January 2010

Tigers all over the place in prospect rankings

So as you might have seen on the site or on MLB Network last night, MLB.com came out with its preseason Top 50 prospect list. The Tigers came in with two kids on the list: Austin Jackson was the top Tiger at 38th, but first-round draft pick Jacob Turner isn’t far behind at 42.

Today, ESPN.com’s Keith Law came out with his top 100 prospects list. Jackson and Turner are on that list, too, but neither cracked the Top 50. Casey Crosby, however, did. He’s at 45, with Jackson at 70 and Turner at 80. Interestingly, Law is subdued on his projections for Jackson, whom he sees as a true center field with a league-average bat. Scott Sizemore barely missed the top 100, Law writes, and probably would’ve made the cut had his Arizona Fall League not ended early with a broken ankle. Law projects him as a “solid-average regular for several years.”

Not to be overlooked (thanks to Ed Price for pointing it out) is the prospects list from AOL Fanhouse, which has five (count ’em, five) Tigers in the Top 100. Jackson is 25th on that list by Frankie Piliere, who says Jackson has “grown by leaps and bounds since he was drafted.” The next-highest Tiger is Andy Oliver, who didn’t make the other two lists but hits 47th here. Another missing name from the other two rankings, Daniel Schlereth, is 78th, followed by Crosby at 82 and Turner at 90.

My point isn’t to argue that any one list is better than another; I just find the varying opinions fascinating. I’m entering my ninth year on this beat, and I can’t remember such varying national opinions on Tigers prospects. The one thing all these lists have in common is that they show progress in Detroit’s farm system. They’re drafting and developing more high-level talent rather than just one or two really good pitchers, and in the case of Jackson and Schlereth, they’re trading for them too.

Robertson to pedal for a cause tonight

You might remember a story I did last winter on Nate Robertson working out at Detroit Mercy under the watch of their strength and conditioning coordinator, Nick Wilson, who has some Tigers ties. Well, Robertson is helping give back to the school and to charity tonight, when he joins in the Cardio for a Cause fundraiser.

According to a release from the school, a series of 216 participants will pedal for 10 minutes each on a stationary bike, for a total of 36 hours of biking. UDM basketball coach Ray McCallum started it off Wednesday morning. Robertson will end it as the final biker, pedaling from 8:20 to 8:30 p.m. courtside at Calihan Hall while the Titans take on Loyola-Chicago. Robertson is expected to sign some autographs afterwards. Fans at the game can make donations.

Proceeds from the event go to four different causes: UDM’s strength and conditioning program, Children’s Hospital of Michigan, The V Foundation for Cancer Research (that’s the foundation in Jim Valvano’s memory) and the Kay Yow/WBCA Cancer Fund.

Arrest report released on Laird

The incident at a Phoenix Suns game that resulted in the arrest of Tigers catcher Gerald Laird revolved around the wife of NBA player Eddie House, the Arizona Republic reported Tuesday, citing a police report.

Gerald Laird was booked on suspicion of misdemeanor assault. Laird told MLB.com earlier this month that the incident was a misunderstanding that was blown out of proportion, and while he has declined to go into further detail while the case is still pending, he reiterated that to reporters Saturday at TigerFest.

His brother, Yankees prospect Brandon Laird, was booked on suspicion of disorderly conduct. Their uncle, Gregory Collins, was arrested on suspicion of assault. The police report lists Charlsie House as an investigative lead, according to the Republic.

More from the newspaper report:

Authorities said House quickly left the arena’s Verve Energy
Lounge after accusing the Lairds’ 70-year-old grandfather, who was never cited,
of touching her inappropriately.

House said she “did not want any prosecution” and was “reluctant
to give any of her information” to officers, according to the report. A
bartender told police House claimed she was being harassed prior to the fight.

Officers who responded to the fight said Brandon Laird, 22,
shouted derogatory remarks toward House and other women at the lounge before
taking a swing at one of the women. The Yankees’ prospect was booked on
suspicion of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

The paper cites the police report quoting Laird as telling officers he was just trying to “watch the game and have some fun,” and that the incident involved “some lady inside that was bragging about her husband playing for the Celtics.”

Tigers Spring Training invites are out

Most of them, you would’ve already expected, but there are a few that you might not. Among them are Kory Casto, who stands a chance to get more time than expected at third base while Brandon Inge works his surgically repaired knees back into game shape.

Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt are both invited. It’s a long shot for them to make the club, but a good shot for them to make an impression and set themselves up for a midseason call-up.

I’m not sure how many Spring Trainings with the Tigers this will be for Max St. Pierre, but it has to be a lot. For someone who has not appeared in a Major League game, it has to be an incredible total.

