We move on to Lakeland, in the third installment of Bless You Boys' look at the minor league teams at (or at least near) the midseason point.
The Flying Tigers went 36-34 in the season's first half, but finished in fifth place in the oddly unbalanced division. Actually, the whole league was unbalanced in the first half. Lakeland was fifth in their division, but the South division had just one team over .500. Unfortunately, they are also lagging in the second half. They can't complain too much about their luck, though, since in the early going they are just 4-7. That leaves Lakeland as another Detroit farm team hanging around .500.
It's also not surprising, then, that they have scored just about as many runs as they have allowed. The way that works out, their offense is a little behind the league average and the pitching and defense are preventing runs at a pace a little better than average. The offense lagging isn't all that surprising since they haven't really excelled in one area and are lacking big producers. Brent Wyatt leads the team with an .817 OPS, good for 18th in the league. When he was on the team, Gustavo Nunez was next but we already know he's moved on to bigger chances in Erie.
As for the pitching, their rising above the league average in run prevention is a little surprising since their starters haven't been too effective. Drew Smyly and Jay Voss were the most effective in the first half, but Smyly missed time with some injury concerns and Voss has been promoted to Erie. The bullpen has been picking up the slack, though, with what seems like a bevy of arms that are doing a great job of keeping runs off the board late. Kenny Faulk, the team's closer, is certainly leading the charge in that effort.
So, with the team fighting an uphill battle on having success at a team level, we'll turn our attention to the team's prospects and key contributors. (Stats* come from Fangraphs.com, as of Tuesday)
Cole Nelson, LHP, 7/14/89
Nelson is said to have problems working with runners on base, and there have been reports of him and the Tigers working to fix the problem. While he seems to have made progress - his peripherals are better with runners on - his last start was not one of the ones where he showed progress. He faced just ten batters and didn't make it out of the first inning. He has, however, had four quality starts his last six times out. Nelson has a lot of work to do, but the big lefty may be able to build on his ability to get ground balls when he gets his control and command worked out a bit.
Jordan Pratt, RHP, 9/25/89
Pratt may be lucky to be alive after a line drive to the head landed him in critical conditon in a Florida hospital. Because of that injury, he hasn't pitched since May 19th but the Tigers' concerns are more with his long-term health than his contributions as an arm out of the bullpen.
Drew Smyly, LHP, 6/13/89
Smyly is the top prospect among the pitchers on this squad, so it's been a huge positive to see him back from the disabled list and putting up starts that landed him on Baseball America's weekly hotsheet. He was cuffed around a bit in his last start, but his season numbers are excellent. They've kept his ERA at a nice low number, but an excellent K:BB ratio and a very low home run total suggest he's been even better than that.
Julio Rodriguez, C, 8/3/89, Bats: Right
Rodriguez is adding himself to conversations about the Tigers' depth at the catching position. He's not as productive as somebody who's hung up on batting average might think, but league average production from a catcher is not a bad thing. What we have to watch is that walk rate. If it stays where it is, he'll need hits to fall since he hasn't shown great power and hanging your hat on your average is always dangerous.
Wade Gaynor, 3B, 4/19/88, Bats: Right
Gaynor has taken a step backward after a promising year with the Whitecaps last year. At 23, which most would point out is the upper reaches of where a Hi A prospect should be in terms of age, he's striking out too much, walking too little and not making up for either with his power. What's worse is the most positive scouting reports I see about his defense seem to be scouts who say if you squint and tilt your head a certain way, he seems like a guy who could stick at third.
Corey Jones, 2B, 9/14/87, Bats: Left
Last season, Jones made his case for being a hitter for average who might slap out enough hits to keep himself useful. This season, he's still making a lot of contact but the hits aren't falling enough and when they do, he's usually only standing on first. It's just not going to cut it for somebody who's going to rely on his bat and turns 24 in September.
Daniel Fields, OF, 1/23/91, Bats: Left
At 20, Fields is still very young to be in this league. The troubling apart about the numbers we see here is they are worse than what he did as a 19-year-old in the FSL last year. He's walking less, striking out more and hitting for less power. He still hasn't figured out how to use his speed on the basepaths and we're pretty much left hoping he's made progress as an outfielder. He may still be one of the Tigers' top position prospects, but it's harder to make his case with numbers this year.
Avisail Garcia, OF, 6/12/91, Bats: Right
Garcia's even younger than Fields and similar to Fields, has taken a step back from last year if you look at his numbers relative to his league. He's still not drawing walks at anything close to an acceptable rate and has heard strike three nearly eight times as often as ball four. It's discouraging, but it's important to keep in mind the challenge he's been handed as somebody who was a teenager last month.
