As we roll toward the Winter Meetings, there is going to be plenty of baseball news to keep Kurt and the rest of the Bless You Boys crew on our toes. But since a lot of what you read during the meetings is unlikely, dubious or even flat out misinformation, I thought I would initiate my look through the Tigers' minor league system.
I figure the timing will take advantage of 2010 being relatively fresh in our minds, but at the same time, help us with the pangs of withdrawal we're beginning to feel. I'm going to knock these out position by position, starting with the catchers.
(The lists aren't meant to be comprehensive and wherever players had the most plate appearances, that's where they'll be listed. The 2011 Outlooks are crazy early - stupid early, really - and should only be used to make me look smart when I'm right.)
Robinzon Diaz .255/.269/.351, 262 PA, 5 BB, 13 K: This, ladies and gentlemen, is not the way a player would prefer to fight his way back onto a major league roster. He was hit by a pitch once, so there were actually 19 plate appearances that didn't end with him making contact. 2011 Outlook: Somewhere else, I assume.
Max St. Pierre .300/.356/.469, 147 PA, 11 BB, 21 K: Most who are reading this are aware that St. Pierre's performance in Toledo earned him a callup to Detroit. That's obviously very cool for a 14-year minor league vet, but it's even better that he earned it by having his best season as a pro. 2011 Outlook: Already re-signed, so he should be a Hen again.
Andy Bouchie .210/.248/.380, 217 PA, 10 BB, 42 K: Bouchie was another minor league free agent who came up a bit short on his numbers. 2011 Outlook: The Tigers liked something about him because he's re-signed and should be a backup again next year.
Jeff Kunkel .261/.342/.387, 163 PA, 15 BB, 27 K: Kunkel is another defensive specialist who had a career year at the plate in 2010, even getting in almost 100 (much less successful) plate appearances at Toledo. 2011 Outlook: I assume he'll be back and maybe teaming up with St. Pierre to give the Hens one of the best defensive catching duos in the IL.
Bryan Holaday .220/.335/.327, 188 PA, 21 BB, 43 K: The 6th round pick didn't get a lot of time in as a pro after his TCU squad went deep in the College World Series. He was key in that run and it carried over into a hot start with Lakeland. He wore down as the season went on, but has great makeup, a good defensive reputation and a willingness to walk that could help make up for some offensive shortcomings. 2011 Outlook: I'm betting he's back in Lakeland unless the Tigers boot Bouchie to make room in Erie.
John Murrian .264/.343/.384, 247 PA, 25 BB, 55 K: A good turn in Lakeland earned Murrian an August promotion, but he - I want to word this carefully - stunk it up once he was in Erie. No shame, though, as he was only 22 last season and could be making a case as an eventual big league backup. 2011 Outlook: I'd look for him to round out the catchers - as Erie's starter - for the top two levels.
Billy Alvino .262/.398/.298, 105 PA, 15 BB, 6 K: A non-drafted player, Alvino bumped around as a backup for a second season. Most of his value came from drawing a walk once every seven plate appearances. 2011 Outlook: More of the same, a backup where he's needed, if he's around again.
Robert Brantly .255/.352/.335, 217 PA, 23 BB, 22 K: I'm not sure what it is with the Tiger catching prospects drawing so many walks, but there are worse traits to have. Brantly even managed to avoid the strikeouts that often come with being willing to go deep in the count. The Tigers' 3rd round pick has a good bat and joins Holaday and Murrian as guys who could carve out a big league niche. 2011 Outlook: Splitting time in Lakeland with his 2010 draft buddy, Holaday.
Julio Rodriguez .270/.317/.360, 205 PA, 10 BB, 32 K: The C-Tigers' primary backstop also put in enough time in Lakeland to get 109 plate appearances down there. He was good at cutting down runners, and while those numbers aren't pretty, they were about league average in the pitcher friendly NY-Penn. 2011 Outlook: Could be a good bet to fill a spot in West Michigan.
Eric Roof .232/.283/.368, 140 PA, 8 BB, 31 K: Roof very nearly split his plate appearances between Connecticut and West Michigan (where he hit .233/.324/.292 in 136 PA). Already 24, his two seasons as a backup likely have his pro role pegged. 2011 Outlook: Will try to stick with a full season squad if the Tigers bring him back.
Patrick Leyland .219/.259/.240, 160 PA, 6 BB, 17 K: The Tigers' 8th round pick seemed to be a bit of a surprise for many draft gurus. Nepotism is a word I heard floating around, but I don't think it's something the Tigers would engage in for such an early pick. They see something they like. He's just a long way off. 2011 Outlook: Will probably get a chance to show any offseason progress in extended spring training.
Gabriel Purroy .258/.281/.366, 96 PA, 2 BB, 17 K A very young Venezuelan catcher who I'm guessing the Tigers like since they brought him to the States after just one year in the VSL. You might not hear the name much for a couple years, but feel free to throw it around because I have a feeling he could make you look smart down the road. 2011 Outlook: Toiling in obscurity in that extended spring training sun.
I'm encouraged by the step the Tigers' catching corp took this past season, despite losing Alex Avila. They had to spend their third, sixth and eighth picks in the draft to do it, but I think they added some depth in the 2010 season. I doubt there's a star in the group, or even a regular starter, but I'd be surprised if they didn't net a couple solid big league reserves. Compared to what we've seen in the recent past, that's nearly worthy of a ticker-tape parade.