Here’s the full list:

Pitchers: Phil Dumatrait, Enrique Gonzalez, Josh Rainwater, Cody Satterwhite, Robbie Weinhardt
Catchers: Robinzon Diaz, John Murrian, Mike Rabelo, Eric Roof, Max St. Pierre
Infielders: Kory Casto, Jeff Larish, Gustavo Nunez

All in all, it isn’t a huge list compared with other years. But they really don’t need a whole lot of invites this year.

Tigers outright Larish to Toledo

The mystery of how the Tigers would create roster space for Jose Valverde has been solved. They outrighted the contract of corner infielder Jeff Larish to Triple-A Toledo.

It’s a surprising move when you consider how valued he was last winter, to the point that the Tigers wouldn’t deal him to Seattle in any trade talks for J.J. Putz. He was set up to be a valuable left-handed bat and role player last year, and he made the Opening Day roster, but he batted .216 in 32 games before going to Toledo in early June. He hit .265 with a .397 on-base percentage, six home runs and 26 RBIs in 61 games there, but struggled down the stretch before undergoing surgery on his right wrist.

Larish will still be in Major League camp as a non-roster invitee, so he’ll still have a chance to crack the roster.

The Tigers now have more pitchers (21) on their 40-man roster than position players.

Granderson defends his community work

As I wrote in my story on Curtis Granderson’s charity basketball game Sunday, it was fitting that one of Granderson’s last events in the Detroit area was a community work. As much as he has done on the field, his off-field work really made an impression.

For almost everyone, that impression has been a positive one. Still, some — or maybe one — made it an issue for scrutiny in the days and weeks after Granderson’s trade to New York. Was he doing too much?

Granderson has stayed out of that debate, but when he was asked about Sunday, he admitted he was perplexed about that it’s even worth bringing up.

“It’s amazing how, you know, so much is talked about players not doing something [to give back],” Granderson said after Sunday’s game. “Then I do something, and now that’s the reason why everyone thought I was playing bad. But yet, my involvement with so many different things — from my book, to my foundation, to education, the RBI program — is very minimal.

“My book [“All You Can Be”] took two days. That’s it. Two days. Everybody thinks it took a lot longer. I did autograph signings on an off-day. When I mentioned with RBI and countless organizations, it’s really just my name, and that I support them. They may have an event, but there’s a good chance I’m probably playing and not there. So there are a lot of things the resume, but it’s not that time-consuming.

“It’s amazing what’s OK to spend your time on and what’s not. If I were married and had kids, that’s OK. But the fact that I’m helping out everyone else’s kids, there seems to be a problem with that.”

Granderson said he really isn’t sure where the pushback is coming from. But it’s clearly something worth defending himself against.

“It’s been talked about over the past two years, I think,” Granderson said. “And honestly, the busiest year was 2007, which was arguably my best year.

That was the year Granderson hit 20 doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases along with a .300 average.

“I was doing two school visits a day and then coming to the ballpark, and then two more the next day,” Granderson continued. “Then we had all the Tigers events. We were establishing the [Grand Kids] foundation. We were doing autograph signings. I had the blog I was doing three times a week versus one time a week. All these different things, and it was arguably the best season. So I can’t put too much into what’s happening off the field correlating with on the field.”

Sizemore expects to be ready for camp

Scott Sizemore still has some small pins in his left fibula from the surgery he underwent in the fall to repair the fracture from the Arizona Fall League. But he doesn’t have the big pins that were in place to hold everything together.

More importantly, he doesn’t have any hesitation in his belief that he’ll be ready for Spring Training in about a month.

“It feels good,” Sizemore said of his ankle. “Good range of motion. It doesn’t feel achy or anything. I’m excited to start working out.”

He’ll have to wait another week for that. The holes in his bone from where the big pins were inserted through the bone, those holes still have to fill in. From there, he’ll be cleared for more running and lateral movement.

Before those pins were removed, Sizemore said, he was hitting and taking ground balls. So this coming week will be more of a short break.

He believes he should be ready. Leyland is definitely hoping for it. He could be Leyland’s best choice for a No. 2 hitter. And they need him getting time at second base alongside Adam Everett and Ramon Santiago in Spring Training.

Laird will be Tigers' starting catcher

It’s starting to sound more and more like the Tigers’ decision on catching prospect Alex Avila is going to involve how much time he can get as a backup catcher, not how much he could share a starting role with Gerald Laird.

“We know Gerald Laird’s going to be our everyday catcher,” team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said during his question-and-answer session at TigerFest Saturday at Comerica Park.

So that takes care of that. The main question as far as the starting catching spot, then, is how much more Laird can provide offensively. On that, both Laird and the Tigers are optimistic.

