Around the beginning of the Winter Meetings, I started taking a look at the Tigers' depth at each of the positions. My pace in completing these looks slowed a little more than originally intended, but I was able to complete my looks at their catchers and first basemen. So it's not exactly an M. Night Shyamalan twist that we've now moved on to second basemen. Not unless one of our prospects turns out to be dead or an alien that plans to take over the world despite having a fatal reaction to a substance that covers 77% of the planet and is readily available wherever people can be found.
Digressions aside, the Tigers's depth at the position took a serious hit when both Will Rhymes and Scott Sizemore lost their prospect statuses last season. Their leaving the land of rookies means the Mud Hens don't have any players for us to look at from last season, so we'll jump right in on the SeaWolves.Erie
Justin Henry, .260/.371/.355, 241 PA, 36 BB, 40 K; Henry has never posted an isolated power (slugging minus batting average) as high as even .100, but last season's totals were a nice bounceback after a dreadful 2009 campaign in Lakeland. It was good enough, in fact, to earn him a call up to Toledo (.269/.345/.333) when he was needed. Henry seems to have a good approach at the plate and decent speed, but his lack of power means he'll need to translate good contact skills into high averages and continue drawing lots of walks. 2011 Outlook: It could depend largely on whether Rhymes or Sizemore start the season in Toledo, but I'd expect him to spend the better part of 2011 with the Hens regardless.
Brandon Douglas, .359/.405/.503, 159 PA, 11 BB, 17 K; I can't wait for this guy to be able to turn in a full season. The most games he's ever played in a year is 83, but he's hit better than .300 everywhere he's been except when he had 19 plate appearances in Erie back in 2008. He doesn't walk a lot and doesn't have a lot of power, but he also makes contact and gets the hits to fall. He's 25, but injuries have been a problem and it's not like the Tigers have been holding him back. He split last season, only his second in full season ball, between Lakeland and Erie. He tore up the FSL (.331/.395/.426), too, but as you can see, hit even better in Erie. 2011 Outlook: I'd love it if the Tigers could get him an everyday utility role in Toledo, but space could be limited with the Hens if he stays in the middle infield.
Alden Carrithers, .359/.464/.423, 267 PA, 43 BB, 29 K; Carrithers is another player for whom time is marching forward a little too quickly. He turned 26 last month and he's earned just half a season as high as Double A. Once he was in Erie, the through the roof numbers you see for Lakeland above were toned down to .262/.378/.310 as his slappy hitting failed to yield nearly as many hits. He'll need those hits to fall to find success because he his career isolated power is just .065 (not surprising at 5'9" and 165 pounds). He does a good job of compensating with a lot of walks, very few strikeouts and good speed but it's certainly questionable that skillset will ever land him a regular gig in the majors. 2011 Outlook: With a logjam at second in the upper levels, it's easy to see why Carrithers saw some time in the outfield the last couple seasons. I'd look for more of the same as he splits 2011 between Erie and Toledo and the Tigers try to find a space for his sparkplug style.
Corey Jones, .360/.450/.460, 226 PA, 17 BB, 27 K; Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a new top Tigers' prospect at second base. Nobody should get too excited about a half season in West Michigan and Jones is 23 already, but I see Jones as being able to make a more plausible push for the majors than the guys we've discussed already. He's not a defensive whiz, but he's left-handed, has potential with the bat and still has some room for development. 2011 Outlook: I'd hope to see him serving as the starting second baseman in Lakeland. It would be great if he could take a path similar to Sizemore, but without all the time lost to injury.
Jimmy Gulliver, .255/.306/.352, 160 PA, 12 BB, 42 K; Gulliver was added to the Caps' roster midseason as they tried to shake up the roster to fix what had been one of the worst teams in the minors. He ended up ceding the second base job to Jones and serving as the team's utility man. The fact that his production hasn't been sterling, when combined with his age and not having a starting gig, suggests he'll likely be an organizational player. 2011 Outlook: It's harder to get a bead on where utility players will end up, but I'd look for him to be bouncing around the infield for West Michigan or Lakeland.
Alexander Nunez, .223/.265/.328, 287 PA, 14 BB, 76 K; Nunez's numbers from 2010 would have put him in better company with the Tigers' shortstop prospects. Like some of the Tigers' young shortstops, he's talented but has a long way to go to translate that talent to results. Another symptom he shares with the group of shortstops is a tenuous grasp of the strike zone. That problem will ensure his doom if he doesn't make strides in addressing it. He won't turn 21 until May, so there's no rush to write him off but a return to the promise he showed in the GCL in 2009 would be welcome. 2011 Outlook: There might be an opening at West Michigan, but I'd assume his progress during the offseason will tell the Tigers whether he's ready.
Peter Miller, .287/.410/.348, 141 PA, 20 BB, 34 K; This would seem to be a pretty typical instance of a college player, already 23 when he signed, coming in to help fill out the GCL roster and excelling against younger competition. It's obviously better that he performs than if he had not, but it also doesn't tell us much about how he'll perform at higher levels in the future. 2011 Outlook: Again, the utility fill-in guys can be placed just about anywhere from the GCL to Lakeland without it meaning much other than they fill a need on the roster. Filling in where needed would seem to be Miller's role in the organization, though.
There's going to be some crowding in Toledo and Erie, but that's not really due to the candidates for those rosters being top prospects. Douglas and Carrithers profile more as possible bench players with intriguing skills rather than everyday players. Assigning them with even that major league future is likely optimistic. Jones is intriguing as a relatively high pick who played well in half of a season, but half a season in Grand Rapids leaves him a long way from the majors.
The position lacks a player they can look to as a good bet to take them into the future, but there is good news. They just graduated a couple of second base prospects who might fill that role. The upcoming season will speak a lot to who is the Tigers' future second baseman between Will Rhymes and Scott Sizemore, but the Tigers should get serviceable production out of the two. We should also keep in mind that major league second basemen often don't play second base in the minors. Of course, they often do play shortstop and the Tigers are quite a ways away from building up a surplus there.