I've owed Bless You Boys readers this look at the Connecticut Tigers for a while now, and now that the non-waiver trade deadline has passed, it seems like as good a time as any. As a team, these Tigers are in second place in their division, sitting at 19-23 (as of Monday night) and 3.5 games behind first place Vermont.
If you go to see one of their games, you can typically expect a low-scoring affair as they are both allowing and scoring less runs than the league average. This shouldn't be surprising considering their home ballpark generally plays to the pitchers. But let's be honest. Almost nobody cares about wins and losses at this level so let's just jump right in to looking at the roster and how they've done a little over a month into their season.Pitchers
Wilsen Palacios, 12/15/89, RHP
Palacios is a Venezuelan who, as a player going on 22 and never having played full season ball, is on the fringes of prospectdom. His arm got him noticed in the instructional league, though, and he's also a little behind because of losing most of 2009 to a banned substance suspension. So don't quit him just yet.
Luis Sanz, 11/19/87, RHP
Sanz is another Venezuelan signee and can safely be classified as an organizational player at this point. Still, he's giving the Tigers both quantity and quality in one of their starting spots. His inning total is good for fifth in the league.
Matt Crouse, 7/1/90, LHP
Crouse was the Tigers' 24th in the draft and has pitched better than some of his numbers suggest. He's doing a great job of controlling the strike zone, but has run into some trouble stranding runners and having hits fall in on him. His draft day report at BA had him getting his results from using an average (maybe a touch below) velocity fastball to set up his change and curve. Sounds to me like success at higher levels will come with great difficulty.
Brennan Smith, 8/4/89, RHP
Smith, drafted last season out of BGSU (Go Falcons!), started the season in West Michigan but got the boot when they shifted their roster to try to find some success. He's one of the NY-Penn League's top innings eaters and has been successful with the Tigers, but he turns 22 later this week. Spending a second season at this level after coming out of college isn't a good sign.
Tyler Barrett, 6/23/89, LHP
Barrett, the team's 20th round pick and a college senior, has struggled in the early goings of his pro career and now finds himself on the disabled list with elbow problems. His last start was on July 20th and he may have a little trouble pushing his way back in if and when he returns.
Thomas Collier, 12/3/89, RHP
Collier, taken in the 22nd round, is a JUCO player who was coming back from Tommy John in his final college season. He sounds a little more promising than your typical late round pick with a pretty swift sinker and what BA called a good changeup. With the Tigers, he filled in for the injured Barrett and blanked his opponent in his only appearance to date. We obviously can't make much of two starts, but the early returns sound promising for a kid who was talented enough to go in the fifth round a couple of years ago.
Daniel Bennett, 12/28/88, RHP
Bennett, taken in the 19th round as a senior out of Florida State, is serving as the team's relief ace and closer after holding the same role with the Seminoles. His age and the fact that this season was the first time he was drafted tells me he's likely more of an organizational arm than a true prospect.
Ryan Woolley, 2/11/88, RHP
Of the pitchers on the team taken in the 2011 draft, Woolley was the earliest pick as the Tigers' 13th round selection. A fifth year senior talented enough to be taken by the Braves in the 6th round of the 2009 draft, Woolley has a good arm but has a bit of a checkered past. That has left him as a 23-year-old without a great deal of time to prove he can make it as a pro.
Scott Green, 8/10/85, RHP
The Tigers' third round pick in the 2008 draft, Green has had to fight through injury problems and surgery as a pro. That's left this mountain of a pitcher (6'8", 245 lbs) left with trying to find his way back as a prospect as he approaches his 26th birthday. I haven't the faintest idea where his injuries have left him compared to the hard-throwing right-hander the Tigers had high hopes for three years ago.
Melvin Mercedes, 11/2/90, RHP
Mercedes earned some attention as a relief prospect after his stateside debut in the GCL in 2009. The promise the young Dominican showed earned him a promotion to West Michigan to start 2010, but he was ineffective and then lost the bulk of the season to injury and underwent Tommy John surgery in June. As he tries to recover, history says we should expect him to struggle as he tries to rediscover his delivery.
