When the season started the Tigers' High-A affiliate in the Florida State League had the heaviest concentration of prospects than any other farm team. Five of the top-10 prospects according to BA where on that opening day roster: Jakob Turner (No.1), Nick Castellanos (No.2), Alex Burgos (No.8), James McCann (No.9) and Avisail Garcia (No.10). Starting 2B/SS Hernan Perez had been included in Detroit's 40-man roster, OF Tyler Collins was seen as a breakout candidate while OF Daniel Fields and SS Dixon Machado were expected to rebound from a dreadfull 2011 season.
Meanwhile RHP Bruce Rondon was seen as a future closer if he could just harness his stuff. Big LHP Brian Flynn and RHP Kevin Eichhorn also joined the rotation, while Viktor Larez, Tyler Clark, Ryan Wolley and Matt Little ptiched out of the bullpen.
The season started with Castellanos, Garcia and Collins on fire while Fields seemed comfortable in his new role as leadoff man. However the rotation struggled by the inconsistency of its members. Turner soon left for AAA Toledo and Eichhorn was injured. Burgos and Teufel struggled with ERAs above 5.50 leaving Flynn as the only effective starter. But as the season progressed the team lost nearly every big prospect it had to promotions: Castellanos was the first to depart for AA Erie, followed by Garcia, Rondon, McCann, Flynn and Fields. Those who stayed behind had dreadfull seasons at the plate; Machado had an OPS below .550, while Perez, 1B Robbins and OF Rockett had OBP below .300. That means that half the starting lineup was below average offensively. Burgos was demoted to the bullpen towards the end of the season.
The team got valuable contributions from 2B/OF Marcus Lemon, a former 4th round draft pick and 1 Million-signing-bonus recipient, and 1B/DH Dean Green as well as 3B Wade Gaynor, who followed the opposite route from Castellanos being demoted from AA to High-A. Luis Angel Sanz proved a reliable starter that eventually led the team in wins and Tyler Clark proved even tougher for opposing batters than Rondon.
Lakeland held off the Tampa Yankees, a team with several top Yankess prospects, in the final series of the regular season to secure a playoff spot and then went on to sweep the Dunedin Blue Jays 2-0. In the League finals against the Jupiter Hammerheads (Miami) the trailed 0-1 and 1-2 before tying the series in game 4 using a late-inning rally. In game 5 a double steal attempt (what???) led to an error that allowed the first run to score and Collins added a RBI single to cap the score as the Flying Tigers blanked Jupiter 2-0 and won their first FSL title since 1992.
So, a big and hearty CONGRATULATIONS and WELL DONE to the boys in Lakeland for overcoming adversities from the in-season losses of several key players and the poor performance of some others and capping off a remarkable season!!!