Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Great week to be a Tigers fan

To say the Tigers have struggled lately would be an understatement. The Tigers are 7-15 in their last 22 games and many of those losses were of the blowout variety. Nobody knows if the “wheels are gong to come off” for good or if the Tigers are going to “right the ship” in time to make the playoffs. It’s a tenuous time to be a Tigers fan but it isn’t all bad. In fact, this week might be the most exciting week of the season. There are a bunch of things going on right now—some of it on the field but most of it off the field—worth getting psyched about. Here is all the stuff going on with the Tigers just this week alone…

1). Maybin is one step closer.

Uber-prospect Cameron Maybin is one step closer to patrolling the outfield in Detroit. He was promoted, as expected, from Lakeland (A+) to Erie (AA). The Tigers had planned on moving him up towards the end of the season to get him used to a much more competitive league for next season. Maybin recently recovered from a shoulder injury that kept him out for a month and was quickly promoted upon returning. In 83 games at Lakeland, Maybin fared pretty well. He hit .304 with a respectable OPS of .879. Although he led the team in strikeouts, he also led the team in walks. He also managed to steal 25 bases. He put together the type of all-around season that would do justice to his reputation as a five-tool player. His power numbers weren’t where many expected but he had a pretty good season in Lakeland nonetheless. Maybin has quickly put to rest any concerns that AA ball would be a problem for him. He homered in each of his first three games and is hitting a sizzling .462 in four games. Those numbers will obviously tail off but it’s great to see him one step away from the big leagues.

2). Porcello and Co. are in the fold.

The Tigers have reached deals with their top prospects from the 2007 draft. Both are 18. Both are 6'5. And both are going to "blow the doors off" the minors. There were more than a few analysts that predicted the Tigers and Rick Porcello would not come to a deal before the August 15th deadline. Those analysts obviously don’t know Dave Dombrowski or his M.O. The Tigers knew they were going to sign Porcello when they drafted him and anyone who is familiar with Dombrowski knew it too. You don’t give a player the largest contract ever given to a High Schooler on a whim. Porcello has Josh Beckett-type talent and the Tigers stole him. He is in the fold and—like Andrew Miller—he will be on the fast track to the majors. He’ll likely destroy the minors next season and barring an injury (please don't let this happen), make his MLB debut in 2009. The Tigers also signed Casey Crosby who was slotted to go within the first two rounds before dropping for the same reason that Porcello dropped. The Tigers dished out the dough and now have two premier prospects to show for it. I love seeing all this pitching in the minors but sooner or later, some of that pitching will need to get shipped off to find a long-term, power-hitting first baseman, a catcher, and a left-fielder.

3). Zumaya rehab start

Joel Zumaya—right in line with the guarantee that he made when he first injured his finger—is on schedule to return in August. He pitched 2/3 of an inning—or 18 pitches—at Toledo (AAA) in his first action since May 1st. He topped out at 94 MPH which isn’t bad considering he hasn’t thrown a “live” pitch in more than three months. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers bullpen shave two full runs off its ERA with the return of Zumaya. Things have been so bad that even the return of Fernando Rodney might shave off a run. I have to give Rodney credit for striking out three in a row after giving up a lead-off double in the bottom of the ninth last night. That was huge. In more Zumaya news, Richard Zumaya—the Tigers' 43rd draft pick in May and Joel’s younger brother—has 12 strike outs and a 1.42 ERA in 12 innings with the GCL Tigers.

4). Jurrjens MLB debut

The Tigers are set to debut another in a long line of talented prospects tomorrow in the final game of the two-game series against Cleveland. We’ve seen Andrew Miller, Virgil Vasquez, Jordan Tata, and Eulogia De La Cruz make their MLB debuts this season. Now, we're going to see Jair Jurrjens. Jurrjens is more highly-touted than all of the above with the exception of Miller. Jurrjens’ debut will be especially intriguing to Tigers fans who have followed his rise through the Tigers minor league system. He started in the organization in 2003 as a 17-year old. Four years later, he’s making his MLB debut in the thick of a pennant race. I have no delusions that Jurrjens will be able to duplicate his minor league success immediately. Virgil Vasquez has been a perfect example of a). not expecting too much in a MLB debut and b). not jumping to conclusions after one start. It’ll just be nice to see Jurrjens pitch for the first time. And to think--if we believe reports out of Pittsburgh, Jurrjens was almost traded for Jack Wilson at the trade deadline. Who let Randy Smith back in the building?

5). Kenny should be back soon.

Kenny Rogers is apparently optimistic about returning to the rotation fairly soon. He was encouraged by news that his elbow inflammation appears to be healing. It is doubtful that he’ll be back to 100% at any time this season but an effective Kenny Rogers is the difference between possibly missing the playoffs (see; ’07) and reaching the World Series (see; ’06).

6). Tigers are in Cleveland

The Tigers are playing the most important, two-game, August series that you’ll ever see. The Tigers are in Cleveland for a first-place standoff. Since the Tigers took game one with fantastic pitching all-the-way around and an offensive explosion in the tenth inning, they are guaranteed to be in first place for at least two more days. Pennant races past April were vacant in Detroit for the last 15 years. This is what we've been waiting for!

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