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First Base Analysis

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If anyone is interested......Do you guys want me to keep posting these as I write them up, or not bother?

Organizational First Base Analysis

By Mark Anderson

Minor League Editor

Date: Oct 4, 2004

After perusing the catchers in the Tiger’s system, it’s time to move our way around the diamond to the first sackers that are looking to contribute in Comerica Park. In recent seasons, the Tiger’s have had some productive first baseman, but none that stood out as top flight players. Carlos Pena is starting to show some promise, but the Tigers are still looking for that impact player to step up and take over. On that note, let’s take a tour through the system to see what is on the horizon.

As with almost the entire Toledo roster this season, the first base duties were held down by minor league and major league veterans just looking for one last shot. Prior to his injury, Joe Vitiello was putting up stellar numbers in the International League, and even tossed in an All-Star Game homerun for good measure. There is one large problem though, Joe will be 35 at the start of next season, which does not bode well for his chances in Detroit. Andy Barkett, 30, also had a solid season, but really doesn’t have a future at the major league level.

Unlike our last list, we don’t have to stretch all the way to the lower minor league levels to find promise. Erie’s Juan Tejada posted yet another outstanding campaign, as he continues his underrated climb up the ladder. The 23-year old Tejada has had four straight outstanding seasons in the Tigers system, improving his plate discipline and driving in runs at every stop. In 2004, Juan hammered out 23 homeruns, and drove in 92, while hitting .289. Tejada has been consistently knocked for his defense, but some intense off-season work resulted in improved play around the bag at first, making him a legitimate prospect. He is likely to begin next season at AAA-Toledo, where we shouldn’t be surprised to see yet another productive season.

Lakeland and West Michigan also had their own prospects turning in solid seasons. Jody Roughton and Kelly Hunt both made encouraging progress during the 2004 campaign. Roughton struggled during the 2003 season at West Michigan, but showed an improved ability to make contact, as well as improved defense at first in 2004 at Lakeland. Jody still hasn’t showed the power the organization would like to see out of a corner infielder, but it’s tough to gauge power potential from the pitcher friendly Florida State League. Hunt on the other hand displayed great power potential playing at West Michigan in 2004, hitting 28 doubles, and 21 homeruns in a park not known for being conducive to power hitters. Despite being old for the Midwest League, Hunt’s performance this season was encouraging to say the least. A promotion to Lakeland will provide a nice challenge for the Bowling Green standout. Both Roughton and Hunt have the chance to establish themselves as legitimate first base prospects in 2005, but will need impressive performances to distinguish themselves from the pack.

The lowest levels of the Tigers system provides a little less promise, but there is still one player to keep an eye on. 2004 draft choice Josh Lee out of McMurry University, was a late round (30th) draft choice that showed advanced plate discipline (18 walks in only 114 at-bats) in his first taste of professional baseball. Despite difficulties in making contact this season, scouts and GCL coaches feel he has the potential to be a solid all around hitter, and has the body to develop above average power. It will take a while for the small school star to work his way towards Comerica Park, but he has a chance to become something special.

Manning first base for the Oneonta Tigers this season, Rafael Mendez had another disappointing season, further distancing himself from any prospect status. After two miserable seasons in the Gulf Coast League, Mendez struggled again, batting only .220 with 2 homeruns and 29 RBI in 246 at-bats. Mendez will likely get a shot in full-season ball next year with West Michigan, but will need to post some incredible numbers to get back on track. Former Angel’s farmhand, Maximo Soto also had a disappointing 2004 season after sitting out in 2003. Soto batted .228 with only a .304 on-base percentage, despite being very old (22) for the complex based league. It will be surprising if Soto returns to the Tigers system in 2005, particularly if the Tigers select a couple of new first base prospects in the next draft.

An initial glance at the state of the Tiger’s first base situation may indicate a more pleasant picture than that which we saw while looking at the catchers. However, only one prospect in the entire system has established themselves with multiple good seasons, and the remaining players each have a significant flaw to overcome on their road to Detroit. There is some potential in Kelly Hunt and Josh Lee, but there are large hurdles left to climb before they are considered top prospects. Despite the lack of depth and impact players lower in the system, not all hope is lost. Juan Tejada provides promise, and is close to the major leagues. If Carlos Pena should falter, look for Tejada to get a chance to strut his stuff on the big stage as early as 2006.

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Yeah keep em coming Microline....very interesting stuff, as I don't know much about the youngsters in the system.

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I'm really intrigued by Josh Lee...he has tremendous power potential, and has the tools to become a very complete hitter.

I never actually played against him in college, but saw him live several times..... Sitting in the bullpen one day at a tournament, McMurry was playing on an adjacent field....he pitched the first game that morning, throwing a 2-hit shutout...absolutely dominating the opponent. In the second game he proceeded to have a 3-homer game, driving in 8. Two of the balls he hit, as far as the reports I have read...haven't landed yet :confused: .

His understanding of the strike zone for someone as raw as he supposedly is, is great, and I'm anxious to see if they challenge him with an assignment to West Michigan or let him develop a little slower, starting in Oneonta with potential for a callup later on....

