We've come to roughly the halfway point of the baseball season and that's as good a time as any to take stock of where the Tigers' farm teams and their prospects have accomplished in the 2011 season. That's precisely what I'm going to do as I cycle through the Tigers' six domestic farm teams, looking at what the four full season squads have done and giving some thoughts on who the short season teams might have worth watching.
The Mud Hens have won their last two, but those wins came on the heels of a nine-game losing streak. Their 32-47 record has them in dead last in their division, 21 games behind the first place Clippers and 12 games behind the wild card leading Bats. I know the Hens usually have a push for the playoffs in them late in the summer, but I just don't see it happening this year.
I expect this year our hopes will fall more to the performances of individual players on the Hens who are trying to prove they will eventually be big leaguers. With that in mind, let's take a look at how some of the prospects on the Hens' roster are doing. (Player stats taken from Fangraphs and do not include Monday results)
Duane Below, LHP, 11/15/85
Below's numbers are certainly nothing overwhelming but as the Hens have struggled with inconsistency, ineffectiveness and losing their best pitchers to the Tigers, he's been their rock. He's averaging over six innings a start (only he and Wilk have accomplished that among Toledo's starters) and 10 of 15 have been quality starts. The home run frequency is probably what will hold up his shot in the majors, but I'd bet he's rewarded with a taste of the majors in either September or next season.
Matt Hoffman, LHP, 11/18/88
That walk rate is concerning, but after a three walk game on May 27th he's walked just four of the last 51 batters he's faced. That may be a kind of progress, but unfortunately he's also struck out only six. So how's he keeping such a shiny ERA when just about every ball is put into play? Well, his ground ball rate for the season is about 55% and in June, it's been a hair over sixty percent.
Andrew Oliver, LHP, 12/3/87
Oliver made two starts with the Tigers while Phil Coke was on the DL and suffice it to say, he didn't make rotation decisons all that difficult for the Tigers. What's worse is since he's returned to Toledo, he's walked 11 batters in four starts. In the only start where he didn't walk a batter, he gave up ten hits and seven runs in 3.2 innings. He's still getting his strikeouts but has also started to let homers creep into his game. The Bats took him deep three times on Friday. Before we start talking about him being a bust or moving him to the bullpen, though, let's not forget the kid's still just 23.
Lester Oliveros, RHP, 5/28/88
Oliveros would seem to serve as evidence that while there isn't as much of a difference between the Eastern League and International League as many would believe, there's still a difference. He was just killing it in Double A when he was promoted but success didn't come as easily in Toledo. Aside from a three run outing last Wednesday, he's been pretty effective over the past month. So it's possible he's been able to make some adjustments to the higher level of competition.
Jose Ortega, RHP, 10/12/88
Ortega got a late start to the season due to some arm problems, so it was mildly surprising to see him go straight to Toledo when he came off the DL. He hasn't been able to step up to the challenge of the assignment, either. He's made 12 appearances since May 17th and Saturday was his first outing without a hit or walk allowed.
Brayan Villarreal, RHP, 5/10/87
Villarreal made the big squad out of spring training and early on, looked like one of the struggling bullpen's more reliable arms. A rough outing in Oakland seemed to shake Leyland's confidence in him, though, and after that he was sparsely used and erratic when his number was called. To get him his work and a chance to work on all of his pitches, he was placed in Toledo's rotation and it's been a struggle. He's walked 15 batters in his last four starts and struck out just 12 in the same stretch. We saw flashes of what he could offer the Tigers, but he has some work to put in before he'll be trusted to get the chance.
Adam Wilk, LHP, 12/9/87
After an impressive major league debut against Boston, Wilk has given up a homer in each of his three major league appearances since. He was optioned back to Toledo on Thursday, but has yet to pitch for the Hens since the demotion. His contribution should be welcome with the Hens, where I assume he'll be a starter again. He's certainly not dominant, but he's been more than serviceable as his control allows him to go deep into games and he typically gives the team the chance to win.
Brendan Wise, RHP, 1/9/86
I know I'm probably pushing it a bit by grouping Wise with the prospects. That walk rate is ridiculous and that ERA is way out of whack with his peripherals. But that walk rate is probably the result of his pitches having a lot of movement and that feature is what keeps the ball in the yard and his ground ball rates above sixty percent. That's no fluke, either. They've been that high for the past three seasons. So if he can find some modicum of control and a hot streak follows, don't be surprised if you see him in a major league ballpark near you.
Cale Iorg, SS, 9/6/85, Bats: R
Jhonny Peralta's resurgence as a major league shortstop has made Iorg's continued struggles at the plate somewhat irrelevant. But if you're pulling for Iorg to shake out of what's becoming a nearly career long offensive funk, 2011 is not shaping up to be the year he does it. If his slick fielding ever does earn him a major league gig, it's looking like the wise approach will be to hope his major league production doesn't slip even further below these rock bottom Triple A results.
