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Spring can also be a time to worry for Tiger prospects (Part 2)

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Since the Detroit Tiger media guide became available, I started taking a look at the organization as a whole. This was the inspiration for my last couple posts, looking at the players who have left the organization in the past year and the players in the organization who might be concerned about leaving in the next year. The latter was just the first of two posts, though, as it only discussed players who had come to the Tiger organization through the draft.

Today, I'm going to do a similar post focusing on players who were not subject to the draft but were signed as non-drafted free agents. Like in my prior post, I'm going to break the organization down into classes and take a look at players who are lagging behind the baseline expectations for that class and therefore potential candidates for being trimmed from the organization before the 2011 season. For example, it would seem international players who spend a fourth season in one of the Latino leagues are a bit behind the curve.

Spending three seasons in one of the Latino leagues seems to be pretty standard, though, so I'm not going to worry about players signed in 2008, 2009 or 2010. It's true 7 of 19 signees added in 2008 were in a domestic league in 2010, but the baseline we're discussing is not quite that rigid. Simply being below the median isn't necessarily going to put you in danger of not having a 2011 since turnover in the organization from 2010 to 2011 was about thirty percent (83 of 265) and only 34 of the 83 never played in the 2010 season.

I would like to point out again that this isn't the type of post I like to do. There are going to be a lot of names discussed below in a context of young men facing the end of a lifetime dream. However, if we're going to speak about roster construction and minor league development, I think it's important to be able to talk about where players are compared to where they might be expected to be.

2007 Signees

The players who were signed in 2007 seem as if they should have been in the States by last season. After all, of the 18 players still in the organization signed in 2007, all but four were in a domestic league last season. Who were the four who weren't?

Going in alphabetical order, the first was Yinio Calderon. Calderon is a reedy right-hander (6'4", 170 pounds) who was signed as a 16-year-old in July of 2007. He's spent most of his time in the DSL as a relief pitcher and seems to struggle with control, as he's walked 93 in 107 career innings. He had the problem under a little better control last season, but he's now spent three seasons there and was not in Mark Anderson's list of Latino players coming stateside for 2011.

In the linked article, Mark says more players may come than who are listed but if Calderon truly isn't coming, it may spell trouble. After all, according to league eligibility rules at MiLB.com, you cannot play more than four seasons in the DSL. Another ominous sign for him if he doesn't come stateside is there isn't a single player in the organization right now who spent four seasons in the Latino leagues.

Emmanuel Del Orbe is the next pitcher signed in 2007 who was not in a domestic league in 2010. According to Mark Anderson's article, though, he had some arm problems in 2010. The other thing Del Orbe has going for him is he's apparently slated to be in the U.S. for 2011 (per Anderson's article). That would seem to suggest he won't be getting cut before the spring is out, but he made need to impress to stay in the picture as a prospect.

Raynolds Guzman is a catcher who signed when he was 17 and has since spent three seasons in the DSL. That puts him in a situation similar to Calderon, except a little worse because he'll be 21 when the 2011 season starts.

Finally, there's Ricardo Olivo. He's another catcher and signed when he was still 16 (though a month before his 17th birthday) in October of 2007. Olivo might get a little breathing room from the fact that he missed the 2009 season with a fractured wrist. The injury may also explain why he seemed to be fourth or fifth on the DSL Tigers' depth chart at catcher, but it doesn't keep time from marching forward. If he doesn't come to the States this year - and he's not listed in Anderson's article - he would be doing so as a 21-year-old in 2012.

2006 Signees

Just like the players signed in 2007 should have been playing for one of the domestic teams, the guys who signed in 2006 should have spent significant time in a full season league. Let's take a look at those who didn't and talk about whether they have a good reason or whether they might be nervous this spring.

