November 2008

Tigers prospects in AFL title game

Yeah, it’s a shameless plug, I know. But it’s still live baseball, so if you’re looking for something to put on your computer while you’re watching Michigan-Ohio State (or later Michigan State-Penn State) on your TV, you can watch the Arizona Fall League championship game on MLB.TV. Tigers prospects Jeff Larish, Casper Wells and Will Rhymes are all slated to be in the starting lineup for the star-studded Mesa Solar Sox, who apparently decided their starting lineup for this game by a vote among the players.

It’s a pretty good lineup for Mesa, loaded among three organization. Four of the slated starters for the Solar Sox come from the Braves organization, with three from the Tigers and two from the Marlins. The exception is highly-touted Phillies shortstop Jason Donald.

Postscript on Hernandez

One thing that I didn’t mention about the Indians hiring Chuck Hernandez as bullpen coach but should have is the emphasis he places on preparing for an opponent. That was a major thing Tigers pitchers mentioned about the difference he made in 2006, how he put together the game plan for opposing hitters.

As a pitching staff, the Indians accrued a 5.29 ERA against the Tigers last year, including 5.09 from Cy Young award winner Cliff Lee. Only the White Sox hit more home runs off Cleveland pitchers (29) than the 27 that Detroit hitters did. Granted, there were some brilliant performances from Indians hurlers mixed in there, but that was the sum total. Hernandez was obviously brought over for his coaching ability and his work with some of Detroit’s young pitchers, but after three seasons of watching Tigers hitters, he can certainly help the Tribe on one game plan.

40-man roster set at 38

The Tigers set their 40-man roster ahead of next month’s Rule 5 Draft by adding five prospects.

Outfielders Wilkin Ramirez and Casper Wells were added to the roster, as were right-handed pitchers Alfredo Figaro, Guillermo Moscoso and Casper Wells Zach Simons. Those moves bring the roster to 38 players.

Interestingly, second baseman Will Rhymes was not added. That makes him eligible for the Rule 5.

UPDATE @ 1pm: Thanks to Billfer and his Detroit Tigers Weblog for pointing out another prospect who didn’t make the list — Luis Marte and (correction: Marte wasn’t eligible for Rule 5) James Skelton. Skelton was interesting from the standpoint of how badly the Tigers need good, young catching. Take away the questions about his size (listed at 5-foot-11, 165) and he’s a pretty good prospect. In the Tigers’ defense on this case, given the makeup of big-league rosters these days, it would be tough for a team to take him in the Rule 5 Draft and keep him as a third catcher all year. If they weren’t going to subtract from the 40-man roster, this might be the risk they were willing to take.

ANOTHER UPDATE @ 1:20pm: On a side note, the Cardinals signed former Tigers farmhand Ian Ostlund to a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invite, so he’ll get his shot to impress the big club. St. Louis has been looking for left-handed relief and will reportedly sign former Tiger Trever Miller.

Indians hire Hernandez as bullpen coach

In case you missed it, Chuck Hernandez has not only landed on his feet, he’ll see quite a bit of the Tigers in his new gig as Indians bullpen coach. He’ll be working alongside Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis — in fact, he’s doing that right now, traveling with him to the Dominican Republic to watch Fausto Carmona and Adam Miller pitch in winter ball

Garcia/Zumaya updates

Free agent Freddy Garcia’s winter campaign began Monday with around 60 pitches in a game in Venezuela’s parallel league, essentially their farm system. How his arm feels from that outing will likely determine when the veteran right-hander pitches in the main league, which is what Major League teams are waiting to see. A few teams have expressed preliminary interest, but a healthy winter ball campaign will be important for him.

Garcia hadn’t pitched in a game since his six innings of one-run ball in the Tigers’ season finale Sept. 29. He left that outing with some tightness around his shoulder. While tests showed no major cause for concern, his winter ball entrance was pushed back a few times from late October to the start of November to now.

