Each year, at the end of the season, I take a look at the four full season minor league teams and try to figure out who's going to win the Tigers' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year. This year, I assume the winners of each award are going to be pretty obvious. However, we'll look at who I think of as the top candidates for each. Now understand, the way these awards have been given out isn't terribly complicated. Old school stats still reign from what I've been able to tell. These awards aren't a pronouncement of the top prospects. They're just recognition of a season well done. In that line, what follows isn't so much discussion of the players as prospects as much as a discussion of their seasons.
Player of the Year Candidates:
Rob Brantly, C, West Michigan
.303/.366/.440, 7 HR, 42 R, 44 RBI
These numbers are why I included him as a possible candidates. As the Tigers have found out this season, left-handed hitting catchers who can hit .300 with power and good defense are good to have around. Unfortunately, he has since gone to Lakeland and is hitting .228/243/.338 in 136 Hi A at bats.
Jordan Lennerton, 1B/DH, Lakeland
.282/.396/.441, 14 HR, 74 R, 73 RBI
Lennerton is 25 and repeating at Hi A as a first baseman and DH. Like I said, these awards aren't really about being a phenom. He has, however, had a good season for the Flying Tigers. He is ninth in the league in OPS with a lot of that value coming from an on-base percentage near .400 thanks to 92 walks (2nd in FSL). He also showed middle of the lineup power by hitting 47 extra-base hits.
Ryan Strieby, 1B, Toledo
.255/.343/.427, 18 HR, 65 R, 73 RBI
Strieby is another first baseman who may have seen his opportunity pass. After struggling with wrist injuries, he hasn't been able to reproduce some of the gawdy numbers he put up in earlier seasons. Still, his 18 homers were good for tenth in the league and his 60 walks (7th in IL) made up for a lagging batting average. The problem was that drooping average was largely due to his league-leading 167 strikeouts.
Brent Wyatt, OF, Lakeland
.290/.417/.398, 3 HR, 59 R, 30 RBI
If we saw the voting results for this award within the organization - if such a thing happens - I doubt Wyatt would come in fifth. The numbers just aren't that exciting, even though his on-base percentage was second in the FSL and I'm sure the Tigers appreciated his walking (62 BB) more than he struck out (57 K). Another reason he'd be an unlikely finalist is his time in Erie hasn't gone too well (.161/.246/242 in 62 AB).
Nick Castellanos, 3B, West Michigan
.309/.364/.430, 6 HR, 61 R, 74 RBI
It's been well documented Castellanos started slowly (.179/.222/.209 in April) and has hit like gangbusters since. What's also encouraging is his walk totals have gone up each month in addition to squaring up the ball for the rest of the season. How well was he able to turn things around? His 36
walks doubles lead the Midwest League and his .309 average is fifth. This despite the fact that he's 19. The Tigers don't always give this award to their best hitting prospect, but I'm sure they're happy when they're justified in doing so.
Pitcher of the Year Candidates:
Kevin Eichhorn, RHP, West Michigan
10-5, 3.63 ERA, 144 IP, 142 H, 105 K, 32 BB
Eichhorn came over in the Armando Galarraga trade and I'm sure the Tigers are thrilled with his first season in the system. He missed most of 2009 due to an elbow injury, and after spending 2010 working in a Rookie League, 2011 was his first complete season on a full season squad. It's therefore impressive he has been able to rack up 144 innings, good for fifth in the Midwest League. Overall, though, his numbers were more what you'd call solid than spectacular. He has good command of his fastball but it's not overpowering, and it shows in his strikeout totals.
Kenny Faulk, LHP, Lakeland
2-5, 2.66 ERA, 50.2 IP, 47 H, 64 K, 15 BB, 20 SV
I don't view Faulk as a prospect (he's 24), but I thought this was a good spot to recognize an excellent season as a reliever. His 20 saves are good for fourth in the FSL and he's struck out an impressive 30% of the batters he's faced.
Jacob Turner, RHP, Erie/Toledo
4-5, 3.44 ERA, 131 IP, 117 H, 110 K, 35 BB
I mentioned this award is typically given to pitchers who put up big win numbers and have a low ERA, so it's unlikely Turner will take it with his four wins. That's especially true since he won last year. But don't let any of that fool you. He's just 20 years old and split his season between Erie, Toledo and Detroit. He was fantastic in Erie, where he was one of the league's youngest players and just succeeding there would have been a great success. But he handled it so well he got a shot with the Tigers and spent most of the rest of the season in Toledo, where he made three more starts. In Toledo he struck out 20 and walked just 3 in 17.1 innings. His most recent start against the Royals didn't go splendidly, but don't worry. Another Tiger pitcher made a couple of spot starts in 2005 with unimpressive results, but nobody held it against Verlander.
Jay Voss, LHP, Lakeland/Erie
12-6, 3.56 ERA, 144 IP, 125 H, 126 K, 42 BB
Voss was another trade acquisition for the Tigers (Nate Robertson), and after a disappointing 2010 season, he bounced back well with 12 wins this season. He started in Lakeland, but was called up to Erie in mid-May and held up well with the SeaWolves. Despite not being a starter since 2008, he did well in the role and has put in 144 quality innings with the two teams (3.67 ERA in Erie, 3.21 ERA in Lakeland).
Drew Smyly, LHP, Lakeland/Erie
11-6, 2.09 ERA, 125 IP, 102 H, 130 K, 36 BB
Smyly's numbers are impressive regardless of their context, but are moreso when you realize he spent his first professional season at these two advanced levels. What's more, he performed better in Erie (1.21 ERA, 53 K, 15 BB) than he had in Lakeland (2.58 ERA, 77 K, 21 BB). The success in Erie was refreshing for Tiger fans, too, because as a lefty who relies more on pitchability and command, he had his skeptics about continued success after leaving Lakeland. His stuff played at AA, though, and it will be interesting to see where he's placed to start next year.