01/22/08 7:04 PM ET
Tigers invite 21 to Spring Training
Only Lopez, Perez and Mantei have big league experience
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Detroit released its list of non-roster invitees on Tuesday, and it includes a heavy share of prospects who aren't on the 40-man roster. Some of them, like infielder Michael Hollimon and Jeff Larish, could end up at Comerica Park at some point this season. Others, like Scott Sizemore, Danny Worth and James Skelton, are further down the developmental ladder.
They're all likely to get some time in Tiger uniforms when Spring Training games begin at the end of February.
A total of 21 players received invitations to join the big league camp. Of that list, just two players -- outfielder Timo Perez and reliever Aquilino Lopez -- played in the Majors last year, both with Detroit. None of them are considered likely to crack the 25-man Opening Day roster, barring injuries or trades.
The most experienced player of the group is reliever Matt Mantei, who will make one last comeback bid after spending last year at home. He tried to crack Detroit's bullpen two years ago in camp and looked relatively impressive before injuries slowed him. A brief midseason stint at Triple-A Toledo met a similar fate.
Perez, who will turn 33 years old in April, had a brief July stint with Detroit before being called up late in the season to platoon in left field down the stretch of a playoff chase. The International League all-star batted .389 (35-for-90) with nine doubles and 13 RBIs for the Tigers, including a .414 average in September. He was designated for assignment at season's end to make room on the roster, but came back on a Minor League contract.
Lopez, who also turns 33 in April, served as the closer in Triple-A Toledo while providing some relief depth at times in Detroit. He made 10 appearances for the Tigers, allowing 18 hits over 17 1/3 innings with six walks and seven strikeouts.
After that, the group becomes very young. At first glance, one reason would seemingly be the difficulty signing Minor League free agents this winter, since opportunities to crack the big league roster are limited at best. President/general manager Dave Dombrowski, however, said that wasn't a factor.
"I don't think it's a byproduct at all," Dombrowski said. "For us, it's more a matter that there's still a lot of players that are moving through the system."
The Tigers farm system lost several top prospects this offseason among the eight young players dealt away in trades for Edgar Renteria, Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. The camp invitations should give fans a good look at the prospects that remain in the system.
Hollimon and Larish played key roles on a Double-A Erie club that won the Eastern League's Southern Division with an 81-59 record. Larish led that league with 28 home runs and 101 RBIs while batting .267 with 87 walks in 132 games. Hollimon batted .282 with 34 doubles, 14 homers and 76 RBIs over 471 at-bats. He also stole 17 bases in 23 attempts.
Larish and Hollimon both competed in the Arizona Fall League. So did Sizemore, coming off his first full Minor League season at low Class A West Michigan. He batted .265 with 33 doubles, four homers and 48 RBIs for the Whitecaps.
Right-hander Jeff Gerbe joined them in Arizona after spending most of last season with Sizemore in West Michigan, where he went 2-2 with a 2.34 ERA in nine starts and 10 relief appearances. He'll join them in Lakeland, Fla., too, as will outfielder Clete Thomas, who batted .280 with 30 doubles, six homers and 53 RBIs for Erie. Fellow SeaWolves outfielder Matt Joyce received an invitation coming off a .257 average, 33 doubles, 17 homers and 70 RBIs for the SeaWolves.
Wilkin Ramirez, who split last season between Erie and Class A Lakeland, rounds out the list of outfielders invited to camp. The other infielder invited was Worth, Detroit's second-round selection in last summer's First-Year Player Draft after a successful career at Pepperdine. He'll join first-round pick Rick Porcello in going from last year's Draft to this year's camp, but Porcello was already going after signing a Major League contract last summer.
With the Tigers needing extra catchers to work with their pitchers during the early days of camp, they invited six catchers to join Ivan Rodriguez, Vance Wilson and perhaps Brandon Inge in camp. That includes Skelton, who became a Baseball America and Midwest League all-star by batting .309 with 24 doubles, seven homers and 52 RBIs in 101 games and throwing out better than 40 percent of would-be basestealers.
Dane Sardinha, Max St. Pierre, Joe Bowen, Dusty Ryan and Nick Trzesniak round out the catching corps.
Additional pitchers include right-hander Chris Lambert, the former first-round pick the Tigers received from St. Louis in last summer's Mike Maroth trade, as well as Preston Larrison, Francis Beltran and Freddy Dolsi.
Pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Lakeland on February 14 and begin formal workouts on February 15, though many arrive well ahead of time. The rest of the squad reports on February 19 and works out the next day.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.