman has slugged .563 and .565 in the past two seasons and he's got the ability to hit the ball out of any park. Blocked by Miguel Cabrera at first, he'll head to Triple-A to wait for an opening at DH or if there's an injury.
Casper Wells, OF: A late bloomer who began pro ball in 2005, but didn't break out until 2008, Wells was hoping to keep the breakout going into 2009. A broken hamate bone dampened the enthusiasm, but he did return to hit 15 homers and slug .489 over 86 games for Erie. He made up for some lost time by raking in the Arizona Fall League (.351/.433/.662 over 77 ABs) and hit very well in big league camp this spring. Now 25, Wells will bring his power bat -- he's got good speed and plays solid outfield defense as well -- to Triple-A Toledo. Able to play all three outfield positions, he could be the first one called up to fill a hole in Detroit.
These five players were on our 2009 list but are not on the 2010 list, due to the loss of rookie status, poor performance, injury, the addition of other prospects to the list, etc.
Cale Iorg, SS: A very good athlete with tools to spare and Major League bloodlines, Iorg's performance has yet to catch up with his potential. He's plenty good enough to play shortstop defensively, but while he shows flashes of offensive skills, he hit just .222/.274/.336 while striking out 149 times in 129 games for Erie last year. Things didn't go any better offensively in the Arizona Fall League, either. He missed two years of baseball during his Mormon mission, and there's still hope he'll catch up. The Tigers love his athleticism, but he's now 24 and faced with repeating Double-A.
Jeff Larish, 1B/3B: After seeing some time over the past two years in Detroit as a backup corner infielder, Larish has kind of fallen out of favor. Dropped from the 40-man roster to make room for closer Jose Valverde in January, he was in big league camp as a non-roster invitee. Last year, he was slated to play semi-regularly, but that never materialized, and he struggled, then got hurt in Triple-A. He's had a very solid spring, but there doesn't appear to be room for him on the 25-man roster. That could mean a return to Toledo, waiting for another chance.
Dusty Ryan, C: Clearly passed by Avila on the organizational depth chart behind the plate, Ryan was designated for assignment and then traded to the Padres in December. It looks like he's headed for Triple-A in San Diego's system, waiting for a crack at a backup catching job there. Considering he was a 48th-round draft-and-follow, he's already exceeded expectations.
Ryan Perry, RHP: A year ago at this time, he was a huge surprise, making the big league bullpen with just a handful of pro innings under his belt. The 2008 first-rounder stuck around all year, compiling a 3.79 ERA in 53 relief outings. If that year was about him getting his feet wet, this season he'll play a bigger role, perhaps as the primary setup man to closer Jose Valverde.
Prospects to watch
Alex Avila, C
Alex Avila, C
Casey Crosby, LHP
Casey Crosby, LHP
Cale Iorg, SS
Melvin Mercedes, RHP
Jeff Larish, 1B/3B
Andrew Oliver, LHP
Ryan Perry, RHP
Wilkin Ramirez, OF
Rick Porcello, RHP
Daniel Schlereth, RHP
Wilkin Ramirez, OF
Scott Sizemore, 2B
Dusty Ryan, C
Ryan Strieby, 1B
Ryan Strieby, 1B
Jacob Turner, RHP
Casper Wells, OF
Casper Wells, OF
Rick Porcello, RHP: He was just 20 and had just one pro season under his belt, but that didn't seem to matter. He finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting after winning 14 games, posting a 3.96 ERA and 2.01 GO/AO. Now he's in line to start the Tigers' home opener and his future seems almost limitless.
The following five players are new additions to the Tigers Prospects to Watch list.
Austin Jackson, OF: Those who dream about Jackson's potential think he might be Curtis Granderson in due time. It made sense, then, that he was dealt to Detroit for the very player he might become. Now it's Jackson's turn to take over in center field. He's shown the ability to hit for average, run and play defense. The power hasn't come yet, but it might in the future. He hit very well this spring (.358 in 17 games) in preparation to be the club's everyday center fielder.
Andrew Oliver, LHP: The Tigers' second-round pick last June, Oliver signed too late to make his official debut in the organization. The lefty from Oklahoma State did throw 16 innings in the Arizona Fall League, finishing with a 2.81 ERA and .217 BAA. He's not the typical college southpaw in terms of being a touch-and-feel guy; he can run his fastball up to the mid-90s and has fantastic command of it. He has a plus changeup, but his breaking stuff needs work. His AFL stint could help him get off to a slightly higher start, maybe at Lakeland, to kick off his career.
Daniel Schlereth, LHP: Coming to the Tigers as part of the deal that sent Edwin Jackson to the Diamondbacks, Schlereth is now reunited with University of Arizona teammate and fellow 2008 first-rounder Ryan Perry. He could join Perry in the back end of the bullpen soon. Less than a year after being drafted, he was in the big leagues, though command issues plagued him when he was in Arizona. In the Minors, he's got a career 1.13 ERA and .159 batting average against, so if he can refine his command, he could become a filthy left-handed setup man or closer in the future.
Scott Sizemore, 2B: The 25-year-old second baseman is the type of player who plays above his tools. There's no question he can hit and get on base, with a career .296 average and .383 OBP. His .441 SLG isn't half-bad for a smallish middle-infielder and, though he doesn't have great speed, he's a smart baserunner who'll swipe some bases. Despite a broken ankle suffered in the Arizona Fall League that required surgery, Sizemore is healthy and expected to be the Tigers' Opening Day second baseman.
Jacob Turner, RHP: The last time the Tigers drafted a right-handed pitcher out of high school, it turned out pretty well (see Porcello, Rick). While it's not expected that Turner will move as quickly -- Porcello was very advanced with his feel for pitching -- his pure stuff is nearly as exciting. He's got excellent arm strength and can get his fastball up to the mid-90s. He's got a curve and a changeup, both of which should be good offerings in the future. Right now, Turner just needs experience. He didn't pitch last summer and got shut down as a precaution when he had a stiff shoulder. He should get started with West Michigan.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.