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Nice job, Micro. I concur about the 1Bs. Tejada is about it. But I think Pena will be fine there for the next few years. :classic:

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As I go through and rank the prospects at each postition, I realize more and more why our system is still ranked so low. We might have one or two prospects at each position that appear to be worth something, with no depth at all. We have practically zero impact prospects...and many of our more promising players haven't proven themselves above the lowest levels (ie. Ryan, Miller, Collet, Lee, Hunt, Frazier, Tata, the list goes on)....

I'd be surprised if we cracked the Top 20 in BAs annual ranking this year as well....

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Roughton does a good job of making contact and seems like a pretty hard worker, but I wasn't too impressed with him this year. He hits the ball hard but seems to always hit it right at someone. He's a good kid, I'd like to see him do well but he didn't show much at all. I look forward to seeing Kelly Hunt play!

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Another excellent analysis!!! I really look forward to these and I see I'm not the only one. A couple of comments and/ or questions...

Should Tejada go to the AFL to go against better competition?

Should the Tigers look to draft a 1B early in the draft next year (first 5 rounds)? Do you have any possible names of potential draftees (I know its a long ways off)? Drafting 10 should get us a good hitter, although the last time we were in that position it netted us Scott Moore. Speaking of Moore, do you see a switch from 3B to 1B?

Thanks for all the information.

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Actually Andy Barkett was the Toledo firstbaseman for most of the season. Joe Vitiello was primarily a DH, before retiring from baseball two-thirds of the way through the season. I don't believe it was an injury but rather was given time off as his wife pregnant and due and never came back to the team, deciding to make a life outside of baseball for his family.

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Originally posted by Shaggy Ry

Actually Andy Barkett was the Toledo firstbaseman for most of the season. Joe Vitiello was primarily a DH, before retiring from baseball two-thirds of the way through the season. I don't believe it was an injury but rather was given time off as his wife pregnant and due and never came back to the team, deciding to make a life outside of baseball for his family.

I realize Barkett was the everyday 1B....but Vitiello also put in 29 games their prior to his absence....His tale this season was a tad more interesting for the article than the empty stats Barkett put up...Either way, neither had a future in Detroit...

As for Vitiello's absence...he was placed on the DL, and the Hens front office would not disclose the injury....after that he could have been gone for whatever reason...and you are correct, he has retired at this point....

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Originally posted by Microline133

As I go through and rank the prospects at each postition, I realize more and more why our system is still ranked so low. We might have one or two prospects at each position that appear to be worth something, with no depth at all. We have practically zero impact prospects...and many of our more promising players haven't proven themselves above the lowest levels (ie. Ryan, Miller, Collet, Lee, Hunt, Frazier, Tata, the list goes on)....

I'd be surprised if we cracked the Top 20 in BAs annual ranking this year as well....

In your trips around the minors, have you gotten any hints at all as to why the player development system is still not improving as quickly as we would like ? It's nice that DD is getting things straightened out at the MLB level but they won't be able to sustain any progress over the long term unless they significantly improve player development.

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Originally posted by tiger337

In your trips around the minors, have you gotten any hints at all as to why the player development system is still not improving as quickly as we would like ? It's nice that DD is getting things straightened out at the MLB level but they won't be able to sustain any progress over the long term unless they significantly improve player development.

One of the biggest problems is a complete lack of talent. You can see some promise when you look at the West Michigan, Oneonta, and GCL rosters....but it's going to take a long time for that to filter up through the system, and become readily evident to everyone. It's really difficult to comment on the actual player development at each level without being there on a day-to-day basis....

You'll see a gradual improvement in the system as DD gets the opportunity to draft and sign more young players, with higher ceilings, and more potential...but it's going to take a while. It's very apparent that this system has been neglected nearly to the point of no return. It's going to take a long time to infuse enough talent into the system to see any appreciable increase in development of major league caliber players....

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Mark... A few questions for you:

1. How do these other teams reload so quickly and the Tigers can't? Are we just that inept?

Cleveland jettisoned their entire payroll and now two years after their minor leagues are once again plumb with player after player coming to the biggies and contributing.

Minnesota is almost jettisoned into the cosmos by MLB and now have won three straight division championships, and continue to reload every year with players from their minor league system.

2. Does it seem like DD puts an emphasis upon drafting and developing pitching over position players? Does he believe it is easier to do and has a higher ceiling than position players which he can get as free agents, or trade access pitching for position players?

3. IF that is the case, is team defense always going to be a problem in the minors, which then transfers to the majors because of a lack of talent throughout the system?

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1. Minnesota and Cleveland had good farm systems even when the parent team was doing good while the tigers system has been down for a long time ..... atleast thats how i view it

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Todd is right on, Minny and Cleveland have done it in different ways but both have had excellent farm systems for a while. Remember Cleveland got a lot when they traded away a couple of their players for prospects. Minnesota simply has been excellent at scouting, drafting and development for a while now.

