TigsTown Minor League Pitchers of the Month: July

DeLa Cruz blew away the FSL competition

What an absolutely exciting month it's been for minor league mavens. Not only is it the first chance to get a good look at many of our most recent draft choices, but many of the Tigers pitchers turned it up a notch to coincide with the nationwide heat wave. There were a plethora of great pitching performances throughout the system during July, and the decisions were not easy.

It's always a nice feel good story when a former top draft choice gets back to a high level of performance. It's an even nicer story when that prospect is knocking on the door to the Major Leagues. Former top pick Kenny Baugh has posted good numbers all season long at Toledo, and really stepped forward to help keep the ‘Hens in the playoff hunt. For the month, Kenny finished with a 3-1 record in nearly 30 innings pitched. His 3.34 ERA and 4.85 strikeouts per nine are solid, if unspectacular. What is most notable for Baugh, has been his ability to adjust to becoming a different pitcher. A pitcher that must rely on location and pitching theory to get outs, rather than the blazing fastball he had coming from Rice University.

What is the one thing that has been a common thread throughout the entire season? Okay, I'll help you out. Justin Verlander's dominance is what I am referring to. Despite only tossing 15.2 innings due to All-Star games, trips to Detroit, and unplanned rainouts, Verlander was his usual dominating self. With a 0.57 ERA, 0.53 WHIP, and 6.5 strikeouts per walk, it's pretty hard to argue with anything. Justin is setting himself in prime position to compete for a rotation spot in Detroit next season, and the common feeling is that he may very well toe the Comerica Park rubber soon.

Here is something to ponder. How on earth do you choose between three pitchers who all post ERAs below 1.00? While a nearly impossible task on the surface, TigsTown.com has found a way; mention all three, and give the award to the most dominating of the three! Combined, Brian Hensen and Brian Rogers logged 34.2 innings with an ERA of 0.52, and a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio. As impressive as those numbers are, what Eulogio de la Cruz accomplished in his 17 innings of work was bordering on unreal. De la Cruz posted a 1-0 record, with a 0.53 ERA, and 0.47 ERA. If that is not enough to satisfy the toughest of critics, his 1.59 BB/9 and 11.12 K/9 should do the trick. Scouts and fans have been waiting for Eulogio and his blazing heater to break out. Based on his last month and the overall results from 2005, it appears he is on his way.

After battling an early season knee injury, West Michigan's Josh Rainwater was a bit behind the proverbial eight ball. Despite that setback, Rainwater really started to strut his stuff in July. In four starts, Josh only mustered a 1-2 record, but that was largely the product of a struggling ‘Caps offense. Rainwater posted a 2.55 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 24.2 innings, while also striking out better than a batter per inning. Heading into this season, Rainwater's biggest obstacle was refining his control, something he has started to accomplish, as evidenced by his rate of only 1.46 walks per nine innings. With continued progress like this, Josh could start to approach his very high ceiling.

As the New York-Penn League completed its first full month of games, it was time to make a choice from among the many new additions to the Tigers system. Coming out on top was former Clemson University reliever Jeffrey Hahn. In his first taste of pro baseball, Hahn has yet to allow and earned run in nearly 20 innings of work. Combine that impressive feat with posting a 4-0 record and only walking 1.37 BB/9, and that's an impressive start to a career. Hahn is still a raw pitcher who will continue to develop as he learns how to pitch, but this beginning has certainly opened a few eyes.

At the lowest level of the Tigers minor league system, two young pitchers distinguished themselves above everyone else. Ramon Garcia and Luis Gil both helped keep the GCL Tigers team afloat while the offense struggled. Taking home the team's top pitching honor this month, Luis Gil posted a 3.38 ERA in 21 innings over 4 appearances. While striking out a batter per inning, Gil challenged hitters by keeping his solid arsenal in the strike zone, only walking two batters per game. At 21-years old, Gil will need to continue this performance in order to move up the ladder quickly.

The Tiger's pitching prospects have continued to post impressive numbers all season long, with different surprises popping up all over the place. Part of Dave Dombrowski's rebuilding plan involves stocking the minor leagues with talented pitchers, and he appears well on his way to doing that. Having a minor league system overflowing with pitching prospects would not be tough to take, and it could happen if things keep progressing.

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