Paul Wezner, Senior Editor
Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Jordan Tata, Jeremy Bonderman - it's safe to say the Tigers have some talented young arms. Cameron Maybin, Brent Clevlen and Jeff Frazier help solidify the outfield, so that's not too much of an issue. Depth-wise, there are some serious issues at first base, but when your starter is just 25 years old and posted an .870 OPS, it can't be a huge issue. On the other hand, the Tigers' starting catcher is 34 years old and coming off a career worst season, his backup is even older, and the Tigers top prospect at the spot is 25 and hasn't even played above A-ball yet. Sound promising? Didn't think so. Chris Robinson was drafted high in this past year's draft, but he didn't shine like many of the others in his draft class did. The Tigers have a handful of guys in rookie ball and below that carry some potential, but only Daniel Sandoval has shown any of that in actual games. With Rodriguez likely nearing the end and no one with big league promise having anything more than A-ball experience, the Tigers need to look seriously at possibly acquiring a prospect higher up the ladder that could be ready to take over in 2007, especially if Rodriguez's off-year in '05 turns out to be his career downturn mark rather than just a blip in a hall of fame career. At the very least, the Tigers need to continue investing high draft choices in the position.
Mark Anderson, Minor League Editor
Despite the fact that there are numerous positions throughout the organization that have little or no depth, the biggest area of concern has to be first base. While the Tigers have Chris Shelton and the enigma that is Carlos Pena at the Major League level, Josh Phelps likely manning the bag at AAA, and Jeff Larish at one of the two A-ball stops, there is really nothing behind them. Jeff Larish is the only true prospect in the group, and Shelton is likely the only player that can currently be counted on long term. With the departure of Juan Tejeda, that leaves the organization with guys like Kelly Hunt, Santo DeLeon, Josh Lee, Ryan Roberson, and Rafael Mendez manning first base throughout the system. Not exactly a bumper crop of first sackers, huh? For a franchise that really lacks very many true power hitters, finding first base prospects that can fill that role should be a priority. The Tigers have focused on building depth on the mound and up the middle, but it's high time they start building depth and talent at the infield corners, particularly first base. There is a strong likelihood that someone like Wilkin Ramirez or Kody Kirkland could move across the diamond if their defense at the hot corner does not improve, but the organization shouldn't be relying on players to change positions to fill depth. There are several good first baseman that will be available in this years first-year player draft, and if they have a good showing during the college season, the Tigers may be wise to have a back up plan should Shelton and Larish not prove to be all they're cracked up to be.
Jason Avery, Amateur Baseball Editor
I think the weakest position is catcher. The Tigers don't have any blue-chip prospects to speak of at the position, with the newly re-signed Danilo Sanchez being the best prospect that's closest to the big leagues. Sanchez should head to Erie after hitting 22 homeruns at Lakeland last year and would've been a tough loss via six-year free agency had the Tigers not brought him back.
Chris Robinson was drafted in the third round out of Illinois last June, but while he has solid defensive skills, his bat lags far behind, and unless his bat perks up, he will be relegated to being a backup.
The Tigers do have a glut of other catchers in low minors such as Cody Collet, James Skelton, and Daniel Sandoval, but they all have yet to taste full-season ball and are too far away to really be considered as possible successors to Pudge Rodriguez.
The Tigers could get some additions before the draft, as they hold the rights to three catchers.
Ben Petralli (15), who is the son of former MLB journeyman catcher Geno Petralli, and could be similar to Jason Kendall if he reaches his ceiling. He has signed with Oral Roberts, should he elect to stay in school.
Detroit also hold the rights to Michigan catcher Jeff Kunkel (37), who hit .384 last year, and is an All-American candidate for the upcoming season.
Adrian Casanova (44) is a good defensive catcher who is back at Clemson, but he has been terrible with the bat (.224 career average), and the Tigers could lose him to the draft should Clemson get to the super-regionals in NCAA Tournament play.
Given the current state of catching in the system, Sanchez seems to be the only realistic choice as an answer from within, but he has prove himself at the higher levels to be a legitimate candidate to replace Pudge. I think Pudge's successor will come from outside the organization, but the Tigers do have a lot of options (trade, free agency, or possibly from within) between now and when his deal expires in two years. I also don't think the Tigers will move Brandon Inge (if he is with the team) back behind the plate, just because of the long layoff involved, and his anemic bat while catching has been well documented.
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