Much like the Detroit Tigers in Major League Baseball, the minor leagues are just about halfway home, unofficially of course, through the 2016 campaign. Where has the season gone?
The parent club Detroit finished 46-43 in the first half, a bit lackluster if you ask a majority of Tigers fans who have held higher standards for the club since they went through arguably the greatest stretch in franchise history from 2011-14.
How about the rest of the organization? Where does everyone else stand at this point in the season?
TRIPLE-A: TOLEDO MUD HENS
Despite winning five out of their last seven in the unofficial first half, the Toledo Mud Hens (41-50) are sitting in last place of the International League (AAA) West Division, 7.5 GB of first-place Columbus (Triple-A for Cleveland).
The production as a team simply just hasn’t been there this season down in Toledo, a good portion of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the hitters. Their .250 team batting average is the fourth-lowest in the IL. One of the players struggling mightily that is also the talk of the Tiger Town is outfielder Anthony Gose.
Gose and Mud Hens skipper Lloyd McClendon reportedly got into a heated argument during a doubleheader on Saturday that led to McClendon sending Gose home. Apparently Gose did not show up for Sunday’s matinee and the Tigers will be spending some of their All-Star break investigating the matter. So as the say, stay tuned.
Toledo will have a couple representatives in the Triple-A All-Star Game in Charlotte on Wednesday July 13 (7 p.m. ET on MLB Network). Infielders Casey McGehee and Chad Huffman will be partaking in the festivities. McGehee is hitting .327 and has driven in 38 runs in 85 games played this season, while Huffman is hitting .306 with ten HR and 43 RBI in 73 games.
DOUBLE-A: ERIE SEAWOLVES
The Eastern League (AA) has also reached the All-Star break, which means the Erie SeaWolves can take a few days off before trying to get back on track in the second half. At a disappointing 37-54, Erie is tied for last in the EL Western Division, 14.5 GB of the Altoona Curve (PIT affiliate).
There are however four very deserving players from the Erie squad all season that have earned All-Star honors for the ‘East vs West’ All-Star Game on July 13. Pitcher Tommy Collier (7-6, 3.11 ERA in 18 starts), infielder Corey Jones (.313 BA, 5 HR, 31 RBI in 61 games with Erie), and outfielders Connor Harrell (.267 BA, 8 HR, 23 RBI in 70 games with Erie) and Jason Krizan (.286 BA, 7 HR, 38 RBI in 74 games with Erie) will be representing the SeaWolves in Akron.
The league’s third-best hitting team also got a jolt when the Tigers demoted center fielder Wynton Bernard back to Double-A. In his 25 games since returning to the Wolves, Bernard is hitting .270 (27×100) with six XBH.
And despite seeing his scoreless inning streak come to an end, Tigers prospect pitcher Joe Jimenez has been outstanding once again in 2016. Jimenez has a 0.83 ERA in 32 games pitched this season, numbers that earned him a spot in the MLB Futures Game for a second consecutive season.
HIGH CLASS-A: LAKELAND FLYING TIGERS
Conversely, the Class A levels of minor league baseball are not going through any All-Star break periods, as they have different scheduling formats. But for the sake of this piece, we’ll dissect the Lakeland Flying Tigers as if they are in line with the others in the Tigers system.
Lakeland (39-46) overall finished an even .500 at 34-34 in the first half and have come out a bit sluggish in the second half. One of their very own accompanied the aforementioned Joe Jimenez in San Diego for the Futures Game, outfielder Christin Stewart.
The 2015 first-round draft pick out of Tennessee is hitting .257 on the season and has clubbed a Florida State League (High A) best 20 home runs on the season, already doubling his total from a season ago. Christin, in his last ten games is hitting a modest .276 with three of those 20 bombs in that stretch.
The newest Tiger in the system is 30-year-old Alex Presley, whom the team signed last week to a minor league deal due to the collective lack of production from the outfield position up and down the system. Presley in ten games, nine with the Brewers Triple-A affiliate in Colorado Springs, is hitting .343.
Lakeland does continue to get adequate production from the pitching staff, most notably Tyler Alexander. In his last four starts, Alexander has compiled a 2.59 ERA and got his season ERA below 2.00 prior to his last start on July 8.
LOW CLASS-A: WEST MCIHIGAN WHITECAPS
Like their higher-ranked counterparts in Class-A, the West Michigan Whitecaps are now in the second half of their season. They have been the most successful throughout the Tigers organization in 2016. A 39-28 finish in the first half has already earned them a Wild Card playoff spot. Their standing in the second half is relatively meaningless, but the defending Midwest League champions will get a chance to repeat.
The ‘Caps have just gotten good, solid production up and down the lineup, and from the pitching staff virtually all season long. I for one believe having a healthy Derek Hill patrolling the outfield has been crucial for West Michigan, and the Tigers front office. Hill is hitting .279 in his last ten games and .266 in 67 games this season, and his 24 stolen bases are tied for 2nd in the Midwest League.
Hill is part of a Whitecaps offense hitting .270 as a team, good for 2nd in the league. The pitching staff has posted a respectable 3.50 ERA, middle of the pack in the league, but they have been headlined by a stout starting rotation.
They will need people to step up after seeing Matt Hall be promoted to Lakeland. A couple guys who have effectively filled in are Kyle Dowdy and Trent Szkutnik. Dowdy (3.04 ERA in last 10 GMs) and Szkutnik (3.72 ERA in last 10 GMs) post identical 2.66 ERA in their combined 31 appearances (17 starts).