Tigers prospects showcase talent in AFL
Fall League action provides stepping stone to Majors
DETROIT -- For Andrew Oliver, this year's Arizona Fall League is his first step into professional baseball. For Scott Sizemore, it could be his final step to the Major Leagues.
Either way, this is a big AFL season for the Tigers and their prospects. In many cases, it's off to an eventful start.
Sizemore ended up in Arizona following the 2007 season when fellow Tigers infield prospect Michael Hollimon moved to Team USA in preparation for the 2008 Olympics, It was a bonus assignment for Sizemore, having just spent the year at the Class A level.
This year's work potentially has much more purpose to it. When team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski talked at season's end about what they'll do at second base, where Placido Polanco is up for free agency, Sizemore was at the center of conversation.
"We think he's ready to play," Dombrowski said.
The Arizona Fall League is a way of reinforcing that.
Sizemore already has had a relatively full season. In addition to his summer at Double-A Erie SeaWolves and Triple-A Toledo, where he batted a combined .308 with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs, he represented the Tigers at this year's All-Star Futures Game at St. Louis, where he had a hit and a run scored as a late-inning substitute at designated hitter. However, he also battled a sore left wrist earlier this year after coming off surgery in 2008.
Sizemore is expected to share time at second base with the Peoria Javelinas in a mix of Tigers, White Sox, Dodgers, Brewers and Mariners prospects managed by Tigers instructor Kevin Bradshaw. He made his second start a meaningful one with a two-homer game Thursday against the Peoria Saguaros.
Sizemore hit out a slider for a solo shot in the fifth inning off Logan Ondrusek before adding a two-run homer in the sixth off Mike DeMark, part of a 17-run onslaught from the Javelinas.
The Arizona Fall League will continue into November towards Thanksgiving week, by which point the Tigers should know the level of interest and offers Polanco will draw from other teams. They enjoyed Polanco's services the past four seasons under a four-year, $18.4 million extension that Polanco signed soon after arriving from Philadelphia in the summer of 2005.
Unless the Tigers can get a shorter-term deal, it's difficult to envision Detroit bringing him back, given a roster that already has several long-term contracts -- though many of them end after 2010. Even if Polanco does return, there seems to be little question that the 24-year-old Sizemore is seen as the second baseman of the future.
Like Sizemore, Cale Iorg has been seen as the Tigers' future in the middle infield, in his case at shortstop. However, his 2009 season at Erie proved the need for more time and work in the upper levels of the Minor League system after missing two years of baseball on a Mormon mission in his college years.
"I don't think Cale Iorg is ready to play [in the big leagues] at this point," Dombrowski said last week. "He needs some more work offensively."
Iorg batted .222 (109-for-491) with 11 home runs, 41 RBIs and 13 stolen bases at Erie, but he also struck out 149 times while drawing just 22 walks. Despite the home run total, his 17 doubles also reflected a need for more extra-base power, despite nearly half the pitches he put in play going as fly balls.
His stint in Arizona this fall is meant to help him take part of his learning curve at the plate from Erie and use it to advantage before heading to Spring Training.
Iorg's Erie teammate, outfielder Casper Wells, returns to the Arizona Fall League for at-bats following an injury-shortened season for the SeaWolves. The numbers Wells managed to compile in a limited time -- 15 homers, 41 RBIs and 52 runs scored in 86 games -- showed a glimpse of his talent. He used an impressive AFL season last fall to give him momentum going into camp with the Tigers this spring, so the Tigers can only hope for the same.
By contrast with all of the current and former SeaWolves, Oliver hasn't played a game yet in the Tigers farm system. He just signed in mid-August after the Tigers drafted him in the second round of June's First-Year Player Draft.
In past cases, a deadline signing like that usually prompts the Tigers to let a player rest and sit him until next spring. With the 21-year-old Oliver, however, they see an advanced enough prospect from his college experience at Oklahoma State to give him a shot.
Oliver made his pro debut on Tuesday for the Javelinas, relieving Mud Hens right-hander Scot Drucker, and gave up a four-run third inning. A leadoff single and back-to-back walks -- one on four pitches, the next on five -- loaded the bases before he fell behind on a 3-1 count to left-handed hitting Mets prospect Ike Davis, who got a fastball on the inside part of the plate and pulled it out to right for a grand slam.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.