Season Preview: Toledo Mud Hens (Class AAA)

USA TODAY Sports

As we conclude (for now) the season preview series, we'll take a look at the Mud Hens and how they stack up heading into 2013. Last years roster was very devoid of prospects sans Casey Crosby and a month of Bruce Rondon/Rob Brantly. They'll hardly blow anyone away this year, but the roster is significantly more appealing in terms of prospects. The star power will be there, but after 3-4 names the roster drops off significantly.

Toledo Mud Hens: Class Triple-A

Starting Lineup:

1) Jamie Johnson, CF

-Johnson has the ceiling of an MLB extra outfielder. He combines solid-average to plus speed with good defense in CF to grade out as a 55-60 defender. He runs pretty well, and has an outstanding approach at the plate. Doesn't have much power beyond the gap variety, but he rarely strikes out, walks a good amount, and is overall just a solid ballplayer. Quite frankly, if the Tigers see a need for another outfielder at some point early in the season but don't want to call up Garcia or Castellanos, Johnson would be my preference over Quintin Berry or Ben Guez.

2) Argenis Diaz, SS

-Diaz is an org infielder at this point, but I could see him getting a cup of coffee in the bigs if injuries take their toll. He's behind Santiago and Worth as far as extra infielders go, and isn't on the 40 man roster, but is a solid option in an emergency situation should the Tigers not want to call up options on the 40 man (namely Hernan Perez). He doesn't have much of anything in the way of bat potential, but he can play 2B, SS, or 3B if need be. Basically, he's a solid org guy to have around.

3) Nick Castellanos, LF

-Castellanos is a decent player. I mean, nothing special. I'm sorry, I couldn't do that with a straight face. Anyways, we all know about Nick by now. Potential 70 hitter with 60 power, he looks to be a future #3 hitter in the major leagues who hits over .300 with 20+ HR's and a ton of doubles annually. His bat is very near ready for the majors, but he still needs some time in the minors to work on his plate discipline and pitch recognition skills. Also, his defense is still weak in the OF, although it HAS improved since he was moved there. Overall, I think he'll end up in the majors this season, and his bat may force the Tigers hand sooner rather than later.

4) Jordan Lennerton, 1B

-Lennerton is the best defensive 1B in the Tigers system, and he also has some legitimate power in his bat. He belted 20 bombs for Erie in 2012, but his hit tool is too unrefined to give him much of a major league future. Not to mention that he's blocked by a more than a few guys at the MLB level. I could see him getting a callup as a DH type if injuries occur, mostly for the power potential in his left handed bat, but as we've seen over the years with Mike Hessman and Brad Eldred; minor league power doesn't always translate well to the MLB.

5) Avisail Garcia, RF

-Similar to Castellanos, we all know Garcia's story here. The glove, arm, and speed are all certainly ready for the majors, but he needs some time to develop his bat further. Namely, he needs to work on his plate discipline with the intent of allowing his plus raw power to manifest itself into game situations. If the Tigers need an outfielder at some point, I think he'll be the first guy called up because unlike Castellanos or Berry, Garcia is an above-average/plus defender in the OF.

6) Danny Worth, 2B

-Personally, I'd rather see Worth on the Tigers' roster this season than Santiago, but I don't think that's likely to happen considering Santiago's ability to switch hit and his contract situation. Regardless, there's little doubt that Worth will play in Detroit at some point this year, and he has a nice long-term utility profile. He's a good defender at 2B, SS, or 3B, handles the bat decently well, and can run a little bit.

7) Rawley Bishop, 3B

-Bishop has a solid MLB utility profile as well, but not much more than that. He can play 3B and 1B already, and there's been some chatter about him expanding his role to the corner OF spots as well. He has a nice approach at the plate and some pop in his bat, but overall his profile is lacking beyond that of a utility guy.

8) Bryan Holaday, C

-Holaday was slated to be the Tigers backup catcher in 2013 prior to the acquisition of Brayan Pena, and I'm sure he'll inevitably see some time in Detroit this season. He has a defense-first profile, but the bat lags behind which limits his upside. Regardless, he has a solid backup profile, and is first in line for a callup should the big club need a catcher at some point.

9) Don Kelly, DH

-To be honest, I'm guessing here. I have no idea if Kelly will remain in the org after spring training, whether it be with Toledo or in Detroit for some reason. Also, Toledo doesn't really have a guy that screams "DH" like they've had in the past, so I just threw Kelly in here on a whim.

Bench:

Ramon Cabrera, C

-Acquired from the Pirates for Andy Oliver in the offseason, Cabrera is a more offensive-minded catcher. He switch hits and has a pretty solid idea at the plate, but his defense lags behind and he has minimal power. I think he has an MLB future as a backup catcher, but as of right now he's behind Holaday on the depth chart, and by this time next year he could behind both McCann and Casali as well.

Cale Iorg, SS

-SS OF THE FUTUREEE!!!!!! The once-heralded Iorg is now no more than an org guy, as his bat never even came close to developing as scouts thought it would. He still flashes the plus defensive potential that everyone fell in love with years ago, but doesn't have an MLB future any longer.

Quintin Berry, OF

-The "spark plug" of the 2012 team, Berry finds himself without a spot on the 2013 Tigers as of right now. I've made it no secret that I'm not a fan of Berry. He's a below-average defensive outfielder whose speed allows him to play at an average level defensively, and has a swing that takes approximately a day and a half to get through the hitting zone. He does have plus speed, as evidenced by his 20+ stolen bases last year, and while that's nice and all, the Tigers don't have a place on their roster for a well below average overall major leaguer just for his speed. If his speed was that of Billy Hamilton's, then that would be different story. But it's not, and therefore I don't see him in Detroit unless a huge rash of injuries occurs.

