If you follow the minors, you know it's very important to know where players are placed within a system. Place them too low and they won't be taken seriously as prospects. Too high and the organization will be accused of being desperate or reckless. That's why I look forward to learning of assignments so much every year, and why I enjoy making a guess at where the Tigers' top prospects will be placed.
Let me emphasize that word, guess. The only phone number I have for the Tigers is 866/66-TIGERS. There are all types of things going on right now in Lakeland - conversations, scouting, personal hunches, methods I don't even know about, I'm sure - that are instructing Tiger bigwigs as to where their prospects will be. I am privy to exactly zero of these bits of information.
For your reading pleasure, though, I am going to venture into foolish waters and splash around some ideas on why I think certain players might be placed at the four levels of the Tigers' minor leagues. Like I always do when I do these marches through the prospects position by position, I'll start with the catchers.
The catchers are going to be a little misleading, though, because it will be the only position where I'll guess at both the starter and the backup. With the other positions, I'm not going to trouble over who's going to be the backups. I'm already shooting blindfolded guessing at the starters. There's no point going over the shoulder to try to get the bench players, too.
I'm going to set a couple of parameters, too. I'm working from the assumption that no player who was in the Latino leagues last year is going to come to the U.S. and jump right into a full season league. I'm also not going to discuss the players I don't pick. It will save space for the article and hopefully generate some conversation. Having said that, I'm still hoping comments from players' ex-roommates from college telling me I need to get out and watch the games more will be kept to a minimum. Okay, let's go.
Gabriel Purroy, Born: 4/16/92, Bats: R
I may be jumping the gun a bit placing Purroy at this level. He'll be 19 most of the season and that's a ripe young age for a catcher in a full season squad. Then again, he seemed to handle himself reasonably well with the GCL squad last year and from the way they've moved him in his young career, I get the feeling the Tigers like this kid.
Luis Sanz, Born: 2/23/91, Bats: R
This was the one level where I wished I was only going one deep with the catchers. There's a whole host of guys who could have been selected as the second catcher for this level. Since Sanz is still pretty young and barely got a taste of the Midwest League last year, I opted for him as their backup.
Rob Brantly, Born: 7/14/89, Bats: L
This one seemed pretty simple, really. He was in the Midwest League last year, and hit right around the league average while drawing one more walk (23) than strikeouts suffered (22). Mix in a good defensive reputation and it's difficult to imagine why the Tigers wouldn't bump him up a level.
Julio Rodriguez, Born: 8/3/89, Bats: R
My first inclination with Rodriguez was to put him in West Michigan. After all, he spent most of 2010 in Connecticut and hit just .208/.226/.307 during 28 games in the Florida State League. West Michigan would seem like a reasonable assignment. I was a little surprised to see he's going to turn 22 near the end of this season, though, and also have heard good things about his defense. Put those together with a desire to see as many catching prospects - as opposed to designated backups - on the full season squads as possible and Julio gets to enjoy the hot Florida sun and tiny Lakeland crowds this season.
Bryan Holaday, Born: 11/19/87, Bats: R
Holaday had a big year last year, leading his Horned Frogs to the College World Series and then getting a very aggressive assignment to Lakeland to start his pro career. His .220/.335/.327 line with the Flying Tigers was a hair below league average production, but wasn't bad considering he was supposed to be more of a defense and makeup guy coming out of the draft. More time in Lakeland wouldn't be too big of a surprise, but let's hope his catch-and-throw skills get him into the Eastern League.
John Murrian, Born: 6/15/88, Bats: R
Murrian was able to get to Erie last season after posting impressive offensive numbers (.264/. 343/.384 in 247 PA) in Lakeland, but completely stalled once with the SeaWolves. Mix that with a healthy helping of minor league vets who can staff the Mud Hen receivership and another go in Erie seems like a natural fit.
Max St. Pierre, Born: 4/17/80, Bats: R
St. Pierre has been around the Tiger organization for forever and three days - with the exception of 2007 - so there's no way they're going to let him go after by far his best season as a professional. He raked in Erie. Well, he walked a lot and hit for power despite hitting just .217. He raked (without caveat) in Toledo, and earned a much celebrated promotion to Detroit.
Jeff Kunkel, Born: 3/11/83, Bats: S
Kunkel is definitely not being kept around for his bat, as his .342 on-base percentage in 44 games in Erie last season was the first time he cracked .300 in that category since he was at Oneonta in 2006. He's a good defensive backstop, though, and the Tigers seem to like having those guys around when they can. I'm hoping that with what's likely to be a young Toledo rotation, the Tigers will see the wisdom of some good veteran backstops who are familiar with those pitchers.
I like the direction the Tigers' catching corps has taken, and I'd really enjoy seeing as many of the prospects as possible get a shot in the full season leagues. Still, while there might be some wishful thinking on my part in the assignments above, I suspect at least six of the names will be right. The question will be how many fewer are in the right place. What's much more important, though, is there will be more names you should try to remember than what we've seen in the past.