Rest of Bullpen: I'm not going to profile the rest of the Tigers' pen simply because I don't enough information to make doing so worthwhile. I also suspect the following group consists of organizational arms. Of the domestic players, Jeff Barfield was signed last season as an undrafted free agent. The guys taken in this year's draft include Guido Knudson (28th round) and Nick Avila (37th round). The international pitchers rounding out the pen are Fernando Celis, Rayni Guichardo and Pedro Perez. Perez is a 23-year-old Dominican who the Tigers received from the Red Sox in the Brent Dlugach trade. Celis and Guichardo are a couple of Venezuelans who are 22 and 19 years old, respectively.
Patrick Leyland, 10/11/91, Bats: R
Leyland had a pretty abysmal season last year in the GCL, so this good start is a welcome sight. The Tigers' 8th round pick from the 2010 draft still isn't showing a lot of power, but he seems to be hitting the ball well and doing a good job of controlling the strike zone. He has good size already, so hopefully the power will come. With Julio Rodriguez having been shipped out for Wilson Betemit, he becomes a little more important as a prospect.
Zach Maggard, 8/2/1988, Bats: R
Maggard was the Tigers' 34th round pick of this year's draft, coming out of Florida Southern as a senior. With him being a senior and his draft position, you can guess he's an organizational player and his apparent quest to never hear ball four won't stand in the way of that label.
Javier Azcona, 2B/SS, 9/28/1991, Bats: R
The Dominican middle infielder has also checked his plate discipline at the stadium gates apparently, as he's walked twice on the season against 32 strikeouts. You don't have to walk to be successful, but that kind of disparity between walks and strikeouts makes success nearly impossible. Yes, he's talented and promising, but he'll need to get that problem in check.
Dean Green, 1B/DH, 6/30/1989, Bats: L
The Tigers' 11th round pick out of Barry University had been at Oklahoma State for the first three years of his college career. He's big (6'4", 255 pounds) with power and so far has been one of the better hitters in the NY-Penn in terms of production. When you see his position, though, you know he has to keep the hitting up in a big way if and when he continues to get his chances.
Jeff Holm, 1B/OF, 10/17/1988, Bats: L
Holm is a senior out of Michigan State who the Tigers selected in the 12th round. I actually saw him play in Lansing against the Lugnuts this spring, but was too busy trying to keep warm to pay much attention. Not that I could tell you much if I had. It is good to see him keeping himself useful on the bases and with walks despite struggling to find hits. He doesn't have the greatest projection in the world, but produced like crazy in summer league last year and in his senior season at MSU. Don't be surprised if he finishes strong or comes out of nowhere next season.
Colin Kaline, 2B, 4/26/1989, Bats: S
Don't expect the world from Kaline, the college teammate of Zach Maggard at Florida Southern. Oh, and grandson of Mr. Tiger. He was taken in the 26th round, which is actually a round later than the Tigers picked him out of high school. But pedigree aside, his numbers in college were pedestrian. If he's going to go anywhere, though, his working the strike zone is a step in the right direction.
Jason King, 3B, 6/14/1989, Bats: S
King came out of left field, so to speak, when the Tigers took the Kansas State product in the 4th round of this year's draft. Baseball America didn't have him in their Top 200 and also had him listed as the State of Kansas's 18th best player. I usually don't get warm fuzzy feelings about players who the Tigers like more than anybody else. King, though, has put up decent numbers so far and is an athletic switch-hitter with the power and speed to man a corner outfield spot if he doesn't stay at third. Don't be surprised if he moves quickly if he keeps producing.
Matt Perry, 1B/3B/DH, 7/17/1987, Bats: L
Taken in the 41st round of last year's draft, Perry may find playing time a little short with Aaron Westlake having been added to the team. He's split his time pretty evenly between the positions listed above, but could be squeezed out by Westlake, King, and Green.