Kevin Russo, UT

-Russo can play some 2B, 3B, and some corner OF, but he doesn't profile as a major leaguer. The Tigers have a lot of guys who can play several positions but not hit (Don Kelly, etc), so it's possible that Russo gets cut before the season starts.

Starting Rotation:

1) Drew Smyly, LHP

-Yes, I believe 100% that Rick Porcello will be the 5th starter for the Tigers. No, I don't think that Smyly gets moved to the bullpen either. Smyly has a bright future in Detroit as a back end starter, but in 2013 he's the "6th starter" so to speak. He has a nice repertoire, good pitchability, and the ceiling of a #3 starter, but I think we'll have to wait a little while before he's a full-blown member of the Tigers rotation. He'll be the first guy called up in the occasion of injuries, and given what Fister and Scherzer went through last year, it's not unrealistic to expect that we'll see him early.

2) Casey Crosby, LHP

-We all know Crosby's story. 60+ FB, a curve that's absolutely sick when it's on/commanded, and a useable changeup. The problem here is that Crosby has 30 command and 30 control. He struggles to repeat his delivery, which causes him to lose the zone not only in terms of command, but also makes him downright "Rick Vaughn without glasses" wild. I still think he has a solid future with the Tigers, but it's looking more and more that his future is that of a left-handed set up man. In the bullpen, even with below-average command, his dominating FB/CB combo can be lethal on left handed batters. I think he'll spend 2013 as a starter still, but towards the end of the season if his command hasn't improved, he may make an Andy Oliver-esque move to the bullpen.

3) Jose Alvarez, LHP

-An org pitcher signed from Miami in the offseason, Alvarez has never pitched above Double-A. He doesn't walk anyone, but that's about it. Lack of stuff combined with zero projection has him profile as no more than an org pitcher. He's been pitching out of the bullpen for the Tigers in spring training, but it looks like he'll head to Toledo as a starter to eat innings after camp breaks.

4) Trevor Bell, RHP

-Another career minor leaguer signed away from the Angels in the offseason, Bell also doesn't offer a profile higher than a fringy minor league starter. He'll eat innings in Toledo, but that's really about it.

5) Ramon Garcia, LHP

-A home-grown org starter, Garcia actually had some decent numbers last year in Erie with a sub-4 ERA and a 3.00 K:BB ratio. Regardless, he also doesn't have a major league profile, and should top out professionally right where he is slated to be right now, as an org starter in AAA.

Bullpen:

Jose Ortega, RHP

-Ortega is a power-armed right hander that has, as our own Jordan Gorosh puts it: "7 command. Not 70. 7." He throws hard (mid 90's, up to 97-98) and an average slider, but he gets virtually no downward plane to the plate on either pitch and has minimal command. He looks like he'll top out as an up-and-down middle reliever, but his fastball intrigues if he can ever learn to command it.

Luke Putkonen, RHP

-I'm higher on Putkonen than most, as I see a viable middle reliever in him. He has a fastball that gets up to 97-98 in spurts but is consistently 94-96, and a curveball that has nice movement when he spins it right and doesn't get under it. He also has added a splitter in lieu of a changeup as his 3rd pitch, which I think adds to his profile. But as the ever-hilarious Jordan Gorosh says, Putkonen is "the 95 MPH version of a robotic arm" because he shows the ball really early in his delivery, and batters get a really good look at it. 95 MPH that's straight and seen early gets drilled in the major leagues, so he'll need to work his command if he's ever to pitch consistently in the majors.

Luis Marte, RHP

-Marte has a solid 7th inning profile, and was once lauded as having the best breaking ball in the organization. A former starter, Marte has a starter's repertoire of 4 pitches, and I think he'll end up in the bullpen consistently in the future. But with 5 right handers virtually cemented into the bullpen already, there looks to be no place for Marte in Detroit as of right now.

Darin Downs, LHP

-Now, I think Downs has a very good chance of making the Tigers out of spring training as the second lefty in the bullpen. As a matter of fact, due to the ineffectiveness of Kyle Lobstein, I'd actually give Downs the nod right now. But the Tigers will give Lobstein every opportunity to make the team or they risk losing him, so we'll see. I like Downs as a middle reliever/LOOGY type, but the Tigers are looking for a long reliever/swingman type for the 7th spot in the bullpen, and Downs does not fit that role.

Duane Below, LHP

-Below could easily end up in Toledo's rotation at the expense of one of the org guys I have slated into there right now. Some think he'll end up on the Tigers roster as the long reliever/swingman type they want, but he's shown absolutely nothing so far in spring training to make me confident in that scenario. I'll pencil him in here as of now, but as with all of these predictions, they are subject to change.

Rob Waite, RHP

-Waite spent last year between Erie and Toledo, compiling decent but hardly impressive statistics. He is a long reliever by trade, but can start in a pinch, making him valuable to the org, if not to the Tigers themselves. I don't think he'll ever pitch in the majors aside from an emergency cup of coffee, but he's a nice guy to have in the system

Conclusion:

As I said in the open, the star power is here with Castellanos and Garcia, and there's some nice prospects here with Crosby, Holaday, and Marte most notably, but after that the roster drops off precipitously. There's several guys who aren't considered "prospects" that could contribute at the major league level at some point (Downs, Below, Berry, Worth, etc) but those guys are hardly worth heading to Toledo to watch. If you go to a Mud Hens game, you're there to see the studs. I already have a 15 game ticket package purchased for the upcoming season, and you can bet that I'll be there scouting the likes of Castellanos, Garcia, Crosby, Smyly and others.

Reminders: You can follow us on Twitter @TigersProspects and like us on Facebook as well.

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