There’s no way to analyze the Mud Hens’ potential roster for 2012 without looking at the Tigers’ roster for the coming season. So here’s a look at who might begin next season in Detroit and in Toledo …
PLAYERS LOST, DETROIT: RHP Brad Penny, 11-11, 5.30 ERA
PLAYERS LOST, TOLEDO: None
IN DETROIT FOR SURE: RHP Justin Verlander had a Cy Young season, posting a 24-5 record and 2.40 ERA, and is expected to head the rotation next year. … RHP Doug Fister was impressive after coming to the Tigers from Seattle, going 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA in 11 starts. His season numbers were 11-13 with a 2.83 ERA. … RHP Max Scherzer has top-of-the-rotation stuff and went 15-9 with a 4.43 ERA. Plus, he’s just 27 years old, so another step forward isn’t out of the question. … RHP Rick Porcello was 14-9 with a 4.75 ERA. He’ll turn 23 in December, so he has time to figure out how to be more consistent.
IN DETROIT OR IN TOLEDO? RHP Jacob Turner is considered the Tigers’ top prospect. Just 20 years old, he split time between three levels last season. In Detroit he was 0-1 with an 8.53 ERA in three starts; for the Mud Hens he was 1-0 with a 3.12 ERA in three starts. … LHP Andy Oliver also is one of Detroit’s highly regarded prospects. He had a 6.52 ERA in two Tigers starts, and he struggled with command with the Hens, posting an 8-12 record and 4.71 ERA with 80 walks in 147 innings. … LHP Duane Below pitched well for the Hens, going 9-4 with a 3.13 ERA in 18 starts to earn a promotion to Detroit. With the Tigers he was 0-2 with a 4.34 ERA, pitching mostly in relief. … LHP Adam Wilk also split time between Detroit, where he had a 5.40 ERA in five relief appearances, and Toledo, where he went 8-6 with a 3.24 ERA in 18 starts.
OTHER TOLEDO OPTIONS: RHP Thad Weber was 5-11 with a 5.65 ERA in 27 starts for Toledo last season. … RHP Brayan Villarreal made 10 starts among his 17 appearances for the Mud Hens and was 3-5 with a 5.05 ERA and had 29 walks in 66 innings.
POTENTIAL HELP FROM ERIE: LHP Drew Smyly seems to be on the fast track up the organizational ladder. He went 7-3 with a 2.58 ERA in 14 starts for Hi-A Lakeland, then was 4-3 with a 1.18 ERA in eight appearances for Double-A Erie. He also has been impressive pitching for Team USA this fall. … LHP Casey Crosby was 9-7 with a 4.10 ERA in 25 starts for the SeaWolves but seems destined to move to the bullpen. … RHP Brooks Brown was 3-9 with a 5.67 ERA in 17 starts for Erie last season. The year before he finished 12-9 with a 4.15 ERA with the SeaWolves. … L.J. Gagnier was 4-6 with a 6.04 ERA in 15 starts for ERA. He won seven games and had a 3.51 ERA in 20 starts for the Hens. … LHP Jay Voss had a 9-7 record and 3.67 ERA in 19 starts for the SeaWolves last season.
THE LAST WORD: In Detroit, look for the Tigers to add a veteran starter to fill the fifth spot in the rotation as a safety valve in case Turner, Oliver and other young pitchers aren’t ready. Penny was the perfect fit last season, keeping the Tigers in game (he did win 11 times) and covering innings (182 total). … If young pitchers like Turner, Oliver, Smyly, Wilk and Below want to grab the fifth starter’s job in Detroit, they’ll have to earn it in spring training. If they don’t, I would expect Turner, Oliver, Smyly and Below to fill most of the Toledo rotation. Thad Weber also will get a chance to prove he’s better than last year’s numbers. Also, don’t be surprised if Wilk is groomed for the bullpen, and pitchers such as Casey Crosby and Brayan Villarreal convert to full-time relievers (either in Detroit or Toledo). … Given the logjam at the upper levels, I would expect Voss, Gagnier and Brown to form the front-end of the Erie rotation. But this “glut” of high-level pitching also could be a bargaining chip if the Tigers want to make a trade.
FRIDAY, NOV. 11: A look at the outfielders in Detroit, Toledo and Erie. Click here to read Tuesday's look at the relief pitching situation. Click here to read Wednesday's look at the catching situation. Click here to read Thursday's look at the infield situation. Click here to read Friday's look at the outfield situation.