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Garcia, Castellanos big hits for Tigers
Pair of sluggers could add to bright future for AL champions
11/05/2012 10:47 AM ET
Nick Castellanos owned a .320 batting average between two levels.
Nick Castellanos owned a .320 batting average between two levels. (David Monseur/MiLB.com)
This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organization. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League Baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.

After the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and company brought the Tigers to their second World Series appearance over the past seven seasons, the focus among those in Detroit has been placed solely on the here and now -- and with good reason. But the future may be coming faster than expected.

Tigers' No. 4 prospect Avisail Garcia showed that when he moved to the big club for the final stretch of the pennant race and worked his way into the lineup all the way to the Fall Classic. Nick Castellanos and Bruce Rondon -- the organization's No. 1 and No. 3 farmhands respectively -- also showed they could be of assistance on the big league level sooner rather than later.

On the affiliate side, Class A Advanced Lakeland captured its first Florida State League title since 1992 while the organization's Gulf Coast League affiliate also qualified for the playoffs. Overall, Detroit's system checked in at 393-432 (.476 winning percentage), 20th among the 30 organizations. But that didn't keep the front office from taking pride in its successes as well.

"It's wonderful," said Tigers director of player development Dave Owen. "It's why we play. We want to win not just at the Major League level, but in the Minors as well. It's an important part of the development process and something we take very seriously."

Tigers Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- Curt Casali, West Michigan (48 games, Lakeland (46 games): The system's No. 20 prospect impressed in his first full season after being taken in the 10th round of the 2011 Draft. He owned a .288/.402/.500/.902 batting line for Class A West Michigan before moving up in late June.

The numbers dipped (.250/.322/.350/.672) with Lakeland, but his defensive calling card remained. The 23-year-old threw out 33 percent of baserunners, a solid number considering he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2009.

"We saw a guy who is a very, very smart kid," Owen said. "He handles pitching staffs very well, and that shows wherever he goes. Right now, the defense is a strength as he's very strong in that category. But his bat will determine where he goes here in the future, and we expect that will be fine as well."



First base -- Jordan Lennerton, Erie (139 games): The 26-year-old produced career highs in home runs (21), RBIs (82) and slugging percentage (.469) in the most powerful campaign of his five-year Minor League career. For his efforts, he was named an Eastern League All-Star in the middle of the season -- his first such honor -- and could have earned a similar recognition at season's end, had it not been for the monster year of Phillies prospect Darin Ruf, who led all of the Minors with 38 homers.

But there's more to the Canadian slugger than just impressive power numbers.

"He had a really wonderful year," Owen said. "Sure he hit .269, but the 21 homers and 81 RBIs were really nice to see. That's all thanks to some nice adjustments he made -- and continues to make -- during the season. Put that together with his Gold Glove-caliber glove over there at first, and his year was an exciting one."

Second base -- Hernan Perez, Lakeland (124 games), Detroit (two games): Perez played a key role for the Flying Tigers, especially in the second half when the team clinched a division title and a playoff berth. After batting just .242 in the first half of the FSL season, he kicked it up a notch to .280 over the final 65 games. His 27 thefts in 124 games were a marked improvement from the five he totaled in 2010 over the same length of time with West Michigan. They also marked a career high, hinting that perhaps the best is yet to come for the 21-year-old Venezuelan, who earned a two-game cup of coffee in June.

"Perez has such a good feel for the game," said Owen. "Yes, the .261 average may not pop your eyes out, but there are other things to his game, like his good defense at second and his 27 stolen bases. He's a very heads-up player."

Shortstop -- Eugenio Suarez, West Michigan (135 games): The first thing that pops up about Suarez's 2012 season -- his first full pro campaign -- was his exceptionally solid defense. The 21-year-old was even chosen as a Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner, given to the best defender at each position in the entire Minor Leagues.

His bat proved productive as well as the Venezuela native maintained a .300 average until Aug. 9. That came as Suarez, whose previous high was 70 games played in a season, crept toward his final total of 135 contests in 2012. And Owen thinks the infielder will put up even better numbers as he continues to increase his stamina.

"He hit over .300 for most of the year until it kind of tailed off at the end there," said the Detroit executive. "But he did have the 34 doubles and played the shortstop position very well. ... For him and so many other young players, it's all about learning to prepare for a full season. You get that just from experience, and he's doing that [in Venezuela] now. That shows us he's already looking at next year."

Third base -- Nick Castellanos, Lakeland (55 games), Erie (79 games): It was a tale of two seasons for MLB.com's No. 10 prospect. He owned a .405/.461/.553/1.014 line during his two-month-plus stay in Lakeland, making him easily the Florida State League's best hitter in that time.

The 20-year-old's hot start cooled after a promotion to Double-A, but he impressed on his biggest stage yet, taking Futures Game MVP honors after going 3-for-4 with a homer, three RBIs and three runs scored for Team USA in the showcase. Castellanos made a late-season move to the outfield, where he won't be blocked by Triple Crown winner Cabrera -- a move that continued into the Arizona Fall League.

"It was a very good year for Nick. He went through a lot as the year went on," said Owen. "Obviously, he lit up the Florida State League while he was there. Then at Erie, he also had to deal with a positional change. But he was working hard out there in the outfield and knows what he needs to do out there to be successful. Still he had a good year, and that showed when he still finished the season batting .320."

