Some of the Tigers recent graduates of the AFL have gone on to do some impressive things in recent years, including Casper Wells, who busted out in his second big league opportunity this summer. Two players looking to turn the AFL experience into a positive for their careers are shortstop Cale Iorg and left-hander Matt Hoffman.
For Iorg, this is his second tour in the desert, after posting just a .217/.266/.350 line in 17 games last year for Peoria. Playing for the Surprise Rattlers this fall, Iorg will look to improve upon that performance while making a case for his addition to the 40-man roster next month.
"I think every player is aware of where they are in their careers," said Iorg. "Being added to the 40-man roster is huge. It's huge for me, and it's huge for my family. All I can do is go out there and play my best, but it certainly is an added incentive."
Iorg showed some signs of life toward the end of the season in Toledo, and he knows what he needs to do to continue that relative success, and maybe even take the next step.
"It all boils down to confidence at this point," noted Iorg. "After all the changes last year, I feel like I just kind of settled in and tried to get comfortable this year. I just have to be comfortable and confident at the plate. Even if you don't have the perfect swing, if you're confident, you can get results. I was hitting the ball hard this year, but nothing was fall in."
Throughout Iorg's career, he has been lauded for his slick glove and defensive abilities, and he's never let his offensive struggles impact his defensive play; something he insists will continue.
"Its never a problem for me to separate my at-bats from my defense," Iorg said in closing. "It doesn't do me any good to worry about bad at-bats. I've already spent too much time worrying about them. If I forget about them after they happen, that means I can still go out and help the team with my defense, which is all that matters."
Already drawing praise from scouts who have seen him in the AFL, lefty Matt Hoffman has flashed some 93-94 mph heat while touching 95 regularly. His arrival in the AFL comes on the heels of a season that saw him pitch at three different levels, including three games at Triple-A. Though the numbers weren't always pretty at the higher levels (after posting a 1.59 ERA in 16 games for Lakeland), Hoffman's stuff cannot be questioned. It's now just a matter of turning stuff into results on the field against more advanced competition.
"The big thing for me is just not flying open," said Hoffman in a phone interview Thursday morning. "I got to Erie and started working with [Ray] Burris and took things too literally, and tried to make changes in the game. That doesn't work. I took that little three week break after the season to go home and work on that, so I wasn't thinking about it against the level of competition I am facing out here. I really think that's the big thing for me. Trying to do that in the games in Erie and Toledo, I was walking a lot of guys and giving up a lot of runs."
The Tigers opted to move Hoffman to the bullpen last spring, after a minor injury set him back some, and the results were very positive, both for the organization, and for Hoffman.
"I like coming out of the bullpen," stated Hoffman. "You don't have to conserve anything, and you can just let it go. "
One of the other Tiger relievers seeing action in the AFL will be right-hander Brendan Wise. An eighth round pick of the Tigers in the 2005 draft, Wise has worked his way up the ladder, finally reaching Triple-A this summer, and posting a 2.08 ERA in 28 games for the Hens. As with any player getting extra time in the AFL, Wise knows there are a few distinct things he can work on to help get his name recognized more by scouts.
"I need to keep working my off-speed stuff in there a lot," noted Wise. "If I can do that, and keep good fastball control, those are the main things I need to do to improve this fall."
Martinez is one of the AFL's youngest players, with only the Nationals Bryce Harper and the Yankees Manny Banuelos offering more recent birth dates. Despite that, the now 20-year old Martinez is already hitting .308 in his first four games in the AFL, with two doubles and a triple. This will be a stiff test for him, but at least one NL scout that saw him in the Florida State League this year, thinks he can handle it.
"[He's] figuring out that body of his," said the scout. "You can see the difference in him from week to week. There's a lot of raw talent in there, and he's just starting to tap into it. I think he will see some tough pitching out there, but he'll be a better player for it."
Wells Looks to Use Dominican as Prep for MLB
It was his second shot at the big leagues that put Casper Wells on the radar of Tiger fans looking toward the 2011 season as the team faded from contention. In a brief four game trial in May, Wells picked up just two hits in nine at-bats. He then returned in late August and put on a show for Tigers fans; hitting at a .333/.378/.560 clip down the stretch, playing nearly every day. The difference for Wells?
"Just getting comfortable with everything [in the big leagues]," he said via text message Wednesday. "My teammates, the crowds, and rolling with the confidence I found again in Toledo after the All-Star break. That confidence helped me have success at the plate."
The Tigers suggested Wells take that re-discovered confidence to the Dominican Republic for a try at winter ball to prepare himself for the 2011 season, and Wells will play at least the first half with Lobos de Arecibo.
When asked of his goals while in the Dominican, Wells simply stated "To see some quality pitching and solidify my approach at the plate to be consistent going into next season."
The Tigers front office has expressed some loft plans for this off-season, and that leaves Wells' status a little uncertain as the off-season gets underway. Regardless of that, he is well aware of what he needs to do to get a shot to help the Tigers next year.
"Nobody has talked to me about their plans for me. I know the things that make you successful and if I stay consistent and aggressive, I trust good things will happen for me."
Aggressive play on the field has never been a problem for Wells, and here's hoping his extra work in the Dominican will help him gain the consistency he needs to be an asset in Detroit.
Tigers Youngsters Underway
Some of the Tigers youngest prospects are also getting their first exposure to a pseudo-pro ball environment, as the Parallel League in Venezuela is now in full swing.
Many fans will be awaiting the debut of outfielder Danry Vasquez this winter, and he is expected to join the team in the coming weeks, after coming stateside to participate in the Tigers Fall Instructional League. A strong performance in the Parallel League, could set Vasquez up to make his official pro debut in the GCL next summer.
Some other recent signings from the 2010 international signing period are also making their pro debuts, including outfielder Josep Pinto and pitcher Eduardo Rojas. Pinto has struggled in his first five games, hitting just .111 with six strikeouts in 18 at-bats, while Rojas has worked four shutout innings with two strikeouts thus far.
Many of the Tigers intriguing youngsters, including Gabriel Tenia, Jose Soledad, Jesus Ustariz, Johan Belisario, Carlos Alvarado, and Endrys Briceno have already seen action for the Tigers club, and more are expected to be joining the team soon.
On player not under control by the Tigers at this time, is pitcher Adonis Cedeno, who has worked 3 1/3 innings, giving up five runs on six hits and four walks thus far. Cedeno is working with the Tigers as a tryout player, and could be signed in advance of the 2011 season.
Injury Rehab Continues
Game action isn't the only fall and winter activity for Tigers prospects, as several players continue recovering from injuries suffered during the 2010 season.
Left-hander Austin Wood is working his way back into form after shoulder surgery in July, and all signs point to a return to the hill in time for spring training in Lakeland. He recently finished his initial throwing program following surgery, and has his sights set on the next steps to prepare him for next year.
"I'm going to shut it down for a little," said Wood. "Then just start throwing in mid/late December to get ready for the season. I'm going to start working out and conditioning. I've had a nice layoff from that."
Another player on the mend, catcher Billy Alvino hasn't seen the field since early August as he tries to work past a herniated disc in his back. After undergoing a few different treatments in an attempt to avoid surgery, Alvino was forced under the knife, but things look good going forward.
"I'm doing really well and I will be ready to go full tilt in about four to six weeks," said Alvino.