Kenny Faulk, LHP, 5/27/87
Faulk is 24 years old in A ball, so you're going to have a hard time convincing many people he's a prospect. These numbers, though, are something to behold from the Lakeland closer. More than eight times as many Ks as walks and just one homer allowed as he's amassed 19 saves. He may not be a future big leaguer, but this performance should earn him some looks in the high minors.
Trevor Feeney, RHP, 6/4/86
Feeney has been the workhorse of the pitching staff, but his low walk and strikeout totals have opened the door to him allowing a ton of hits. Still, taking the ball every five days and putting up league average results has its value. It won't make you a prospect at his age at this level, but he's an important member of the team.
Michael Morrison, RHP, 12/17/87
I'm a little skeptical that Morrison has some magic anti-homer wand that he can wave despite a pretty average ground ball rate. But not giving up any dingers, getting very weak contact from hitters (.194 BABIP) and striking out a ton of hitters has allowed him to be a valuable part of the pen despite walking too many batters. I have a feeling what looks like luck will crash eventually, but Lakeland won't complain about what they're getting until it does.
Ryan Robowski, LHP, 2/3/88
One of the Tigers' returns in the Galarraga trade has been useful in the Lakeland pen. He doesn't do anything particularly well, but has somehow managed to keep the ball in the park. That and a few unearned runs have allowed him to maintain an ERA that suggest he's good to have around.
Zach Samuels, RHP, 10/8/86
Samuels has been solid enough with the Flying Tigers to get the call up to Erie when they needed an arm for their pen. You don't really need to look hard to see how he's having his success in Lakeland. He's been lucky on balls in play, but he's also struck out a good amount of batters while keeping the ball in the strike zone and on the ground. Obviously, the kind of results those ingredients inspire get you noticed.
Jordan Lennerton, 1B, 2/16/86, Bats: Left
Lennerton has been one of the better bats in the Lakeland lineup while sharing first base and DH duties with Tony Plagman. The problem is he's not shown enough power for somebody playing those positions. He's ridden an exceptional walk rate to a fair amount of production, though. Don't think prospect, though, as he's 25 and a 1B/DH with power issues.
Tony Plagman, 1B, 8/14/87, Bats: Left
Plagman hasn't been as productive as Lennerton, but good home run and RBI totals get him noticed. This is evidenced by his appearance in the FSL All Star Game. He does have good contact skills for a power hitter, but would need an uptick in both hits and walks to have the offensive output suitable for his position.
(*Note: Florida State League Averages
They obviously need a few players to get hot. For the sake of the organization, it would be really nice if those players were guys like Fields, Garcia and Nelson but there are plenty of other lesser prospects and non-prospects who could step up their production. The rotation could definitely use some help and gaining Putkonen (6.60 ERA in 30 IP) through demotion hasn't provided it so far. Whatever boost it gets may have to come from within as I'm doubtful this draft is going to provide starting pitchers who are ready for the FSL. That leaves them rooting for a member of the Whitecap rotation to step up and force a promotion. The problem is those usually come in the transition from the first half of the season to the second, which has already taken place.
The other option for turning their season around is to crank up the offense. Thumbing through the results detailed above, it's easy to see there's room for improvement. It's just a bit of a guessing game as to whether it's actually going to happen. Guys like Jones and Gaynor could see their luck turn on hits in play, but if they don't start hitting for power I'm not sure how much the extra dozen hits a month will help.
None of this sounds too promising, but let's not despair. There is a nice collection of talent here and if it starts to shine through, there's still time to have a fun second half.
June Transactions (and one in July)
As I explained with the first two, I realize these are horribly out of date for the most part. I just want the information to be on the website for future reference. Plus, you might find yourself going "oh, that's what happened to so and so".
William Bergolla (2B) activated from disabled list
Matt Little (RHP) placed on disabled list
Mark Anderson reported Little's trip to the DL came after a loss in velocity, which is, of course, concerning.
Zach Samuels (RHP) re-assigned to Lakeland from Erie
This move made room for the return of Luis Marte (RHP)
Dan Gentzler (RHP) re-assigned to Lakeland from West Michigan
Luke Putkonen (RHP) re-assigned to Lakeland from Erie
Putkonen was just getting pounded in Erie, so while this was disappointing it wasn't surprising.
Jeff Kunkel (C) re-assigned to Lakeland from Toledo
James Meador (1B) retired
Alexander Moreno (OF) re-assigned to Lakeland from Connecticut
Mr. Meador, we hardly knew ye.
Zach Samuels (RHP) re-assigned to Lakeland from Erie (Gentzler to Connecticut)
Wow, Samuels racked up the miles in June.
Activated Matt Little (RHP) from disabled list
Michael Rockett (OF) re-assigned to Lakeland from Erie (Moreno to GCL)
Nate Newman (RHP) re-assigned to Lakeland from West Michigan
This was to fill-in for the departed Tyler Stohr (RHP)