Will Rhymes, 2B, 4/1/83, Bats: L
Yes, Rhymes lost the Tiger second base job he won in spring training, but at least Detroit didn't ship him out of the organization completely. Since returning to Toledo, he's done the high batting average, high contact game he needs to play in order to be successful. With Raburn hitting terribly and making nearly daily gaffes on the bases and in the field, you might expect Rhymes to earn another go-around in Detroit. I think you'll be disappointed, though. Even if the Tigers give up on Raburn, Guillen is starting a rehab assignment soon and will likely be given the job if and when he shows he's healthy. That may not seem fair, but it's not exactly a travesty. Rhymes is posting just about league average offensive numbers in Toledo and looked overmatched when he was with the Tigers.
Ryan Strieby, 1B, 8/9/85, Bats: Right
I'm not sure if it would be worse for Strieby's status as a prospect if his wrist was healthy or if it wasn't. If it is, he's not hitting anywhere near what you'd need from a player who can only play hitter's positions. He's not even improving much on his injury shortened 2010 campaign. If it's not and it's the reason he's underperforming, that's four straight seasons where it's posed a problem for him. Regardless, he's badly in need of the kind of hot streaks we got used to back in 2008 and 2009. The ones that earned him attention as a prospect in the first place.
Other Key Players
We've covered the players I feel even somewhat comfortable calling prospects, but minor league teams almost always have to count on minor league veterans. Let's take a look at players who are playing key roles for the team and are probably at the highest level they are ever going to see.
Thad Weber, RHP, 9/28/84
Weber has stuck in the Toledo rotation all season just like Below, but unlike Below that's been a problem more often than it's been a solution. His numbers routinely place him among the league's worst starters in a lot of key stats. It's a little puzzling considering he gets decent results in terms of strikeouts and walks, but those only cover about a quarter of the batters he faces. The other three quarters are making it a tough season for him.
Fu-Te Ni, LHP, 11/14/82
Ni's numbers aren't too bad, but when you look at his splits you see he's been more effective this season against right-handed batters than lefties. Lefties have walked more, struck out about the same, and touched him for a better batting average. If Ni can't be relied upon to get lefties out, he's not going to make it back to the majors. That's just a fact of life for him. I, for one, hope he figures things out and works his way back to Detroit. It'd be preferable to this Brad Thomas's baffling role with the big league team.
Timo Perez, OF, 4/8/75, Bats: Left
Yes, I know Timo's numbers aren't that good once you get past the batting average. I know he's 36 years old and is spoken of like he's a liability when he's allowed to play the outfield. It's just kind of fun when he's on the Hens, though. Why? If you go see a game, there's a decent chance you'll see him slap out a couple of hits and wonder how he just keeps on doing it.
Argenis Diaz, IF, 2/12/87, Bats: Right
Diaz is like Perez in that he's not been great, but he's been a useful addition to the team. If you go ga-ga over that batting average and on-base percentage, though, splash some cold water on your face. On a last place Triple A team, he's played in just 46 of their games and has just six extra base hits. He's a utility infielder who's slapping his way to contributing. Let's just leave it at that.
Note: International League Averages
First Half Summary
It's pretty simple to sum the Mud Hens up. They have had the worst offense in the International League in terms of runs per game and they've had subpar run prevention. That's led to a run differential of -65 runs and their being 15 games under .500.
They simply don't have enough talent among their position players. Their remaining prospects aren't hitting particularly well, and neither are the minor league veterans who were supposed to fill various holes. In fact, just about all the players they've had who have hit are currently either in Detroit, Erie or out of the organization.
There have been years where the Hens have carried lineups that could float an average pitching staff, but this clearly is not shaping up to be one of them. As for the pitching staff being average, I think that's just about where it will shake out now that they have been allowed to re-assemble their rotation (minus Furbush). If Oliver and Villarreal get back to a level of production we've come to hope for from each, they have a shot at being a little better. I just don't think it will be enough to overcome such a soggy lineup.
These are the moves that involved the Mud Hens this month and are provided mostly so the information can be found at the website. It's also to provide me a jumping off point for the next time I'm able to do a transactions post.
Omir Santos (C) recalled from Toledo
Phil Coke (LHP) assigned to Toledo for rehab assignment
Magglio Ordonez (OF) assigned to Toledo for rehab assignment
Adam Wilk (LHP) recalled from Toledo
Ramon Garcia (LHP) assigned to Toledo from Erie
Andrew Oliver (LHP) optioned to Toledo from Detroit (Garcia sent to Erie)
Omir Santos (C) optioned to Toledo (Jeff Kunkel sent to Erie)
Enrique Gonzalez (RHP) outrighted to Toledo (Robbie Weinhardt send to Erie)
This move corresponded with Maggs coming off the DL
Brad Thomas (LHP) assigned to Toledo for rehab assignment
Brandon Inge (3B) assigned to Toledo for rehab assignment
Signed Jeff Salazar (OF) and assigned to Toledo
Placed Timo Perez (OF) on the temporary inactive list
Optioned Adam Wilk (LHP) to Toledo
Optioned Danny Worth (IF) to Toledo (Bryan Pounds sent down to Erie)
Worth was optioned to make room for Inge.
Recalled Ryan Perry (RHP) from Toledo
This moved corresponded with Wilk's being optioned to Toledo.
Activated Timo Perez (OF) from the temporary inactive list (Deik Scram sent down to Erie)
Scram's role as a prospect is once again placed in sharp relief as he's essentially replaced by Jeff Salazar.