When the Tigers sent Ryan Perry to the disabled list with an infected eye, it sent a perfect ripple effect through the farm system. I say perfect because as a result, every farm team lost a reliever to the team above them. Sometimes - perhaps even usually - the ripple effect stops in Lakeland where, instead of pulling somebody from the West Michigan bullpen, the Flying Tigers will just get somebody from extended spring training. Not this time, though, so let's look at the moves.
Robbie Weinhardt was pulled from Toledo's bullpen before the Hens had even played a game. If he sticks with the Tigers, he will be commonly mis-remembered next season as a member of the Opening Day roster. More importanly, though, he represents a much better 7th inning option than Brad Thomas or Enrique Gonzales and is also valuable for his ability to cover more than one inning. To fill the void in Toledo left behind by Weinhardt, the Tigers chose Matt Hoffman.
This choice struck me as odd. I always work under the assumption the system's better prospects are assigned where they belong and then the remaining holes are filled as needed. If that were the case, you wouldn't expect the transplanted players this early in the season to be top prospects. Hoffman getting assigned to Toledo at what is almost literally the first opportunity would seem to suggest, then, that he was right on the cusp of making the Toledo bullpen to start the season. Either that or he's not a top prospect. The latter would be hard to swallow, though, since he's left-handed and threw as hard as 97 mph in the Arizona Fall League. I do find it funny that in previewing his 2011 season, I wondered what he'd be able to do if he were left to develop at one level. The world may never know.
Another Matt was called to fill Hoffman's space in Erie. Matt Little, the Tigers' 31st round pick last season, got the call from Lakeland to Erie and despite having thrown less than 40 professional innings has now pitched at four different levels. To fill out the Flying Tigers' bullpen, the Whitecaps looked to Jordan Pratt. I tend to believe this move is a little more like Hoffman's in that he was very close to receiving this assignment in the first place, but just fell victim to the numbers game. I don't think Pratt is the prospect Hoffman is, but he proved perfectly useful in West Michigan last season and Lakeland may have actually benefitted from him replacing Little.
The last move, to put the Whitecaps' pen back at full strength, replaced Pratt with another face that is familiar to the West Michigan faithful, Richard Zumaya. The younger Zumaya was a multiple inning reliever for the Caps in 2010 and was about league average (according to FIP, not ERA). I suspect he's fighting to be able to truthfully say he's a professional ballplayer by season's end.
I'm giving a lot of attention to the moves resulting from Perry's injury, but that's just because this is my first minor league transaction piece of the 2011 season and those moves so nicely show how major league injuries affect the minor league teams. Another injury, though, could easily prove much more significant for the SeaWolves. Rawley Bishop hurt his left leg sliding into second base and Shawn Roof was called up from Lakeland to fill his spot on the roster. That's a swap a team that has struggled to score runs may not be able to afford for long. Ryan Soares was pulled from extended spring training to take Roof's spot in Lakeland.