This is the second post in a series of six in which I will take a look at the role of each of the Tigers' minor league teams in player development. The first post covered their Gulf Coast League squad and this one will look at their team in the NY-Penn League, the Connecticut Tigers. Actually, from 1999 to 2009, their NY-Penn League team was the Oneonta Tigers but they moved to Connecticut in 2010. That shouldn't have any effect on how the level is used, though, and certainly shouldn't have any effect on what I'm looking at today.
So let's get down to seeing how the Tigers use their Connecticut affiliate. If a player from the GCL Tigers was moved to the Connecticut Tigers, we would call it a promotion. For player development purposes, though, the two are more like parallel lines than two points on one line. It's fairly uncommon for a true prospect to get assignments to both as they progress to the majors. In fact, there are only four players who spent most of a season in both and all four of those players (Figaro, Wells, St. Pierre, and Sborz) have had pretty unconventional paths through the minors.
The reason the two - the GCL Tiger and the Connecticut Tigers - don't have a lot of overlap is they both tend to be starting points in young players' careers. As we saw in the series' first installment, high school players and international talent tend to land in the GCL for their first assignment. The NY-Penn League is the usual kickoff point for players taken out of college.
We talked last time about how the Tigers had 35 players I would call home-grown appear on their MLB rosters between 2008 and 2010. Of those 35 players, 18 had assignments to their NY-Penn League affiliate. Of those 18 players, 15 were coming out of college. Just two were high school picks (St. Pierre and Sborz) and one was an international player (Figaro). In case you've forgotten the comparable number for the GCL Tigers, they had 11 of the 35 assigned to that level.
Even with an overlap of four players, you can see that a vast majority (25 of 35) of Tiger players start in either the GCL or the NY-Penn League. You'll see as we progress through this series that players who are allowed to skip both levels are generally those the Tigers are putting on a fast track to the majors.
So we've seen the similar roles the GCL Tigers and Connecticut Tigers play in player development. Since the Connecticut Tigers are mostly college players, though, shouldn't we expect them to have a greater share of the Tigers' top prospects? One reason to expect this is the Tigers have signed far more college players in recent years than high school players. Another reason is college players are drafted further along in their development. Wouldn't we expect fewer misses after having seen those extra years of scouting?
These theories do play out a little bit when we see the NY-Penn League affiliates producing more eventual Tigers than the GCL club. But is there a similar disparity in the quality of prospects each sees? In the series' first post, we saw 54 different players have appeared on the Tigers' Top Ten Prospects Lists as constructed by Baseball America. How many of the Tigers' top prospects made a stop in the NY-Penn League? Of those 54 players, 17 have played for the Tigers' NY-Penn affiliate. That's actually very close to the number who played in the GCL (16).
This isn't all that surprising, really. The Tigers tend to go heavy on the college players. Those college players they're taking in the later rounds have been more reliable in developing into MLB role players. However, they might not have the kind of tools that catch scouts' eyes and land them on prospect lists. Players like Will Rhymes and Casey Fien, for example, never rose into the ranks of top prospects. They were much more likely to hit their ceilings - low ceilings, as they may be - than some of the riskier high school picks who were seen as more talented.
With the Tigers having more future big leaguers in the ranks of their NY-Penn affiliates, have those clubs been more successful than their GCL brothers? They have, actually. From 2003 to 2010, the Tigers' NY-Penn teams have gone a combined 316-281. They have been above .500 in five of the eight seasons. That's certainly better than the GCL Tigers' record over the same time (222-234). Is this because the Tigers own the GCL club and have to worry about a player development contract with their NY-Penn affiliate? I doubt it.
I suspect the increased success - relative to their GCL squad - is just tied to the players the Tigers are putting in the NY-Penn as part of their natural development process. Getting a feel for that process is the point of this post and this series, and I hope you now have a better feel for how the Tigers use their NY-Penn affiliate. Whether that affiliate is in Jamestown (where Brandon Inge did his NY-Penn time), Oneonta, or Connecticut, that purpose turned out to be just about as clear cut as the GCL club's. Quite simply, they are the launching point for a vast majority of the Tigers' college draft picks.