Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Above the Fold - Tiger talk

With the weather in Michigan becoming more and more winter-like, getting dark at what seems like 3:30 in the afternoon, what better way is there to drive away those winter doldrums than talking Detroit Tigers?

None that I know of...

At the Detroit News, Lynn Henning, who hasn't done any burning questions in a couple of weeks (Come on, Lynn! I'm waiting...), takes a look at the latest and greatest Tigers pitching prospect, Rick Porcello. To say he's impressed the Tigers brass is an understatement.

"I don’t know what he’ll pitch at, but he hit 97 (mph) numerous times and worked comfortably at 94-95," (minor league pitching coach Jon) Matlack said of the fastball thrown by Porcello, 18, a high school star at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. "He has two quality breaking balls (overhand curveball and slider), which are occasionally above-average, and one of which I believe will become better-than-average.

"And he has a plus change-up,” Matlack said, using a word — "plus" — considered high praise from scouts. "He can do things with his fastball: sink it, run it in, ride it. He is far, far advanced beyond just about anyone 18 years old I’ve ever worked with."

That the Tigers are willing to pay well over slot for plus prospects like Porcello is a big reason why I wasn't overly concerned over the trade of Jair Jurrjens. It sure sounds as if Porcello will be fast-tracked through the system...

The always wise Billfer agrees with that line of thinking at The Detroit Tigers Weblog.

At the end Henning mentions that Porcello is likely to start the season at West Michigan, which was to be expected. But he also throws out the nugget that he could finish the year in Lakeland. Don’t know if that is speculation on Henning’s part, or if the Tigers will look to really challenge him - provided he fares okay for the Whitecaps

The Daily Fungo brings up a very dark period in my life, bringing back painful memories I'd buried deep in the recesses of my mind. Mike reminds us that yesterday was the 26 year anniversary of the Steve Kemp for Chet Lemon trade.

While many Tigers fans might remember Lemon as an All-Star centerfielder who hit sixth or seventh in Sparky’s lineup, in his first season in Detroit he batted leadoff 49 times and played 93 games right field. (By early July, Lou Whitaker took over the leadoff spot for good.) It wasn’t until 1983 that he switched positions with Kirk Gibson and became the regular centerfielder…until Gary Pettis arrived in 1988. He finished his first season as a Tiger with a .266 average, 19 HR and just 52 RBI in 125 games.

Even though Chet Lemon became a fixture on the 80's Tigers, Steve Kemp was one of my all-time favorite players. I was SOOOOO ticked off by the Lemon trade at the time. I thought the Tigers would rue the day they traded Steve Kemp. Yet Kemp flamed out, and Chester Lemon became a Tiger beloved by all. Shows what I know...

D-Town Baseball takes at look at Tigers infield prospect Michael Holliman, and Eric believes we'll see him playing short for the Mud Hens in 2008.

This further opens up an opportunity for Hollimon to play in Toledo this year at shortstop regardless of his move to second base last year. Hollimon played in Erie last year where he had a .849 OPS (.371 OBP) but saw a few games in Toledo where he was shortstop. Michael turned some heads at the Arizona Fall League this past fall and a solid year at Toledo could lead to a tough decision on Renteria’s $12M club option for 2009.

Eric also mentions that Kevin Hooper, who had several cups o' coffee with the big club over the years, has finally moved on, signing with the Astros. Who will be the Tigers next scrappy, hustling, Eckstein-lite, emergency call up utility guy? Just another big hole for Dave Dombrowski to fill...

Continuing on the prospects theme, Take 75 North delves into the pros and cons regarding the Tigers uber-prospect, Cameron Maybin.

Those are actually the two complaints I’m most concerned about. I trust the scouts on the power and defense. I have a sneaking suspicion the lack of power we’ve seen at times in the past two years is owed not only to the leagues and ballparks he’s played in (some of the most pitcher friendly in the minors) but also to the sporadic injuries he’s suffered the last two years. As for those injury problems, I just don’t think you can worry about his injury history this early in his career. In two seasons he’s had a finger injury, a major shoulder separation and a more mild injury to his other shoulder.

These are things he can overcome and this is going to sound silly, but injury concerns have a way of going away quickly once the injuries stop. In other words, if he goes through 2008 without a major injury, don’t be surprised if you don’t hear a word about his injury history heading into 2009.