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Originally posted by Microline133

One of the biggest problems is a complete lack of talent. You can see some promise when you look at the West Michigan

Since I don't know the minors like you do, Microline, maybe you can tell me how WM pulled off the MWL championship with only some promise. I'm not being a smart*ss here in asking this, I am just curious on your take on how they had such a great second half of the season, and made it through the playoffs to win the championship....was that a case of average players getting hot at the right time? Does Matt Walbeck have a knack in getting players motivated? I'm curious, because I do agree with you about the lack of talent in the minors, based on my limited knowledge, and from what I've heard from you and others on the board.

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Mark... A few questions for you:

1. As already mentioned, a stocked minor league system is nothing new to either of these franchises. Both organizations have stocked their systems for years, while the Tigers have neglected theirs significantly since sometime in the 1980s....that makes for a lot of ground to make up....

2. DD does have a track record of drafting and acquiring a ton of pitching, but I don't know that he puts and explicit emphasis on it. Considering the difficulties teams have in obtaining pitching as the final piece to the puzzle, I can see why he would do this. Stocking your system with copius amounts of pitching gives you a higher probability of producing someone worth anything. You can almost always go out and add positional talent...but it's more difficult to add quality pitchers....

3. I don't think team defense is going to be an issue permanently because of an emphasis on drafting and acquiring pitching. I think right now, our minor league instruction in this area is lacking...and I also question the ability of our major league coaches to teach this aspect of the game. I understand we have some genuinely bad defensive players, but with as much emphasis as they claimed they were going to put on it...there was little to no progress made. Defense is not something we will always struggle with...provided we start to stock our system with talented players....

maybe you can tell me how WM pulled off the MWL championship with only some promise.

West Michigan pulled it off with an extremely hot pitching staff down the stretch. While they may not have had the best prospects in the Midwest League, they also didn't have a lot of glaring holes..and when a pitching staff gets as hot as Tata, Zell, Steinborn, Vasquez, Martinez, Homer, Tomey, etc all got...their tough to beat..... More often than not...hot pitching will dominate even moreso in the minor leagues than in the major leagues....

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Originally posted by Microline133

West Michigan pulled it off with an extremely hot pitching staff down the stretch. While they may not have had the best prospects in the Midwest League, they also didn't have a lot of glaring holes..and when a pitching staff gets as hot as Tata, Zell, Steinborn, Vasquez, Martinez, Homer, Tomey, etc all got...their tough to beat..... More often than not...hot pitching will dominate even moreso in the minor leagues than in the major leagues....

I guess one thing that played into it along with the hot pitching, is that 5/3 Park is a pitcher's park. Even though they had a couple guys (I don't recall their names) hit over 20 HR a piece, they broke a record of 16, that stood since Robert Fick and I believe Jacques Landry hit 16 in 1997. It all makes sense to me now. That's the only thing that makes me wish that I lived back in Grand Rapids...even with the internet, I lose track of that sort of thing...thanks for straightening it out and giving me a clue on what exactly happened, Microline.

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Originally posted by Microline133

As I go through and rank the prospects at each postition, I realize more and more why our system is still ranked so low. We might have one or two prospects at each position that appear to be worth something, with no depth at all. We have practically zero impact prospects...and many of our more promising players haven't proven themselves above the lowest levels (ie. Ryan, Miller, Collet, Lee, Hunt, Frazier, Tata, the list goes on)....

I'd be surprised if we cracked the Top 20 in BAs annual ranking this year as well....

I would be too. I think one of the biggest problems with our minor league system is that there is a complete lack of power hitting ability.

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Originally posted by estrepe1

I would be too. I think one of the biggest problems with our minor league system is that there is a complete lack of power hitting ability.

I'd qualify that as "apparent" power hitting ability. We have a ton of guys with a lot of power potential...but few have been able to translate that power to results....

Guys like Collet, Skelton, Lee, Ryan, Justice, Hunt, McKinney, Sanchez, Kirkland, Moore, Clevlen, Reynolds, the list goes on....they all have power potential..but not translated results....

You are correct in stating that this lack of proven power hitters is a huge downfall in our ranking...but I also think part of our ranking downfall is the fact that we never seem to have a prospect that completely dominates their level....we don't have guys like Kinsler, Fielder, F. Hernandez, Capellan, Cain, Durbin, etc that get everyones attention with one dominating performance after another....

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I'd qualify that as "apparent" power hitting ability. We have a ton of guys with a lot of power potential...but few have been able to translate that power to results....

In thinking about this, maybe somebody can remember better than me, didn't Mark McGuire show poor to average power numbers before his first full year in the biggies?

Mark....does it seem power hitters develop later in their careers? I know there are most likely players to pint at both ways, but is this a pretty clear rule of thumb?

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Originally posted by estrepe1

Well I think Curtis dominated AA this year for a while at least.

That and Ledezma's first half are the only ones I can think of in recent memory....

Without going through everything, I think you would almost have to go back to Gabe Kaplers ridiculous couple of seasons...

We have had a few of those stretches by a couple of players...but when was the last time we had a player who dominated a level...was promoted....continued to dominate...was promoted again...and still played well....something like Cain, Capellan, Hernandez, or Kinsler did this year....

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