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Written by Matt Snyder | 30 April 2012

AndyDirksAndy Dirks has jumped out to a pretty good start with the bat this season. He’s collected nine hits in 32 at-bats for a rather good .281 batting average. His contact ability and low strikeout rate (just 9.1% this year) appear to make him a prime candidate to hit at the top of the lineup (perhaps number two behind Austin Jackson), but Dirks’ inability to draw a walk would be a hindrance to the club in that position.

Dirks has drawn a walk in only 4.1% of his plate appearances in his major league career (none yet this season). That rate is about half that of what a league average hitter would draw. If he continues his career with that type of a walk rate, then he would need to be a .290-.300 hitter in order to maintain an on-base percentage in the .330-.340 range that’s considered to be league average.

But in order to maintain that type of batting average, even with his fairly low 14.6% career strikeout rate, Dirks would have to maintain a BABIP in the .335-.340 range. That’s not impossibly high, but only 47 players have maintained a career BABIP at or above .335 since 1990. That’s only 4.6% of all batters that have played in that timeframe.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 30 April 2012

ChrisBootcheckWe’re still less than a month into the season, but the Tigers have already had a revolving door installed in the bullpen. Daniel Schlereth, Thad Weber, Brayan Villarreal, and Luke Putkonen have all spent part of the year in Detroit and part in Toledo (Villarreal and Putkonen are currently up). Adam Wilk was called up to replace an injured Doug Fister in the rotation, but he was sent back down after three fairly ineffective starts forcing the team to pull Duane Below out of the bullpen and into the rotation for at least one start.

All of this movement has made for a very unsettled front-end of the bullpen – a weakness that has been exacerbated by the surprising lack of offense. And even though the Tigers should have Luis Marte and Al Alburquerque both returning from injury to help solidify the relief pitching, I don’t think we’ve necessarily seen the last Mud Hen join the bullpen this season.

32 year old Chris Bootcheck is probably among the top contenders to get a shot in Detroit should the Tigers dip back into their farm system for a reliever. Bootcheck was a top-ten prospect in the Angels organization in 2000, 2001, and 2002, but now, ten years later, he’s fighting to re-start a big league career that never really got going.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 29 April 2012

RobBrantlyThe Erie SeaWolves (Detroit’s AA affiliate) have only one hitter on their team younger than 24 years of age. That player is 22 year-old catching prospect Rob Brantly*.

*Brantly will turn 23 this season, but since his birthday is after June 1, roughly the halfway point in a season, this year can be said to be his ‘age 22 season’.

I mention age in particular because it should be a significant disadvantaged to Brantly. Only 19 hitters in the Eastern League are in their age 22 season or younger (with only five of them being 21 years old or younger). So, needless to say, Brantly is playing in a league that’s quite advanced for his age (the average player age for both pitchers and hitters in Double-A leagues is just north of 24 years).

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Written by Matt Snyder | 27 April 2012

NickCastellanosThirdIt’s been a long time since the Tigers have had a position player prospect as exciting as Nick Castellanos. We’re now used to seeing hot pitching names like Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Jacob Turner in the Tigers’ organization, but I don’t know that I can name another hitter that has had a realistic “All-Star” ceiling. I guess Curtis Granderson came up through the system with some pomp and circumstance, and appeared as a Top 100 prospect. But before Granderson it had probably been since Eric Munson that the Tigers had a hitter to be excited about (it’s a downer that I bring up Munson in a post about Castellanos, isn’t it?).

And so far, Castellanos has done nothing to quiet interest in his development as a hitter. After putting up a very nice .803 OPS in West Michigan last year as a 19 year-old (including a very, very slow April), Castellanos has jumped out of the gate in High-A Lakeland this spring. Through 74 plate appearances, Castellanos has for a slash line of .386/.430/.514.

This is the part of the post where I lay down the standard BABIP warning about how you can’t expect a hitter to maintain an overly-elevated average on balls in play (Castellanos’ is a grotesquely high .481 this year), but I’m not all that concerned about BABIP with Castellanos. Of course, he won’t be able to maintain that average, but if there’s anyone that’s likely to have a high BABIP skill, it’s a hitter like him. His minor league career BABIP of .418 likely includes more than a bit of good fortune, but he profiles as the type hitter that could maintain a higher (or much higher) than average BABIP.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 27 April 2012

BradEldredThe Tigers announced yesterday that Brandon Inge has been given an unconditional release, and that Brad Eldred’s contract had been purchased from the minor leagues. I think this move was more about Eldred’s power and the need for runs than it was about simply letting Inge go due to his underperformance, but someone had to get the boot. Inge hadn’t produced with the bat in quite some time, and his case for a roster spot certainly wasn’t helped by Miguel Cabrera’s better-than-anyone-could-have-dared-to-dream transition to third base.

I’m sad to see Inge go because he did have a valuable career here in Detroit for many years (about 2.0 WAR/600 PA which is about what you’d expect from an average starter), but I don’t think anyone can argue that it was probably time for everyone to move on.

So the Tigers will look to Brad Eldred, the slugging 32 year old first baseman/designated hitter, to try to provide the offense with a boost. But what should we expect to see from the man who dinged 13 home runs in 20 games this year in Toledo?

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Written by Matt Snyder | 26 April 2012

DuaneBelowAdam Wilk was optioned to Triple-A Toledo following last night’s loss to the Mariners. Wilk performed as advertised as a high-control and low-strikeout pitcher (2.5 BB/9 and 5.7 K/9), but it seemed like every mistake pitch ended up in the seats. Wilk allowed four home runs in only 11.0 innings this season, brining his major league career total up to seven in 24.1 innings.

I don’t think it’s time to give up on Wilk’s future as an MLB pitcher, but he’s going to need to eliminate the mistake pitches that float up in the zone over the plate if he’s going to straighten out his home run issue. I don’t think he has the repertoire to survive in a major league starting rotation, but I still like him potentially in a long relief or spot starter role, just not quite yet.

So our attention now moves to his possible replacement. I think there are really only four names worth throwing into the mix (five actually, but Doug Fister probably won’t be ready to return in four days): Jacob Turner, Andy Oliver, Casey Crosby, and Duane Below. They’re the same guys that were in the rotation conversation to begin camp.

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Written by Matt Snyder | 25 April 2012

West_Michigan_Whitecaps20 year-old shortstop prospect and Venezuelan native Eugenio (I believe it’s pronounced ay-oo-HEY-nee-oh) Suarez wasn’t considered a top-tier prospect coming into the year by most, only finding himself ranked by those who dug deeper into the system, but he did end up with a #16 ranking by Motor City Bengals and a #39 spot by TigsTown($) (earning Paul Wezner’s nod for breakout minor leaguer of the year).

But Suarez has acquitted himself well so far in his first year in a full-season league. He’s split the shortstop and second base duties with Brandon Loy (with Suarez getting the majority of the starts at shortstop), and is one of only two players that have played in all 19 Whitecaps games this season (Aaron Westlake being the other).

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