Following the 2004 season, the Tigers plucked right-hander Colby Lewis off waivers from the Texas Ranges. Lewis was once considered one of the top pitching prospects in the Rangers organization, only to encounter serious shoulder problems. In an effort to infuse the upper reaches of the system with another potentially impact pitcher, the Tigers carried Lewis through his shoulder woes, and are beginning to reap the benefits of their patience. Lewis finished the month of May with a 2.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and a 3:1 strikeout to walk ratio through 5 starts. Lewis' trademark velocity has not completely returned, but he has begun to transform himself into a true pitcher, and the Tigers hope they are the beneficiaries of this change.
Scouting gurus have long thought Humberto Sanchez had all the talent in the world, and apparently he finally realized it as well. Sanchez brings home his second consecutive TigsTown Pitcher of the Month Award, on the heels of a month that saw him go 3-2 with a 2.14 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and nearly 10 K/9. Humberto finally appears healthy, and he has begun to harness his power arsenal. The combination of these two factors, and DD's love of power arms, could se Humberto reach Detroit at some point this season.
I think it might be about time we change the name of this award to the "Jair Jurrjens Pitcher of the Month Award." For the fourth time in the last 13 months, and the second month in a row, Jurrjens is taking home the hardware. After winning the monthly awards in April of both 2005 and 2006, as well as the West Michigan Pitcher of the Year award in 2005, he went and did it again in May. Jurrjens notched a 2-0 record, backed by a 1.86 ERA, sub 1.00 WHIP, and only 6.8 hits per nine innings. For a pitcher who many scouts remain skeptical of, he continues to dominate and demand attention. Despite his young age, Jair could certainly be looking at a promotion to AA-Erie before seasons end.
Despite another stellar month from April's winner, Ramon Garcia, the newly acquired Ricky Steik was more impressive. Steik joined the Tigers in exchange for oft-injured starter Kenny Baugh during the off-season, and he's beginning show why the Tigers were so high on him. After having struggled with his control throughout his professional career, Ricky has only walked one batter in over 26 innings this season. Steik finished May with a 2-0 record and a 1.06 ERA. Armed with a sinking fastball that can tough the mid-90s, and a killer change-up, Steik has the potential to become an outstanding reliever. Keep an eye on him as the season progresses, as he could become Kevin Whelan's setup man in Lakeland before long.
Despite the wealth of pitching prospects on the farm, it appears there are a few that continually rise above the rest. With the graduation of Justin Verlander and Joel Zumaya to the Major Leagues, Jair Jurrjens and Humberto Sanchez have stepped up to lead the system. The Tigers must continue to develop talent on the farm to remain competitive in the long term, and the Jurrjens/Sanchez tandem appears ready to stake their claim as the next in line to help the big club. Keep an eye out heading into the summer months for these two to make a push for promotions.