The Tigers' injury and performance problems have caused them to introduce Tiger fans to a lot of their top pitching and outfield prospects. This has led some to wonder about who was left in the system and caused others to panic because the answer is not a whole lot. Inevitably, though, when the question is asked, our inclination is to turn to the players who we just saw on all the prospect lists or in the most recent draft. You know, Jacob Turner, Chance Ruffin, Daniel Fields, Nick Castellanos, etc.
The fact that those same names always seem to come up led me to wonder about the rest of the organization. Could I come up with a player from each team who is performing well but not in the usual conversation as a top prospect? The answer was sort of. Ideally, I wanted to come up with players with legitimate big league hopes whose names I didn't think people would recognize too well because they weren't on the prospect lists. What I actually came away with are some players you may not know who are doing pretty well. They may or may not be prospects.
Matt Hoffman, LHP, 11/18/88
K: 17 (18.3%)
BB: 11 (11.8%)
Hoffman is a hard-throwing lefty from Owasso High School in Oklahoma, which is a baseball powerhouse. The Tigers have drafted Hoffman and Dallas Trahern from their ranks, and it'll be in the news for this year's draft because Dylan Bundy is likely an early first round pick. Pedigree aside, Hoffman has had an interesting pro career. He was an above slot signing in the expensive 2007 draft (along with Porcello, Crosby and Iorg) but struggled with the aggressive promotions the Tigers gave him. In 2008, he couldn't cut it in West Michigan but handled himself well in Oneonta after a demotion. In 2009, it was back to Grand Rapids where he dominated, only to be promoted to Lakeland where he was abused by Florida State League hitters. The next season brought more of the same except he dominated the FSL before getting pounded in Erie.
This season, I hoped he would get a chance to succeed at one level but after just one game in Erie he was moved up to Toledo where he's been ever since. When you consider the extent to which he struggled with his mid-season promotions to Lakeland and Erie, the numbers you see above may not be an unqualified success but they're certainly an improvement. And yes, I realize he spent some time in Toledo last season but I don't consider three appearances much of an assignment. This is quite an arduous path for a kid who's just 22, but he has big league possibilities. Currently, he's struggling with his control as he's walked at least one batter in each of his last five appearances for seven walks in six innings. If he can make his secondary pitches work alongside a fastball that can touch the mid-90s, though, this shouldn't be the last time you hear this name.
Jamie Johnson, OF, 4/26/87
K: 30 (14.3%)
BB: 25 (11.9%)
I did a little bit of a study this past offseason that was inspired by Jamie Johnson. I did it because he was a guy who put up good numbers in West Michigan in 2010, but a lot of his production was based on a very good walk rate. I was curious as to whether hitters with good eyes but almost no power kept their effectiveness as they moved up the ladder. The simple answer was no, not usually. This caused me to make a mental note to keep an eye on Johnson this season, and the Tigers made that assignment more interesting when they bumped him all the way up to Erie.
Early in the season, Johnson was doing fantastic and looked as if he could be shedding the no power portion of his assessment. In April, ten of his 21 hits went for extra bases. But May has not been as kind for finding the gaps and he's returned to being a center fielder with good production stemming from a decent average and lots of walks. His standing as a prospect is helped by his being able to cover center field and put up above average production at the plate, but he still has a lot working against him. He's small, 24 years old, shows little power, and struggles to pick his spots for stealing bases. Now that he's in Erie, though, a well-timed hot streak could certainly get him noticed by the right people.
Kenny Faulk, LHP, 5/27/87
K: 32 (37.6%)
BB: 2 (2.4%)
Faulk was a senior signing out of a small school (Kennesaw State) in the 2009 draft. His scouting report by Baseball America had him hitting 93 mph (but sitting at 87-91 mph) with an okayish breaking pitch. That's not a profile that has major leagues written all over it, and I still don't really expect a major league career in Faulk's future. He is, after all, 24 in Hi A ball. However, it's just about impossible to see the numbers he's putting up in Lakeland as the team's closer and not take note.
Hernan Perez, 2B, 3/26/91
K: 25 (13.4%)
BB: 11 (5.9%)
Last season, Perez was one of the teenagers on West Michigan's roster and as a shortstop it was certainly worth watching his progress. It was another agressive assignment by the Tigers and suffice it to say, Perez didn't respond well. If you were watching the Tigers critically from a large scale perspective, you could have added him if you were making a list of guys who may have been hurt by being "rushed". Pushing him further down in prospect watchers' estimations was the fact that he was pushed off shorstop this season by the most recent hotshot prospect, Dixon Machado. This seemed to make him a second baseman who couldn't even hit well enough to play shortstop.
Well, this season he's handled West Michigan pitching much better, to say the least. He's not without his concerns, though. His slight frame makes a lack of power less than surprising and after drawing some walks in April, he's had only three in over 100 plate appearances in May. We learned from Gustavo Nunez that the speed/contact hitting combo that works in West Michigan doesn't necessarily carry over even to the next level. Still, it's funny to me that Perez's performance as a 20-year-old in the Midwest League would probably be getting a lot more notice if he hadn't been at the same level last season - when he was commonly seen as being rushed.