Outfielders

Avisail Garcia, Lakeland (67 games), Erie (55 games), Detroit (23 games): The 21-year-old outfielder, who earned the nickname "Little Miggy" for physical similarities to the All-Star, beat out Castellanos for the honor of Tigers' Minor League Player of the Year. He was remarkably consistent at both Minor League stops, putting together a .299 average to go with 14 homers, 58 RBIs and 23 steals before making his Major League debut on Aug. 31. He provided a steady presence in the Detroit outfield, eventually making six starts in the postseason -- including two in the World Series.

"When Avi went to the big leagues, it fit because the timing was just right," said Owen. "He held his own, and that's not too big of a surprise. He's a very solid outfielder, a real five-tool guy. The power didn't necessarily show up this year, but you can see the future power in him and it's very nice. He should stay on track and have the potential to be an exciting player. He's got that type of ability."

Tyler Collins, Lakeland (126 games): The 2011 sixth-round pick ended what was already a good season by driving in the only two runs of Game 5 in the FSL championship. But before that, he batted .290 with a .371 OBP, 35 doubles and 20 steals in his first full professional season. Combined with a solid glove, he promises to be a stable corner outfielder in the years to come.

"The best part about Tyler is that he's been consistent in a lot of areas," Owen said. "When he's in the lineup, he can play left field or right field and can really throw the ball from out there. He's still only 22 but is one of those guys that plays the game very intensely. When he walks on the field, he's ready to beat you."

Ben Guez, Erie (26 games), Toledo (82 games): Guez found himself with the SeaWolves and the Mud Hens for the third consecutive year and did the most in this latest go-round. The 25-year-old established career highs in average (.289), OBP (.403) and OPS (.863). He led the Tigers' Minor League system in OBP as the only Detroit farmhand with a number higher than .400 and ranked third in slugging at .459.

Utility/DH -- Brad Eldred, Toledo (63 games), Detroit (five games): Although his time with Toledo was an abbreviated one, it would be impossible to ignore the numbers Eldred put up this season. When the slugger played his last game for the Mud Hens on June 17 before leaving for Japan, his 24 home runs and 65 RBIs led all Minor Leaguers. In just 63 games, those numbers had already bested his totals of 23 and 57 from 2011 with Giants Triple-A affiliate Fresno. The 32-year-old did not impress in a short stay with the big club, going 3-for-16 with six strikeouts over five games in April and May.

Right-handed pitcher -- Thomas Collier, West Michigan (24 games): The Texas native trounced his stature as a 22nd-round pick out of junior college in the 2011 Draft. His 2.74 ERA was the lowest in the organization among full-season pitchers and ranked fourth in the Midwest League. Most of that came from stellar command (37 walks in 24 starts). The right-hander earned a midseason All-Star nod for his efforts.

"He's a real competitor, just a bulldog on the mound," Owen said. "He's still learning to be consistent. It's so true that that's how you move up in this game and how you keep moving up. He has a good fastball, curveball, changeup mix. We'll keep running him out there, and we hope he continues to produce like he has."

Left-handed pitcher -- Adam Wilk, Toledo (24 games), Detroit (three games): Detroit's No. 6 prospect's resume doesn't look impressive when led by his 7-11 record for the Mud Hens, but the other statistics tell a different story. His 2.77 ERA was fourth in the International League while his 128 strikeouts topped all Tigers farmhands. He struggled in three April starts for the big club -- 0-3 with 10 earned runs in 11 innings -- but the organization hopes he can make his next promotion stick.

"He's one of those guys, where you look at his wins and losses and think, 'Oh, 7-11?'" Owen said. "But really it goes beyond that. He obviously had the sub-3.00 ERA, but more so, he's solid at knowing what he wants to do and following through with it. He's still learning to pitch at the Major League level, but he understands he's not going to overpower guys. He's learning to add and subtract on his fastball and commanding the pitch well. He knows he still has to improve to get where he wants to stay."

Relief pitcher -- Bruce Rondon, Lakeland (22 games), Erie (21 games), Toledo (nine games): Simply put, Rondon dominated at every stop he made in 2012. His numbers: -- Lakeland: 23 1/3 innings, 15 saves, 1.93 ERA, 34 strikeouts, 10 walks, .152 OBA; Erie: 21 2/3 IP, 12 saves, 0.83 ERA, 23 strikeouts, nine walks, .195 OBA; Toledo: 8 IP, two saves, 2.25 ERA, nine strikeouts, seven walks, .176 OBA.

Because of that, he was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year, an honor usually reserved for starting pitchers. The only logical next step would be his Major League debut at some point in 2013, perhaps even on the Opening Day roster. Stats like the above are reminiscent of some of the best closers in the game, but the question remains whether the 21-year-old has the "closer's mentality" so many talk about in the game of baseball. To Owen, there is no doubt.

"You could see he fed off doing well at every stage," he said. "He lit everyone up in Lakeland and then did the same thing in Erie. You could see him really grow into that kind of mentality. He became one of those guys where you could see the game was over the second he came in. We sure think Bruce will be that guy at the end of a Major League bullpen. We just don't know when that'll happen yet."

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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