“I think Gerald will hit more than he did last year,” Dombrowski said. “I was surprised that he did not hit as well. Of course, he caught and threw outstanding.”

Laird sounded surprised as well. But he also emphasized that defense and his pitchers were his focus, and they’ll continue to be a priority while he works with hitting coach Lloyd McClendon in Spring Training to hit better.

The difference will be that he already has worked with a lot of his pitchers, and he won’t have to spend as much time learning them.

“I talked with Mac about my offense,” Laird said Saturday. “I want to definitely work in the cages and work a lot in the spring. Because I know I’m capable of having a better year. Obviously, offensively I had a disappointing year, but my biggest thing last year was to come in and get these guys on the same page. With a whole new staff, 13 guys, I wanted them to want to throw to me. That was my biggest thing. And now being familiar with a lot of them, I can put more focus on my offense. I can go to the cage and do that, rather than go to the bullpen all the time and get to know these guys as much as I can.”

Laird said hitting coach Lloyd McClendon has noticed some mechanical tweaks he’d like to make to keep him level in his swing, so that he can get base hits out of some pitches he fouled off last year.

As for Avila, look for him to get a good amount of playing time in Spring Training as the Tigers try to figure out how much more seasoning he needs and whether he’s close enough that he can benefit from staying in the big leagues rather than playing every day at Triple-A Toledo.

“We’re not putting him on [the team yet], and we’re certainly not writing him off,” manager Jim Leyland said. “At the end of Spring Training, we’re going to try to weigh everything out.”

Then Leyland added another factor that probably works in Avila’s favor.

“We know what sometimes would be the best thing for a guy,” Leyland said. “But if he gives us the best chance to win games up here, he’s got to be up here. That’s just the way it is. There’s too much pressure on everybody anymore. You guys, us, Dave, the fans, they want to win. And if we think he’s the best choice to win games, even though his development may not come along as much as you want it to, we have to take him, I think. …

“The best part about it is he’s got a long Spring Training to go with us this year. He needs to catch is all. It’s just a matter of repetition and doing it.”

Jackson likely to get first shot at leadoff

Jim Leyland says he doesn’t have a clue who’s going to bat leadoff for the Tigers when the season opens. But he has an idea who will probably leadoff for them when the Spring Training schedule opens in a little over five weeks.

“I assume starting off that Jackson’s going to probably lead off in Spring Training to see what he looks like,” Leyland said Saturday at TigerFest. “I’m not really sure who’s going to hit second just yet. We’ll take a look at it.”

Leyland raised the possibility that Jackson and fellow rookie Scott Sizemore could bat first and second, but Leyland also wondered aloud whether he’d want two rookies batting immediately ahead of Miguel Cabrera in the lineup.

“There’s one thing I know about Jackson: I know he’s a Major League center fielder,” Leyland said. “The question with him is how soon does he progress at the plate to become a good Major League hitter. There’s no question, I’m real comfortable that he’s going to be a very good center fielder. I’m not worried about that. His defense is going to be fine. That’s not even a question for me.

“But you can’t expect him to just come in and tear it up offensively. It’s tough. It takes time. So you have to break him in, nurse him and not throw him to the wolves. But if you’re going to play every day, you’re going to face some good Major League pitching.”

Leyland said he’ll be looking at plate discipline from Jackson, both in terms of not chasing bad pitches and his ability to take a walk. But his remarks reinforce the idea that Jackson is the closest the Tigers have to a natural leadoff man in their lineup.

“I don’t know who’s going to be the leadoff guy Opening Day. I would like it to be him,” Leyland said. “But that doesn’t mean I know who it’s going to be.”

Leyland talked a lot about the protoypical leadoff guy, much like Dombrowski did as you can see below. Leyland suggested he’s never really had that prototypical leadoff man in his managerial career, and he isn’t calling Jackson one of those guys. His point was that they’ve made it work over the years.

Tigers still aren't looking for a DH

Just in case others thought the Tigers’ search for a left-handed bat had changed their outlook on adding a designated hitter, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski reiterated that stance Saturday at TigerFest.

He isn’t ruling out adding a bat. But they’d better bring a glove with them.

“If we sign somebody, and we’ve said this all wintertime, we don’t want them to just DH,” Dombrowski said Saturday. “If we would ever do anything, that person needs to be primarily somebody that can play another position. Because we want to keep our DH spot open. Magglio and Carlos are in [the stage of] their careers, and even Miguel — but not to that extent — we’d like to give them a day off now and then. So for us, it’s important to be able to have that guy play another position. There are a lot of what I consider DH-type bats out there, but we’re really trying to put an emphasis on going and getting the ball and playing good defense. And so that flexibility for us is important.”