When Mike Rojas talks about the Detroit Tigers' Minor League operation and how it might perform in 2011 and beyond, he's calm, cool and confident. Maybe that's because he's got more than one ace in the hole.
Rojas, the team's Minor League field coordinator, witnessed a promising year by his stable of pitching prospects and enough progress in the position-player category to call 2010 a success for the Detroit farm system.
"It was a very productive year, in my mind," Rojas said. "Especially the second half of the year, where it was a good job of our field staff in development to get these guys close to the big leagues."
"These guys" is a reference to the team's top-rated prospect, right-hander Jacob Turner, who was just named the 15th-best prospect in all of baseball in MLB.com's Top 50, and others who stepped up in 2010, including Daniel Fields, who progressed from high school to the competitive Florida State League at the age of 18, third baseman Fernando Martinez and lefty Charlie Furbush.
One might look at the Tigers' overall record in the Minor Leagues last year and assume the club underperformed. Tigers affiliates were 377-449 for a .456 winning percentage in 2010, which ranked 27th out of 30 teams in baseball. Only three Minor League clubs had winning records, with Class A Lakeland doing the best at 71-67 (.514).
But Rojas said the Tigers are more concerned with player development, and on that end of the equation, things are looking up.
"I think people now are going to start realizing that we have more prospects than they think we do," Rojas said. "We're going to have a lot of young kids that are going to be in the picture next year that maybe weren't expected to do much.
"There's been a lot of movement putting players in position for this year, and I think we did a heck of a job with kids taking a step forward. They're getting closer to the big leagues."
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Brennan Boesch, OF: The prediction was made with a caveat, that Boesch would lead the system in homers and RBIs, if he didn't hit his way to Detroit. That's exactly what he did, finishing fifth in American League Rookie of the Year voting after hitting 14 homers and driving in 67 runs over 464 Major League at-bats. Boesch looked like a ROY frontrunner after hitting .342/.297/.593 in the first half, but a second-half swoon (.163/.237/.222) cost him.
Casey Crosby, LHP: The combination of another year removed from elbow surgery and the pitching-friendly Florida State League made him a good choice, but the talented lefty made just three appearances in the Gulf Coast League all year, getting shut down for good in July with elbow swelling. He didn't require another surgery, but it kept him from moving up the ranks as many expected.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Will Rhymes, 2B: And this is just for his Minor League season. Rhymes hit .305 with a .370 on-base percentage and 22 steals for Triple-A Toledo over 95 games. That placed him sixth in the batting race and in the top 15 in both OBP and steals. It also led to a July callup when he became the Tigers' regular second baseman, hitting .304 over 191 at-bats. Not bad for a 27th-round pick (2005) out of William & Mary.
Adam Wilk, LHP: The 11th-rounder out of 2009 is becoming a fast-tracker, starting his first full season in the Class A Advanced Florida State League and earning a late promotion to Double-A. A postseason All-Star in the FSL, Wilk finished with a 2.74 combined ERA on the year, good for second in the organization. He was tied for third with 11 wins and held hitters to a .235 average. Not a big strikeout guy (114 in 167 1/3 IP), he didn't hurt himself much on the mound, walking just 24 all season (1.3 walks per nine innings).
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Jonathan Mayo writes a blog, B3 and is on Twitter @JonathanMayoB3. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.