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Down on the Farm: Tigers Prospects at a Crossroads


Earlier this week, I took a look at some potential sleeper prospects in the Tigers lower levels.

On the opposite end of the spectrum lies a small group of Tigers prospects whose windows are about to close. Unfortunately, these once highly touted prospects are on the wrong side of 25-years-old. Younger blood with projectable talents have passed them up on the depth charts. They have failed to reach their ceilings, some are struggling to even meet their floors.

It’s an unfortunate but inevitable situation that the majority of Minor League players are faced with sooner or later.

Plain and simple; prospects can break your heart.

This spring several of these prospects are entering the season fighting for one last shot at the show.

Ryan Strieby: Strieby skyrocketed up the Tigers prospect rankings in 2008 when the Detroit Tigers presented him with their Minor League Player of the Year Award.

There is plenty to like about Strieby’s game, including his plus-plus raw power. However, Strieby’s laundry list of injuries and unimpressive career 27% strikeout rate draw concern. After posting an impressive .303 average in 2009, Strieby has also hit a pedestrian .250 over the last two seasons.

This off-season has been a bit of a bumpy ride for Strieby too. The Tigers removed him from their 40-man roster and designated him for assignment. Drawing absolutely no interest from teams around the league, Strieby both cleared waivers and survived the Rule 5 Draft. His removal from the 40-man roster is obviously a bit of a red flag. The Tigers appear to view him as more of a 4-A/Tweener than a legitimate prospect.

I suppose solid performance and a few injuries could punch his ticket to the big leagues. Realistically, Strieby will likely spend this season in AAA-Toledo auditioning for future clubs though. This will likely be a make a break year for the 26-year-old, as he becomes a minor league free agent following the 2012 season.

Robbie Weinhardt: The Tigers plucked Weinhardt in the tenth round of the infamous reliever draft of 2008.

You should already be familiar with Weinhardt as he’s had a cup of coffee with the big league club in each of the last two seasons.  He’ll always be remembered by me though for his amazing 2009 season in Advanced-A Lakeland. Weinhardt began the season with an amazing 20-plus-inning scoreless streak. The anchor of the Flying Tigers ‘pen left Lakeland with an 0.85 ERA 11.37 K/9 ratio that season. He’s bounced between levels since then and last season was definitely a season to forget.

Last season yielded regression across the board. Weinhardt surrendered a great deal of hits, thanks largely in part to a wicked high BABIP. He also gave up an uncharacteristic 6 home runs and suffered a severe drop in strikeouts. When you factor in his age, it’s no secret why prospect tag is starting to slip away. The 2012 season is essentially a make or break season for the 26-year-old.

Cale Iorg: The “shortstop of the future” and former sixth round pick of the 2007 draft hit just .208 for the AAA-Toledo Mud Hens last season. He was demoted to AA-Erie at seasons end where he went on to hit a robust .167. The 26-year-old also committed a combined 26 errors last season.

Is it time to finally pull the plug on Iorg?

Well, it appears that the Tigers think so. Iorg was removed from their 40-man roster and designated for assignment. Similar to Strieby, no claim was made so he’ll likely begin the season in AA-Erie or AAA-Toledo. He faces one helluva uphill climb too. Highly touted for his projectable glove, Iorg has failed to really deliver. Errors might not be the best evaluation of a players worth defensively. Regardless, the “slick fielding shortstop” has 94 over his last 4 seasons. Accompanying his questionable leather is a career .222/.274/.347/.621 slash line that makes Brandon Inge feel like Miguel Cabrera.

Clete Thomas: The former 6th round pick of the 2005 draft hit just .251 for the AAA-Toledo Mud Hens last season. Thomas hasn’t been in the big league roster since 2009. With our logjam of outfielders do we really still need Clete?

Well, to be fair, yes and no. There is still plenty to like about Clete’s game. He is a solid outfielder with a great arm. He also has a bit of a track record with the big league club; .253 average over 391 at-bats. You’d have to think guys like Andy Dirks and Don Kelly are more than capable of posting similar or better numbers though.

Sure Cleteus has had his share of injuries over the last two years. I’m honestly not trying to kick a man when he’s down either. To be fair though, he hit .251 last season, .183 in 2010 and .240 the year before that. Last seasons 130 strikeouts/32 BB doesn’t do much for me either.

I’m sure “Clete’s Cougars” would love to see him back in Motown. AT the end of the day, I just don’t see the Thomas beating out guys like Dirks and Kelly on the big league roster. Regardless, the 28-year-old is worth keeping an eye on this spring. No bones about it though, the slap hitting lefty is definitely at a crossroads.

Fu-Te Ni: The Detroit Tigers signed Taiwanese pitcher Fu-Te Ni as a non-drafted free agent in January of 2009. The 6 foot, 170 pound southpaw pitched previously for two seasons in the China Professional Baseball League.

Ni was assigned to the AAA-Toledo bullpen out of spring training and he immediately contributed. He posted a 2.60 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning over 34 2/3 frames. When Nate Robertson hit the disabled list Ni received the call-up to Detroit. In 31 innings the rookie southpaw reliever posted an impressive 2.61 ERA and 1.00WHIP with the Tigers.

Ni struggled a bit in 2010 though and spent the majority of the next two seasons in AAA-Toledo. Last July, Ni was moved to the ‘Hens rotation though. He logged 12 starts over 73 innings and posted a 2.71 ERA after the move. Not only was he able to post solid numbers, Ni ate innings and 7 of his starts were “quality starts”. He’s still scattering nearly a hit per inning and the home run numbers remain a bit high. However, he responded well to the move and posted impressive numbers. His emergence as a “hybrid pitcher” gives him a little more value.

The 29-year-old is the epitome of the term long shot to crack the opening day roster in Motown. He has value though and is worth keeping tabs on. Similar to the above names though, this season is big and essentially a make or break scenario for Ni.


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