People often talk about the jump from High-A to Double-A, and then from Triple-A to the majors as being the biggest leaps that players will make in their professional careers. The jump from the Low-A Midwest League to the High-A Florida State League, however, is no joke. First of all, the average age of players in the Midwest League is around 21 1⁄2 years old, while down in the FSL it’s nearly 23. The players are bigger, stronger, and more advanced. Furthermore, summers in Florida are a grind. It’s hot, it’s humid, and it rains a lot. The Florida State League is every bit as much as a mental challenge as it is a physical one. The ball doesn’t travel well in the parks down there either, making for a lot of boring, sweaty contests.
Let’s see who gets the joy of dealing with it in 2019:
Mize can compete at the Double-A level right now. Given the frequency of rain-outs and snow-outs up in the Eastern League, however, the organization has announced that they want to keep him in Florida for the start of the season just to keep him on a tight schedule. Expect him to to be in Erie by June 1 if all goes well, maybe sooner.
The plan is similar for Perez, who has been battling injuries for a while now. Thankfully, recent reports have been positive. He just needs to get some innings under his belt and start to make up for the development time he lost in 2018. I would expect him to move to Erie this year as well, perhaps by mid-season.
Sodders was shut down in May 2018, and is now working his way back into game shape. He’s a potential sleeper in a farm system that could use a few more lefties. Rodriguez, who is about to turn 21 on March 31, was steady as could be with West Michigan in 2018. Dane Myers was the Tigers’ sixth round pick in 2017. He is a super athletic kid who, if he can add a little bit of velocity to his 89-91 mile-per-hour fastball, could be a viable pitcher going forward.
This isn’t the sexiest list of Tigers arms. Bass was deadly down the stretch for West Michigan a year ago, but is more of a finesse pitcher. He could slot into a rotation spot once Mize and/or Perez migrate north. Pinto struck out nearly a batter and a half per inning for Lakeland last season, but he also walked nearly six per nine innings pitched. Foley is probably the name listed above most Tigers fans are excited about, as he showed triple-digit heat back in 2017 before getting bitten by the Tommy John bug. Sittinger, like Pinto, misses a lot of bats, but needs to throw more strikes. Lescher was a reliable closer for the Whitecaps a year ago.
Athmann found himself in the Florida State League All-Star Game last year despite posting just a .588 OPS. The Tigers have a lot of options in the upper levels of the minors, though, and he is likely to return to Lakeland for a platoon role. Policelli is a guy the Tigers seem to like a lot, as he saw a good deal of action with the major leaguers during spring training. He doesn’t have any real carrying tools, but he is a versatile guy who can play just about anywhere and do a little bit of everything.
Kody Clemens is the one everyone will be watching. He is expected to conquer High-A pitching without much of an issue, and should hopefully see a promotion at some point this season. Sedio is probably the only other bat with any intrigue here. He has a solid hit tool and saw plenty of time in Erie last year. He hasn’t flashed enough power, though, and doesn’t really have a true home in the field. Shepherd has a career 33 percent strikeout rate that hasn’t improved much since he became a pro back in 2014. Peterson is an exciting player but known more for his glove and his hustle. He stole 20 bases in 104 games last year across two levels.
Brock Deatherage is climbing up prospect lists after posting way-better-than-expected numbers last year. He can handle center-field with his 70-grade wheels, and has some power you wouldn’t expect from his 175 pound frame. The question with Deatherage — and the reason he was a 10th round pick instead of going in the top 100 — has always been his hit tool. He loves to swing the bat. Azocar had a monster July and August in Lakeland, and with JaCoby Jones opening the season on the injured list, it’s possible he gets a taste of Double-A Erie to help cover center field. For now, we’ll slot him back in Lakeland. Rosa hit just .229 in West Michigan last year, but did flash some power with 11 homers and had perhaps the most amazing play of the season.
Manager Andrew Graham will lead the Flying Tigers this year. Graham also managed Lakeland in 2017 before spending last season in Erie. He will be joined by pitching coach Jorge Cordova and hitting coach Tim Garland. The Flying Tigers open the season on Thursday, April 4, at home against the Tampa Tarpons (NYY).