Eugenio Suarez, SS, 7/18/1991, Bats: S
The 20-year-old Venezuelan started the season in the GCL, but came up to Connecticut in early July and has been the starting shortstop since. He's not hitting for average and doesn't seem concerned about walks, but isn't striking out a ton and has had 9 of 22 hits go for extra bases. He may seem old for the NY-Penn League when you look at some other Tiger middle infielders, but it's easy to forget it's considered a college players' league. He fits with that in mind, and he's hit well since coming stateside last season. Is Jhonny Peralta nervous about his job in 2014? Probably not because of Suarez.
Rest of Infield: There are a couple of infielders on the roster who haven't really put in the time to even bother listing their numbers. The most notable is Aaron Westlake, the team's third round pick, who recently signed and got on the field. Another biggun (6'4", 235 lbs), Westlake stands to add some muscle to the middle of the order. The other is Alexander Nunez. Nunez hasn't played since early July, when he injured his hamstring, but he's a talented enough player to earn a look as a prospect even though his 2010 campaign (also in Connecticut) was discouraging.
Tyler Collins, LF, 6/6/1990, Bats: Left
Collins, the Tigers' 6th round pick out of a Texas JUCO, just started playing a couple weeks ago. He has a chance at adding a charge to the lineup, though. He just had a two-homer game on Friday and Baseball America likes his bat speed and ability to square up on the ball.
Samir Rijo, OF, 6/26/1990, Bats: S
Rijo has served as the team's most frequent right fielder, and thus far has been forgettable in the role. At 21 with no success in the US so far, he's in danger of being forgottable as a prospect, too. Actually, he's likely already firmly entrenched as an org guy.
Les Smith, OF, 12/24/1989, Bats: L
Last year's 27th round pick is having a hard time finding playing time. That's not going to get easier if Gomez keeps hitting well. It's also not as if Smith has forced the issue to this point.
Chad Wright, 9th round 2011
Every time I see a Tiger player with more walks than strikeouts I want to take a picture of the screen. The Tigers' 9th round pick out of the University of Kentucky at least knows how to compensate for his weaknesses. Without a lot of power, he's a spray hitter who does what he has to to get on base. He's not a toolsy player, but he sounds like the kind of "dirt dog" the Tigers always rant about. Connecticut has used him in center but he played left in college because of a weak throwing arm. Still, he sounds like the kind of kid who might get written off prematurely as he keeps climbing the organizational ladder.
Other Outfielders: The other players on the roster who either haven't played enough or are on the DL are Edwin Gomez, Alexander Moreno and P.J. Polk. Gomez was a high pick in 2009, but hadn't put it together until he got a couple weeks' worth of games in Connecticut (after failing miserably in West Michigan). He's on the DL now, though, so that tempers the limited excitement of his early success.
Moreno hasn't put it together stateside yet, but to be fair, he's had less than 150 plate appearances in his two seasons here. Of course, the lack of playing time probably says something about his standing as a prospect, too. Polk is a burner whose had a terrible season between West Michigan and Connecticut. He now finds himself on the disabled list and hoping he can get back to the production he saw in 2010.
The squad has a few more draft picks who were taken early in the draft than the Tigers' NY-Penn affiliate usually sees. Most of them are position players, though, and that seems to have left the pitching squad a little short on talent.
The Tigers will just have to hope they can count on their home field and defense to help the pitchers suppress runs. They'll also be hoping the addition of players like Westlake and Collins, a couple of those early picks, will be able to go a long way in boosting the sagging offensive numbers.
I know it's tough to get excited about players so far away from the majors, but in a system that's lagging on overall talent - especially after these recent trades - the lower levels are going to be the first sign of rejuvenated life in the system. We'd do well to remember some of these names for the rest of this season and when assignments are announced next spring.