The Tigers continue to track Garcia, who made three September starts for them after signing a Minor League contract in August to complete his comeback from shoulder surgery.

As for Zumaya, he has now been cleared to start rehab exercises on his shoulder. He’s pain-free and he has full range of motion, but the Tigers medical staff wants him to regain strength in his shoulder with the exercises before he begins a throwing program. The lack of pain and full range of motion are encouraging, but again, the Tigers want to be cautious after his past setbacks.

Galarraga places fifth in AL rookie balloting

While Evan Longoria was a runaway winner and Alexei Ramirez placed second, Galarraga actually received more third-place vote — nine out of a possible 28 from the BBWAA voters — than anyone else. However, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Aviles received a few second-place votes, enough to place third and fourth respectively.

Still, not bad for Galarraga, who wasn’t expected to get much time in the Majors in the first place.

Guillen hoping to play winter ball?

A story out of the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal quotes Carlos Guillen as hoping to play in the Venezuelan Winter League in order to help him get ready for both his new position in left field with the Tigers and for the World Baseball Classic, wherever he plays for Venezuela. Guillen said it will depend on whether the Tigers give him the go-ahead to play, but that his back feels fine and that he’s physically able to play, which he had also told last week.

If Guillen does play, the report says, it’ll be in mid to late December. He would play for Magallanes, the same club for which his good friend Freddy Garcia is expected to pitch.

Guillen is also helping to put together a charity softball game for next week in his hometown of Maracay. Fellow Tigers Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera are expected to take part, and Placido Polanco and Edgar Renteria could do the same.

UPDATE @ 5:45pm: Team president/GM Dave Dombrowski said they’ve heard the rumor about Guillen and winter ball in the Venezuelan papers this offseason, but that they have not had any discussions with Guillen about it. Dombrowski confirmed that Guillen would need the go-ahead from the Tigers to play. Keep in mind that the Dominican and Venezuelan players receive a lot of pressure back home to play winter ball, and that can prompt some of the stories.

Tigers in mix for Chad Cordero

The former Nationals closer is drawing interest from a handful of clubs, as our Washington beat writer Bill Ladson explains, but the Tigers have supposedly had multiple conversations with agent Larry Reynolds. It’s a risk, because Cordero is coming off of surgery for a labrum tear last July, but the injury wasn’t as severe as what Freddy Garcia faced. The current prognosis has him potentially ready to return in Spring Training. For a team that has multiple holes to fill for next year, such as the Tigers, it’s a chance worth taking.

Guillen: Venezuelan stars likely for WBC

Talked on Tuesday with Carlos Guillen, who confirmed reports that a meeting last month between a contingent of Venezuelan-born Major Leaguers and the country’s sports minister resolved a lot of issues surrounding the country’s preparation for the World Baseball Classic. Guillen now expects many of the country’s big-name players to take part in the WBC next spring.

“We made a big step,” Guillen said. “It’s a lot better. A lot of players, they’re happy. We have a new administration, new general manager. Everything’s good. Luis Sojo is going to be the manager. We made big changes — the general manager, the administration, other stuff. We want to play. I want to play. I think Miggy’s going to play. Magglio’s going to play. Everything’s going to be better.”

That’s huge news for Venezuela, which a few months ago was looking like a major question mark as far as what kind of team it would field. It’s almost as big news for the Tigers, which accordingly will have several of its star players involved in the WBC soon after Spring Training opens in February. On top of Guillen, Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera, Armando Galarraga was already expected to participate before this.

On a side note, since I wrote about Guillen’s health in the mailbag Monday, Guillen said he’s working out four days a week on the offseason program that strength and conditioning coach Javair Gillett gave him and he’s feeling fine.

Galarraga named Tigers Rookie of the Year

Not really a surprise, but the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association made it official on Monday. Armando Galarraga finished tied with Jair Jurrjens among Major League rookies with 13 wins, while his 126 strikeouts led all AL rookies.