Monday, August 11, 2008

Antidote to Tigers-Depression

The Tigers have been an unmitigated disaster this season. There are only three things that fans can take solace in as the season unwinds: 1). Mags has a shot at his second consecutive batting title, 2). Miguel Cabrera isn’t a bust, and 3). Dombrowski will have $50 million to spend in the off-season. Considering the Tigers entered the season with a $140 million payroll and the envy of every baseball city in America, those three things aren’t enough to off-set the colossal disappointment. So, I’ve turned to an old friend to provide me comfort in this time of need: prospect-fawning.

Before I get to the fawning, I want to emphasize that there isn’t a glutton of players in the minors worth fawning over. The system is in pretty good shape depth-wise but there aren't the superstars at the top like we've seen in recent years (i.e. Joel Zumaya, Justin Verlander, Andrew Miller, and Cameron Maybin). It will probably take another year or two before the system looks anything like it did B.M. (Before Miguel). However, there is at least one player who you probably haven’t heard of—if you are a regular reader of my blog, then you’ll probably recognize this name from last year’s prospect rankings—who is quickly turning into a star. In fact, if it were the 90’s, he would easily be the best player in the system. I’m talking about the home-run machine himself, Ryan Strieby. In an attempt to break the awkward silence that surely just ran rampant over the internets, I’ll quickly get to his credentials.

Strieby has been a monster at the plate this season. He has torn apart the Florida State League to the tune of a .914 OPS and 29 home runs. Strieby hasn’t been a prospect to watch on anyone’s radar, really, until now. I liked enough of what I saw last season at West Michigan (A) to place him as the 14th best prospect in the organization. That was considerably more optimistic than other outlets at the time. Now, it’s impossible to ignore what he has been doing to opposing pitching since July 1st (19 home runs, 47 RBI’s and a 1.200 OPS in 38 games).

Strieby’s numbers have steadily climbed each year in the organization which is exactly what you would expect from a legitimate major league prospect. He just turned 23 over the weekend which still leaves him one of the younger players on the Lakeland roster. He has already set the Lakeland team record for home runs in a season with 25. He is currently at 29 with 19 games to play.

Strieby's Progression

Oneonta (A-)20224.654.335425.241
West Michigan (A)21443.769.4221676.253
Lakeland (A+)22417.914.5612994.278

Strieby didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He was the SEC Player of the Year in 2006and a First Team All-American at Kentucky. The SEC—as you probably know—is the premier college baseball conference in America. Strieby was somewhat curiously drafted in the fourth round by the Tigers. Certainly, his numbers seemed to merit an earlier selection. However, he only played one season of D-1 college baseball. He transferred to Kentucky from a C.C. college for his junior season and joined the Tigers the following year. Without a track record of success, it’s somewhat understandable that everyone missed the boat on this guy but his stat-line in the SEC should’ve tipped some people off.

Despite his impressive college accomplishments, Strieby has never been billed as a future contributor in Detroit because Jeff Larish has been the “first baseman of the future” for a few years now after progressing nicely through the system. Strieby should start getting pub as the best hitting prospect in the system because he has significantly outperformed Larish at high-A while doing it almost a full year younger.

Strieby vs. Larish

Ryan StriebyLakeland (A+)22417.914.5612994.278
Jeff LarishLakeland (A+)23457.839.4601865.258

Larish’s designation as “first baseman of the future” certainly took a hit when Miguel Cabrera was permanently moved to first base. So, it would seem that Strieby’s place in the organization is even more uncertain. However, the Tigers may want to consider making Cabrera a DH. Larish’s progression was respectable. Strieby’s is eye-popping. The Tigers have already seen an older-version of Strieby--albeit a third-base version--waste away in the minors in Mike Hessman. Hessman is a 30 year old HR-machine who can’t get out of AAA. Strieby should be ready for the majors by 2011. The Tigers will likely have to move Larish or watch his value waste away. The same thing could potentially happen with Strieby. It’s unfortunate that the best offensive prospect in the organization plays a position that will be occupied for the next ten years. Fortunately, the AL has the DH.

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