So the high minors aren't exactly doing well at all. What about the low minors? Lakeland came into 2010 with expectations to contend - and they were doing just that. But the Flying Tigers have one major weakness that can't be solved: promotions. After losing Charlie Furbush, Rawley Bishop, Brandon Douglas, Alden Carrithers, Kody Kaiser and now Brayan Villarreal, they're a radically different team. Throw in a few new draftees coming straight from college and you have... something. Whether that something is enough to propel this team to the playoffs is a question that cannot be answered yet. You though the Tigers had question marks?
Lakeland Flying Tigers: 54-54, 7.5 GB, Florida St. Lg. North
Ladies and gentlemen, we have found the one place in the organization where there is plate discipline. The Flying Tigers lead the league in walks, are second in on base percentage and have the fifth lowest strikeout total in the FSL. A lot of this is due to college bats in the same mold as a Jeff Larish, that is low contact/high walk players, or players like Alden Carrithers with high contact/high walk/no power. Daniel Fields gives me hope. The Flying Tigers also have the fifth best average in the FSL. Their weakness is power: a slugging percentage that ranks ninth in the league at .359 (of course, no team in the FSL breaks .400 in SLG). On the basepaths, the Flying Tigers are fourth in stolen bases and sixth in caught stealing rate. It's nice that they're stealing bases, but getting caught a little less would be nice too.
Long-time community member JayRC could probably clarify a lot more of this than I could, but I see a reasonably good defense with few standouts for Lakeland. I do know Fields is converting well to center field, so there's that. Their fielding percentage is the second highest in the FSL.
The Flying Tigers have been pitching well this year too. Their ERA is fourth in the FSL, and they've given up the least number of walks in the league. Unfortunately, they've given up the third most home runs in the FSL as well and their strikeout total is only good for ninth. Odds are good that Lakeland is due for a little regression on the pitching staff.
Team MVP: Kody Kaiser
This was a tough one to give out. I've been trying to avoid giving the MVP to promoted players (Larish was newly promoted when I published the Mud Hens post) but there haven't been any players that have really spent the year at Lakeland and hit well. So I give it to Kaiser, who has 252 at bats and an .857 OPS. His slash stats are .301/.385/.462 in Lakeland, which shows that he hit for contact, got on base and hit for power. But he's not doing so hot in Erie, batting just.209/.261/.317. He's probably an organizational bat, an advanced older player without pro tools that did well in Lakeland.
Team Cy Young: Adam Wilk
Luke Putkonen was a close second for this, and Charlie Furbush would have won hands down if he had more than 77 innings in Lakeland. But I do like Wilk a bunch, perhaps more than I should. He's not flashy, but he's put up a 3.18 ERA backed by a 3.36 FIP, so he's not just getting lucky. Wilk doesn't strike a ton of guys out at about six per nine innings. But his walk rate is 1.10 and his homer rate is .55 despite a fairly high fly ball rate (45.15%). I'd like to see him get more grounders, but he's got prospect status and I'd say he could be a fourth starter down the road.
Team Relief Pitcher of the Year: Robert Waite
It's tough to give out reliever of the year awards in the low minors, partially because their bullpens are always in flux. Waite is deserving however, having thrown 43 1/3 innings with a 3.21 FIP. The strikeout rate is good at around eight per nine innings, and his 3.64 ERA actually understates his ability. It's tough to project whether Waite will have an impact in Detroit in the future, but he shows statistical promise. And his pitch set looks decent: good command of a fastball with a curve and change that have potential. He was also part of the 2008 reliever draft class. So he's probably as good a bet as any young arm to make the MLB
- Fields is hitting .233/.343/.364 in Advanced-A as a 19-year-old. He's drawn 42 walks to 87 strikeouts in 325 plate appearances. An overmatched toolsy prospect that still manages to show enough plate discipline to have a K:BB ratio close to 2:1? I... I'm just so happy...
- is hitting .281/.341/.362 in 246 plate appearances. The K:BB ratio is also passable here at 45:18. If he can refine his approach and strike out less, we may have another third base prospect (along with Nick Castellanos, if he signs).
- New draftee Bryan Holaday has a mere 92 plate appearances, so his slash stats, which sit at .329/.467/.479, are a bit exaggerated. But he's a good bet to be a fast-moving backup catcher with solid defense and good power. Come to think of it, that could probably start in Detroit...
- Jacob Turner has a 4.75 ERA and a 4.02 FIP with Lakeland. He's struggling, which is a good thing. It'll keep our GM from rushing him next year. Oh, who am I kidding? He'll strike out A-Rod in Spring Training and make the Tigers. Probably as a reliever, just to crush my spirits.
- Putkonen has a 3.82 FIP and a 3.54 ERA along with decent component stats. He's nothing more than a fourth starter if we're lucky, but he still deserves a promotion, especially at 24.
- Charlie Furbush got most of his innings here so he gets his mention here. A pitcher with good fastball command to go along with a good curveball and a show-me change is somehow striking out tons of batters (109 in Lakeland, and a while back he was leading the minors in strikeouts). He's got a high homer rate, but he's smart and knows how to pitch. He's probably a fourth starter in the Show, but could eke out a living as an innings eater if his elbow holds up.
- Villarreal also got most of his innings here. He's got blemishes: an injury history (Tommy John Surgery), a small stature (listed at 6-foot-0, 170 pounds) and an age (23) a little old for the FSL. He also struck out just more than a batter per inning with solid walk and homer rates. Baseball America insists he'll have to move to the bullpen, but I think that's due to a size bias on their part. Villarreal also started his career in the bullpen. He may have to move back in the long run, but I think he could be a solid starter for Detroit, and he's a good prospect, especially if he continues to handle the AA transition well.