Around the Minors.

On the heels of another loss, I’ll use today to update the early season progress for some of the top prospects both on the Tigers and in all of baseball. I’ll start with the top 10 prospects that Baseball America lists for Detroit that are not in the majors. This excludes Justin Verlander, who pitched well in the loss tonight, Joel Zumaya, and Jordan Tata, ranked 1st, 2nd, and 7th, respectively. That makes third-ranked Cameron Maybin the leadoff player in Around the Minors:

1. Cameron Maybin, OF, 19 years old – West Michigan Whitecaps (A) – ranked 31st on BA.com Top 100
Maybin is quickly putting to rest the idea that because he wasn’t facing elite talent in his North Carolina high school, that he may not be ready for pro ball. In just nine games, Maybin is hitting .316 with a .366 on-base percentage, .579 slugging percentage and nine runs batted in. Half of his 12 hits are for extra bases including a home run. His lone downside so far come from the 10 strikes (against just two walks) in his first 38 professional at-bats. In a totally irrelevant tidbit, NBA player Rashad McCants is his cousin.

2. Brent Clevlen, OF, 22 years old – Erie SeaWolves (AA) – ranked 4th in Tigers system
Clevlen is in his fifth minor-league season after impressive bounce-back season in 2005. Since he began his career in 2002, Clevlen had showed tremendous plate discipline, especially for an 18-year old, and was rewarded with back-to-back promotions finally landing in Lakeland High-A at age 20. There, he was clearly in a funk and never hit his stride. The Tigers left him in Lakeland for 2005 and all he did was come back and post a .302/.387/.484 season en route to a Florida State League MVP for the team with the best record in the minors. Through 13 games this season, Clevlen isn’t where he wants to be hitting just .255, but unlike his disastrous 2004 when everything went wrong, his eye has remained sharp with a .364 on-base powered by a 1.1 K:BB ratio in 47 at-bats.

3. Wilkin Ramirez, 3B, 20 years old – Lakeland Tigers (High-A) – ranked 5th in Tigers system
Ramirez is a young free-swinger who is pretty rough around the edges. He lost all of 2004 to a torn-labrum, but is young enough to where the injury wasn’t a major setback. As primarily a designated hitter in 2005, he had 39 extra-base hits including 16 home runs and mixed in some decent speed with 21 steals in 29 attempts. To put he kindly, he doesn’t find himself in the same class as Clevlen in terms of plate discipline. In two seasons, he has posted OBPs of .321 and .317 and he has just 48 walks in his 185 games. He earned his free-swinger merit badge with 143 strikeouts in 131 games last season. More of the same in early 2006 with 16 strikeouts and one walk as Ramirez has posted a .234/.245/.340 line in 11 games with Lakeland.

4. Humberto Sanchez, SP, 22 years old – Erie SeaWolves (AA) – ranked 6th in Tigers system
Sanchez is the third of the fireball arms in the minors for Detroit. He enters his third season with Erie after missing significant time in 2005 with groin and oblique injuries. He has amassed 317 strikeouts in 331 minor league innings (8.62/9), but a less-than-impressive 1.52 WHIP during the same time. With three starts already this season, he has struck out 20 while walking just five with a 1.69 earned run average in 16 innings.

5. Tony Giarratano, SS, 23 years old – Erie SeaWolves (AA) – ranked 8th in Tigers system
Known much more for his glove than bat, Giarratano earned a promotion to the show last year filling in for the injured Carlos Guillen. He labored through 42 at-bats with just a .143 batting average. He had a chance to break spring with AAA Toldeo, but management instead thought he’d be better served with another season in Erie. With just a .218/.232/.327 line, it appears as though they were right.

6. Jeff Larish, 1B, 23 years old – Lakeland Tigers (High-A) – ranked 9th in Tigers system
Larish is a masher from Arizona State, where he put up huge numbers in big sophomore and senior seasons. His junior was plagued by a wrist injury, but he still managed a .308/.396/.468 line, decent for college. In 24 games last year, Larish impressed with six home runs and a .280/.417/.549 line. He has picked up right where he left off this season with a .308/.451/.538 line including two home runs and nine walks to just six strikeouts in 39 at-bats.

7. Kevin Whelan, SP, 22 years old – Lakeland Tigers (High-A) – ranked 10th in Tigers system
Another college product, Whelan, from Texas A&M moved from catcher to pitcher to become a highly-touted prospect. He was taken in the 4th round last year and quickly blazed through two levels to wind up at Lakeland this season. In 25 appearances, Whelan posted a 1.48 earned run average with a 5.1 K:BB ratio (41:8) and miniscule 0.58 WHIP. As the closer for Lakeland this season, he has glided brilliantly through four appearances, all saves, with three and two-thirds perfect innings that have included eight strikeouts.

Throughout the season, I’ll update the progress of these seven as well as others that climb the prospect charts of the Detroit Tigers. Now, a quick look at how some of the top prospects in all of baseball are faring in this young season:

Delmon Young, OF – AAA (Tampa Bay Devil Rays)
Eating AAA alive with a .420/.455/.480 line, but curiously without a home run.

Andy Marte, 3B – AAA (Cleveland Indians)
Also homerless, Marte is hitting .250/.357/.333 and keeping Aaron Boone looking over his shoulder.

Brandon Wood, 3B – AA (Los Angeles Angels)
Wood has rapped eight extra-base hits including two home runs collecting a .292/.364/.542 line in 12 games.

Alex Gordon, 3B – AA (Kansas City Royals)
At least the Royals have something to look forward to with Gordon mashing to the tune of .353/.393/.588.

Stephen Drew, SS – AAA (Arizona Diamondbacks)
One of several gold-level prospects for the D’Backs, his presence prompted a move to centerfield for Justin Upton. Has four home runs so far, but just a .235/.286/.471 line.

Ian Stewart, 3B – AA (Colorado Rockies)
Destroying pitchers early with 11 of 16 going for extra-bases including eight doubles, he also has seven walks against just eight strikeouts for a .320/.417/.620 line.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS – AA (Colorado Rockies)
Poised to form a power left side of the infield in Colorado with Stewart, Tulowitzki is hitting .311/.373/.489 despite 12 Ks in 45 at-bats.

Chad Billingsley, P – AAA (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Daring someone with the big club to falter, Billingsley is 2-0 in three starts with a 2.93 ERA and 19 Ks in 15.33 innings.

Homer Bailey, P – A+ (Cincinnati Reds)
Though 1-2, Bailey has been stunning in three starts with a 2.93 ERA and a 7.5 K:BB ratio in 15.33 innings.

Philip Hughes, P – A+ (New York Yankees)
Also 1-2, Hughes has been even more impressive with a sparkling 0.56 ERA and 18:1 K:BB ratio in 16 innings of work.

Jeremy Sowers, P – AAA (Cleveland Indians)
At 2-0, Sowers has been brilliant in 19.33 innings with a 0.47 ERA and 11 strikeouts against five walks.

Jered Weaver, P – AAA (Los Angeles Angels)
Despite a 3.75 ERA, which looks huge compared the others listed, Weaver has been dominant in two starts with 14 strikeouts and 0 walks in 12 innings of work. If his brother isn’t careful, Jered just might take his job!

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