TigsTown Analysis: Rule 5 Movement

Fritz should solidify the Toledo rotation.

Since the arrival of Dave Dombrowski, the Tigers have been active in the Rule 5 draft, selecting and keeping three players prior to the 2003 season, and continuing that trend this week in Nashville. What did the Tigers lose, and what did they gain this time around? Check inside to find out!

The only player on the move to or from the Tigers during the Major League portion of the Rule 5 draft was right-handed reliever Randor Bierd. Bierd has long been a player with the potential to become a legitimate prospect, but inconsistency and injury always managed to get in the way. In the midst of back-to-back successful seasons in 2004 and 2005, Bierd was shut down to end the '05 campaign due to an injury to his right elbow. The injury required minor surgery and he missed the start of the 2006 season, after which he never got on track pitching at Oneonta. Jumping from West Michigan to Erie in June, Bierd put himself back on the map by posting a 3.35 ERA in 45-2/3 innings for the Seawolves. In those innings, Bierd walked only ten, while striking out an impressive 52 batters.

His sinker-slider combo has gained consistency since returning from injury, and both pitches are strong enough to allow him to be effective in any number of roles. With a fastball that ranges from 88-92, and can touch 94 on rare occasions, Bierd generates tremendous late sink that gets both swing-and-miss outs as well as easy groundballs. His slider is also a good enough pitch to generate strikeouts or groundouts with ease. He has toyed with a change-up in the past, but he has never gained any level of confidence in the pitch. He will work to earn a spot in the Baltimore bullpen during spring training, and I would lay his odds at about 50-50 that he sticks with the O's for the 2008 season.

In the minor league phase, the Tigers lost two pitchers, but gained two pitchers right back. Left-hander Corey Hamman has never been a dominant pitcher in the Tigers' minor league system, but he has filled multiple roles and gotten outs at good rates. After the Tigers had stolen Chris Shelton (recently dealt for Freddy Guzman) from the Pirates a few years ago, they are likely hoping Hamman can help even things out. Corey is a solid lefty prospect who profiles better in more of a situational lefty role; a role he was rarely asked to fill with the Tigers. His fastball sits in the 87-89 range, and can reach 92 if necessary. He doesn't generate a lot of movement on the pitch, but he locates it fairly well to all four quadrants and can sneak it past hitters. His breaking ball can get loopy at times, but he has worked diligently to tighten it up over the last two years. Hamman has a strong, durable frame that has allowed him to remain healthy and reliable during his minor league career. He will likely report to the Pirates Triple-A affiliate.

Also lost by the Tigers was 23-year old right-hander Jose Fragoso to the Oakland Athletics. Fragoso has been an enigma within the organization, flashing plus stuff during some outings, and failing to show any promise in others. After posting dominating season-long performances since coming stateside in 2004, Fragoso fell apart in 2007, posting a 7.81 ERA in a brief stint with West Michigan, and a cumulative 4.69 ERA combined between the ‘Caps and Oneonta. Fragoso's fastball has touched 95 in the past, but he sits in the 90-92 range with some late run. His breaking, while lagging behind his fastball, is a potentially above-average pitch. He has demonstrated an ability to spin the pitch, but he has failed to gain a consistent release point. If the A's can tighten up his breaker, he could become an effective late-inning reliever.

While the Tigers lost both a left-hander and a right-hander in the minor league phase of the draft, they also gained one of each back from other organizations. After opting for minor league free agency from the Royals after a disappointing AA season, left-hander Juan Cedeno had just signed with the Washington Nationals and was then selected by the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft. Cedeno was originally signed by the Boston Red Sox out of the Dominican Republic in 2001, before being traded to the Royals along with Chip Ambres for infielder Tony Graffanino. Cedeno primarily uses a 91-93 mph fastball that has touched 95-96 with some regularity in the past. His curveball has shown promising rotation in the past, but he has never gained a routine release point, and has always struggled with control of the pitch. With the proper mechanical tweaks, his curve has showed plus potential in the past. His change-up is a below-average offering. Despite his thin frame, Cedeno has not had any significant health concerns throughout his career. Heading into spring training, he will likely compete for a spot in either the Erie or Toledo bullpen, where the Tigers will work to refine his control and harness his powerful arm.

The other player the Tigers acquired was former Oakland first round pick Ben Fritz. Fritz was a two-way player at Fresno State, who some scouts preferred behind the plate because of his large frame, solid receiving skills, and strong arm. The A's opted to keep him on the mound and have watched him experience varied success as a pro. Having started every one of his 110 appearances in six pro seasons, Fritz has demonstrated durability and an ability to throw quality innings. His fastball sits at 88-92 with solid command, and he mixes a cutter and change that are both solid-average pitches. There has been a long-held belief that Fritz may benefit from a move to the bullpen, but he will likely work as a key cog in the Toledo rotation in 2008.

Overall, the Tigers certainly had a busy day, but that activity is unlikely to result in any significant losses or gains. The loss of Bierd seems somewhat significant on the surface, but with the amount of similarly capable bullpen arms that flood the market every year, the impact of his lost is unlikely to register to any great extent. If the Tigers are able to harness Cedeno's stuff, they may have found a diamond that is worth polishing and trying at the big league level.

Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.

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