Odds are, we'll be seeing some new faces as the Tigers make a push for the AL Central pennant. Therefore, it makes sense to look at some of these guys that will be making their debuts (or returns) in the second half.
What follows is a mock depth chart -- call it the Tigers shadow team, the guys that will be called on in case of emergency, injury or otherwise ineffectiveness. Some are more likely to make an appearance than others (Jeff Larish). A lot of top prospects and big names won't be on this list at all (Daniel Fields, I'm looking at you). But the 20 or so guys on this list are the guys to know from Toledo, Erie and even Lakeland.
Today, let's look at position players. Tomorrow it'll be pitchers.
Catcher: Robinzon Diaz, AAA Toledo
Other options: Jeff Kunkel (AA Erie), Bryan Holaday (A+ Lakeland)
It was a close race here. Robinzon Diaz isn't anything special, a mediocre defensive catcher and not much better with the bat. He was a backup in Pittsburgh last year, which means about as much as playing in Triple-A; Toledo's probably more competitive. Jeff Kunkel might actually be a better emergency option if the Tigers are willing to sacrifice bat for glove. He was Baseball America's choice for best defensive catcher in 2009 and has some breakout potential. I threw in Holaday since the Tigers are known for aggressive promotion. Holaday's gotten some good press for his hot start in Lakeland but really shouldn't come up this year. Maybe next year at the deadline.
First Base: Ryan Strieby, AAA Toledo
Other options: Jeff Frazier (AAA Toledo), Rawley Bishop (AA Erie)
Larish is making an appearance elsewhere on this shadow team, so that explains his absence here. Strieby won't hit for average, but he walks a good deal (11.1 percent this year) and hits for lots of power (his .174 ISO this year at Toledo is due to go up). Questions with him all revolve around health; he seems to be dealing with an injured wrist every other week. Jeff Frazier is like Strieby but without the walks and with better health. That means lots of power and not much else. He's more of an organizational player at 27, but he should do in a pinch. Rawley Bishop used to be a 3B, but his glove there was bad. His bat has looked pretty good in AA, and while that's a small sample size, he's actually underperforming when you adjust his stats for luck. Scouts don't like him, but if he keeps hitting...
Second Base: Scott Sizemore, AAA Toledo
Other options: Will Rhymes (AAA Toledo)
Not a bad choice for a second base replacement, and considering he's shadowing Carlos Guillen, that's the way you want it. Unfortunately, Sizemore is facing problems with a hip injury, which have limited him in Toledo. If he gets better, there's no way he should be on the shadow team. Above average with the bat and steady with the glove, he's probably a better 2B at this point than Carlos Guillen is. Will Rhymes is a slap hitting, good defending, middle infielder with a good batting average, good on-base percentage, good wheels and no power. He'd make a good 25th man (probably a better one than we have now).
Shortstop: Brent Dlugach, AAA Toledo
Other options: Cale Iorg (AA Erie), Audy Ciriaco (AA Erie), playing down an infielder
Ugh. Not much here. Dlugach can field pretty well, but the lack of patience and the disappearance of the good pop he had last year does not bode well for his future. Cale Iorg and Audy Ciriaco are both toolsy middle infield types that once had high ceilings but have suffered due to problems with strikeouts and lack of performance. It's possible they could break out, but then again it's also possible that the Tigers sign me to play shortstop. Although Ciriaco starts at third now, he spent his earlier career in the system at shortstop. I'd prefer Iorg out of the two due to his great glove, but it's like choosing between firing squad and lethal injection.
Third Base: Jeff Larish, AAA Toledo
Other options: Audy Ciriaco (AA Erie), Brent Dlugach (AAA Toledo), Will Rhymes (AAA Toledo)
Larish is pretty much it. We all know his story, too. Loads of power (.224 ISO), tons of walks (12.7% this year, which might be a bit low), a low average and a lead glove. He hasn't played much third since college, but if we lose Inge, the drop from Larish to Ciriaco/Dlugach/Rhymes is pretty darn low. The fact that I have to mention three players that I've already looked at should say something about our third base depth.
Left Field: Wilkin Ramirez, AAA Toledo
Center Field: Casper Wells, AAA Toledo
Right Field: Andy Dirks, AA Erie
Other options: Jeff Larish (AAA Toledo), Ryan Strieby (AAA Toledo), Jeff Frazier (AAA Toledo), Wil Rhymes (AAA Toledo)
These three outfielders are pretty different, but are probably interchangeable in LF/CF/RF. Wilkin Ramirez is the familiar quantity: good wheels (33 stolen bases in 2009), good power (.150ish ISO with potential for more), great tools, no strike-zone awareness. The scouts love him (BA ranked him eighth this year and sixth in 2009) but the performance just isn't there. His defense is mediocre in both the corners and center- so he'll hurt you pretty much anywhere. Casper Wells is the antithesis of Ramirez. Tons of walks (11.8 percent last year) with good power (ISO around .200 for his entire career) but not much in the area of batting average (expect about .260). The scouts hate him (BA had him at 16th this year and 13th last year) and his walk rate is down a lot this year, but he's still got potential as a solid if unspectacular regular in either right or center.
Andy Dirks is the new name on this list, and a guy most people aren't familiar with. I called him a depth player or fourth outfielder at the beginning of the season, and while his ceiling hasn't gone up much, he's probably played himself into fourth outfielder consideration. A decent defender in center and above average in the corner, his walk rate sits around 8 percent but he has a good contact rate and an ISO around .150. Not a bad backup, and he'd probably be above replacement even coming from AA.
So that's the offense. Not exactly a pretty picture; pray for a middle infield acquisition and some health. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the pitchers, which is slightly more optimistic.