Matt is basically saying, when it comers to Maybin, patience is a virtue. If Maybin has the sort of 2008 season that he's entirely capable of, we'll forget all about how overwhelmed he looked during his 2007 call up. You have to admit, he did look utterly lost. Let's hope Maybin puts the last 2 months of the '07 season behind him too...

At Tiger Tales, Lee breaks down which Tigers may raise or lower their OPS in 2008 via a saber stat, PrOPS, otherwise known as Projected OPS. The 2008 projection is a good one for Gary Sheffield.

Gary Sheffield had the highest PrOPS (.916) on the team in 2007. His .839 OPS was -.077higher than his PrOPS which suggests that he might have hit into some bad luck in 2007 and that we can expect an improvement next year.

For the rest of the Tigers OPS projections, you'll just have to read Lee's post. I'm not one to give out spoilers!

Ian touches on the rumors that the Tigers are interested in relief pitcher Octavio Dotel at Bless You Boys. The Tigers were interested in Dotel at the trade deadline, and despite his injury history, that interest hasn't wavered.

As it turns out, Dotel wouldn't have been able to help the Tigers much anyway. Shortly after joining the Braves, he was out for six weeks with a a strained shoulder. He also missed most of April and May with the Royals because of a strained oblique muscle.

When Dotel returned in late September, however, he didn't allow a run in his last four appearances. For the season, Dotel posted a 2-1 record with a 4.11 ERA and 11 saves in 33 appearances (30 2/3 innings). But perhaps most impressively - and this is probably what piques the Tigers' interest - he racked up 41 strikeouts.

Dotel is talented, without question. But you might as well reserve a space on the DL for him, as he could get injured by the wind changing direction. Yes, he's that prone to injury. But Dotel could be a low risk-high reward sort of free agent pickup, if he's available at the right price. At he very least, he'd be better than Joe Table, last season's attempt to sign a low risk-high reward pitcher. That signing turned into a low risk-no reward signing, but at least the Tigers knew when to cut their losses...

Kurt is quite vocal with his concerns over a possible Dotel signing at Mack Avenue Tigers.

Basically, if you sign Dotel, you’re prospecting, hoping the injury risks and poor track record keep the cost down. At least the Tigers don’t need him to close.

Reasons to be positive? High strikeout rate (12 K/9 last year after a poor 2006). Low home run rate. Less stress as a middle reliever.

But that’s all contingent on if he stays healthy. That seems to be the motto for the 2008 Tigers. "They’ll be good. If they stay healthy."

That'll be my Tigers mantra for all of 2008. "They’ll be good. If they stay healthy."

Edit - 11:55am: I found that the Oakland Press' Pat Caputo had posted to his blog today after I finished this post. As he wrote about the Tigers, I wanted to add his musings to today's "Above the Fold."

The Book chimes in with his thoughts regarding the Tigers off season, and he's not at all happy with the state of the pitching staff.

Everybody talks about their need for bullpen help, but the Tigers starting staff doesn’t appear all that strong, either.

Justin Verlander has emerged as a strong No. 1 starter, but Jeremy Bonderman’s prolonged swoons the last two seasons are cause for concern. He has great "stuff" and should be entering his prime, but Bonderman’s track record, frankly, isn’t all that good. His mediocre career record (56-62, 4.78 ERA) is starting to speak volumes. It seems like he been overrated by many - including myself. Nate Robertson also tends to blow hot and cold. Andrew Miller is still raw and the thought of re-signing Kenny Rogers isn’t exactly comforting. He was hurt most of last season and didn’t throw all that well when he wasn’t. And when a pitcher is starting to push his mid-40s, chances are great he is going to dropoff in effectiveness.

I’d like to see the Tigers take a run at Haren. But how is that going to be possible now that they have traded virtually all their best prospects, save for Miller and Cameron Maybin, who should remain untouchable.

Dan Haren? Nice idea, but more of a pipe dream than anything else. Actually, in reading Caputo's post, he's echoing what Mack Avenue Tigers has been saying for the past several weeks, that the Tigers need to do more than just sign The Gambler, then declare the off season moves are done, as Dombrowski has hinted at.

That's "Above the Fold" for Wednesdat, 11-28-07!

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