I've been putting off trying to assemble the Tigers' minor league outfield because there were a few players I would just look at and wonder where they might be. Today, though, I sat down and continued my series in which I look at each position and try to guess who will fill it for the Tigers' four full season farm teams.
This was a tough one even with players who were released (Kody Kaiser), retired (Kyle Peter) or assigned to a specific team (Clete Thomas). At the lower levels, there were just a ton of short season players and 2010 draft picks who were difficult to place. With Erie, on the other hand, it was difficult to find four selections.
Since there are three outfielders per team and I'm also throwing in a bonus pick at each level, I'm going to split the outfielders into two posts. In this first one, I'll do West Michigan and Lakeland.
James Meador, Born: 12/9/87, Bats: R
Meador was selected in the 21st round of last year's draft as a first baseman. He played the outfield in college, though, spent more time out there in his brief GCL turn last season, and is listed as one in the media guide. Good enough for me. We didn't see enough of him last season to see what he has, but he's supposed to have a good bat.
Steven Moya, Born: 9/8/91, Bats: L
Oh man, I almost hope I'm wrong with this assignment for Moya. But as I scanned through the other candidates, I figured he was probably the most talented of the young outfielders who could be thrown into the deep end of Grand Rapids. I know Low A ball may not seem like the deep end, but he's among a group of players struggling to learn the strike zone and I suspect he'd be carved up by this league's pitchers.
P.J. Polk, Born: 12/12/88, Bats: R
Polk is one of the only players in this outfield taking a normal path to West Michigan. After all, he was a college player who went to Connecticut in 2010 and was an every day player on that team. In that role, he seemed to have a good feel for his strength, which is blinding speed. He did a good job of getting on base (24 BB and 4 HBP in 270 PA) and tried to steal 35 times (29 successfully) when he had somewhere around 90 opportunities.
Edwin Gomez, Born: 8/26/91, Bats: S
Like Moya, I have a hard time believing Gomez would be ready for this assignment. He's spent the last two seasons in the GCL and has hit .209/.254/.240. I know you can't trust numbers down there, but those are some very ugly numbers. The Tigers must see something they like in the young Puerto Rican, though, as they may have reached a bit to get him in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.
Others considered: Luis Castillo, Ryan Enos, Alexander Moreno, Samir Rijo, Michael Rockett and Les Smith. These are all variations on the type of player I have no idea what to do with. Castillo, Moreno and Rijo were each bounced between the GCL and Lakeland without ever having what appeared to be true starting roles. Rijo is probably the most talented since he signed at 16, but that's the only indicator I have.
Enos was an undrafted free agent, and I never expect those guys to come back for a second season. Les Smith might be talented, but I don't know what the Tigers think of him and he had a rough go in Connecticut last season (.185/.239/.259 in 81 AB). Finally, Rockett struggled enough in West Michigan that a return seemed possible, but he's also 23 and his being cut seemed like a distinct possibility as well.
Daniel Fields, Born: 1/23/91, Bats: L
Fields seemed like he received a bit of an emergency assignment in Lakeland last season, but then played well enough to stick. While he produce at a level a hair above average for the Florida State League, he also struck out in nearly a third of his at bats. That's why I'm hoping the Tigers will let him repeat at Lakeland, where he'll still be one of the younger hitters at that level.
Avisail Garcia, Born: 6/12/91, Bats: R
With Garcia, you have a kid who is just 19, but is already 6'4" and 230 pounds, stole 20 bases and hit four triples last season in West Michigan. That makes it easy to see why people are excited about his potential and athleticism. The cautionary part of the tale is the fact that he struck out 113 times against just 20 walks and had just 25 extra base hits despite all that size. So while there is promise, there is work to be done. I just don't see that work coming in Grand Rapids for a third straight season.
Jamie Johnson, Born: 4/26/87, Bats: L
Soon to be 24, Johnson might be able to reference TV shows and songs Fields and Garcia don't know anything about. But as somebody who walked a good deal more than he struck out last season (98 BB, 76 K) and in possession of good speed, he could be a valuable addition to the Lakeland lineup.
Jeff Rowland, Born: 4/1/88, Bats: L
This may be a little too aggressive for Rowland, but I just have a feeling the Tigers like something about him. He must be a good defender, as he was able to hold down center field as a teammate to both P.J. Polk and Jamie Johnson. He also handled himself well at the plate, slapping out a good average and drawing a lot of walks. The approach allowed him to hit .291/.393/.366 between West Michigan and Connecticut. The Tigers may opt to have him in Grand Rapids so they don't have to go with Moya or Gomez, but call this a hunch.
Others considered: Well, with all those players hanging around down in Lakeland it can be tricky trying to figure out who will staff the team on this end of the complex. Three players mentioned in the West Michigan portion above - Castillo, Moreno and Rijo - all played in Lakeland last year, so I gave each of them some thought before dismissing each. Rockett came to mind simply because he was in West Michigan last season and would be a bit old even for Lakeland this year. I also felt like I had to give some thought to Chris White, who has bounced around the organization for the last few seasons, never amassing even 100 games at any level in a single season.
Once again, I'm sure a lot of the names are right but I'm less confident they're in the right places. If this is how it shakes out, though, Lakeland fans should be treated to a capable outfield that features two center fielders at all times and some of the best position prospects the Tigers have to offer. West Michigan fans would have to hope Meador's bat is as advertised, that Polk's speed is as much fun to watch as I imagine, and that they were witness to Moya and/or Gomez starting to put their talent to good use.