Darlyn Duran was in the DSL again last season, which is a bit discouraging since he was in the Gulf Coast League in 2008. He's the only member of the remaining 2006 class who wasn't in a domestic league last season. The positives in his favor are that he's been invited back to the States for the 2011 season and he was dominant in the DSL in both 2009 and 2010. A huge negative, though, is the fact that he's turning 22 next week.

Gilbert Gomez is another player from this class who didn't get much time to speak of above the Gulf Coast League last season. This is troubling for Gomez because he split his time between first base and left field, is undersized for those positions, and didn't hit particularly well. The latter may not be all that concerning had he not walked just four times against 39 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances.

Ramon Lebron, you could argue, doesn't belong in this grouping. He was, after all, assigned to West Michigan to start last season. I'm including him, though, because his time there went badly enough that he was demoted. He did pitch well enough in the GCL to earn a late promotion to Connecticut, but the college hitters in the NY-Penn League worked him for ten walks in just 10.2 innings (though he did strike out 20). In any event, he's now 22 and has barely any experience above Rookie ball.

Wilsen Palacios spent most of his 2010 season in the GCL, but it should be pointed out he lost most of his 2009 season to a drug suspension. It's odd that might work in his favor, but working more in his favor is what's supposed to be a very live arm. He was one of the hard throwers who got noticed in the Instructional League and was also successful in his first go-around as a starter. Those developments would leave me shocked if he were cut prior to the 2011 season.

2005 Signees and Prior

As you might expect, players who were signed in 2005 should have been expected to be in at least Lakeland in 2010. And while a player signed in 2004 should only be expected to be in Erie, he also needs to have worked his way onto the 40-man roster because otherwise he's eligible for minor league free agency.

In the Tiger organization, these are both fairly small groups. There are only six remaining 2005 signees and Ramon Garcia is the sole holdout signed prior to 2005. Of the 2005 signees, two started in Erie (Audy Ciriaco and Luis Marte), two started in Lakeland (Brayan Villarreal and Lester Oliveros) and the other two spent most of their seasons in either West Michigan or below. Those two were Luis Sanz and Victor Larez.

Sanz is a 20-year-old catcher who was in extended spring training until he started playing games that mattered in June. After just a week in Lakeland, he was sent to Grand Rapids where he served as a backup. It's always difficult to tell when the team will cut loose a backup minor league catcher, but it's also difficult to see Sanz having a more significant role if he does stick on a roster this season.

Larez has been in the States for three seasons now, but after a somewhat promising 2009 campaign in West Michigan repeated the level in 2010 with worse results. His 150 hits allowed put him as the fifth highest in the Midwest League and he had much more trouble striking batters out (just 59 in 130 innings). We've seen as we looked through the organization a lot of pitchers could be fighting for jobs in Lakeland coming out of spring training. That may make it difficult for Larez to earn that promotion for 2011.

Finally we come to the organization's sole holdover who signed in 2004, Ramon Garcia. I've heard he has a pretty live arm, but it hasn't helped him when he's tried to get outs in Erie. In 2009 and 2010 he was hit around pretty well by Double A hitters and he's now 26 years old. I think it's pretty safe to say he will be a career minor leaguer at this point.

Summary

There are a lot of reasons it's harder to get a bead on Latino players. The biggest one is we hear very little news out of the Latino leagues. I'm sure there are plenty of players signed in 2008 or 2009 who are on the cusp of being cut by the organization, but they are side by side with very promising talents who just need to have their game refined before they take a shot over here.

Another reason it's difficult is they can spend three to five seasons playing in leagues where we learn almost nothing from their numbers. Plenty of players have been completely dominant in the Latino leagues only to be out of baseball two years after trying to make it locally. It goes the other way, too, as some of the team's best international prospect toiled in either the Dominican or Venezuela with underwhelming results.

Therefore, it seems to me all we can do - if we don't have a direct line to the organization - is compare their progress with their peers. That's what I've tried to do here and hopefully I've given not only a feel for who might have played their last games as a Tiger. I hope I've also helped shed some light on the typical path through the minors for an international player.