Enough about the Tigers. Let's talk about the future Tigers. You can't talk about the future without starting with Justin Verlander. I remember reading Lynn Henning's preview of the 2004 draft in the Detroit News and being intrigued by Verlander's numbers. Henning said he was a bit wild but had a devastating fast ball and big time potential. I didn't know anything else about him but that's the guy I was hoping for. Sure enough, the Tigers pulled the trigger. After a lengthy holdout, Verlander signed and the Tigers lucked out big time. He's been nothing short of outstanding in A ball and now AA. His first two starts in AA went 14 innings with 0 er's and 17 k's. This guy could be pitching for the Tigers right now but the depth in the organization means he'll likely be a September call-up when the roster expands. Stopping Verlander from a June call-up to the Tigers is Sean Douglass who was 9-1 for the Mudhens. His impressive big league debut against the D-backs likely means he'll be around for a little while. Also fighting for a September call-up is Kenny Baugh. Baugh is a blast from the past. He was a top pick in the mlb draft. The Tigers had high hopes before he encountered serious arm problems. Baugh has fought his way back with an impressive performance for Toledo. Joining Verlander in Triple AA Erie is Joel Zumaya. Zumaya is only 20 years old and has matched Verlander's dominance in AA. He's 5-3 with a 3.16 era. His most impressive numbers are his 121 k's in 88.1 innings.
The pitching depth in the Tigers farm system is probably better than the combined depth of the previous ten years. It might be a stretch to expect much out of Baugh but stranger things have happened. It's also important to remember that Wil Ledezma has above average stuff. He was effective in his brief stint with the Tigers last year. It says a lot for the organization that a guy who started the season as the 5th starter is now fighting his way up in the minors. Depth is a good problem especially when it's been since the grunge era that the Tigers have had any.
The hitting on the Tigers farm clubs isn't as impressive but it's a far cry from the system that produced nobody in the last ten years. Curtis Ganderson was poised to make the team in spring training but the Tigers didn't have room. He's been nothing but exceptional for AA Erie this year. Brent Clevelan has been a monster for the Lakeland Tigers. Look for Ganderson and Clevelan to be starting in the outfield as soon as '07. With Carlos Pena tearing up triple A, Tony Giarrantano making noise for Erie and Marcus Thames proving to be a valuable pickup, the Tigers have hitting depth that has been missing for quite some time.
I can't emphasize enough how important hiring Dave Dombrowski has been. His drafts, trades and free agent signings have been more than anyone could ask for. Kyle Sleeth was supposed to be the Tigers ace of the future. He went down with arm problems and probably won't begin pitching for at least 18 months. Normally, that would've been devastating news for Tiger baseball. Instead, it's disappointing news. Dombrowski has acquired so much depth that the loss of Sleeth does little to deflate the hopes for the future. Surely it sucks for Sleeth to have such a terrible injury and it would've been nice as a fan to see him climb the ranks. However, it just goes to show that this organization has come a long way in a few short years. Enjoy the Tigers quest for a +.500 record this season. But, expect big things to come starting next year.