Tigers' fresh talent shows promise at Connecticut

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

They call it the "short season," those summer farm leagues that often are loaded with freshly drafted college players earning their first professional checks — and getting an early taste of professional baseball.

The Single A Connecticut Tigers are managed by former Tigers catcher Mike Rabelo three weeks into the first month of the New York-Penn League's 2015 season.

Take a peek at Connecticut's individual stats and you appreciate why Rabelo likes first baseman Tanner Donnels (.433 on-base average, .933 OPS), outfielder Victor Padron (.444, .908 in 13 games), catcher Kade Scivicque (.448, .888), as well as pitchers Dominic Moreno (0.00 ERA, 0.65 WHIP), Trey Teakell (0.00, 0.44), Tyler Alexander (0.00, 0.43), and Jake Shull (0.0, 0.50).

The Tigers have played only 21 games, which is why Rabelo is quick to mention the "small sample size" that puts into clearer context the Connecticut prospects' numbers.

But apart from stats Rabelo can look at his 2015 cast and offer early critiques, beginning with Donnels, 21, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound, left-handed batter from Loyola Marymount (Los Angeles) whom the Tigers got in the 21st round of June's draft.

"He's on fire right now," Rabelo said of Donnels, who can play right field as well as first base, and who has two doubles in nine games. "He's been hitting since he got here. He's squaring up pitches, too — those hits aren't cheap ones.

"He's got a fairly quick bat that stays in the zone a long time. He's got good length to his swing. He's a good ballplayer."

Padron, who this month turned 21, is a Venezuelan and left-handed batter who is only 5-foot-8, 160 pounds. He plays left field and has a double and triple in 13 games, which includes a .448 batting average in his last 10.

Scivicque was the Tigers' fourth-round choice in June from Louisiana State University. He bats right-handed, stands 5-11, weighs 223, and was considered at LSU the equivalent of a football offensive lineman the way he blocked — in this case, pitches in the dirt.

The only thing Rabelo hasn't been able to figure out about Scivicque is how to pronounce his French-flavored name.

"I call him Kader," Rabelo said, with a laugh. "But he's been pretty good back there. Defensively, he has fairly soft arms. Has an average arm. And he can swing the bat.

"He wants to learn. I always see him with our pitching coach. Carlos Chantres, discussing certain things during a game. He's hard-nosed and everything you'd want in a player."

Christin Stewart, an outfielder who was the Tigers' June compensation pick, taken between the first and second rounds as payback for losing Max Scherzer to free agency, has had a slower start: .244 batting average, .821 OPS.

But the Tigers liked Stewart's powerful left-handed bat when they scouted him during his days at the University of Tennessee. And Rabelo can see why.

"He's got big-time pop — as advertised," Rabelo said of a 21-year-old who has two home runs, a triple, and two doubles in his first 12 games with the Tigers. "He hit a ball the other night at State College, and I mean it was way out, at a place where the ball doesn't usually carry. Obviously, that's his calling card — his pop.

"He's starting to work the ball to the other part of the field. He's getting better. He's starting to lay off some pitches he perhaps might have swung at earlier. The last three games he's turned out some pretty good at-bats."

Among early returns on Connecticut's pitchers, Rabelo says Moreno, a right-hander from Texas Tech and an eighth-round pick in June, "throws hard, with a pretty tight slider."

Alexander, conversely, is a left-hander who was the Tigers' second-round grab (Texas Christian). He doesn't overpower batters as much as he polishes them to death.

"The Alexander kid is real smooth," Rabelo said of a pitcher who has allowed only one hit in two games, spanning seven innings. "A lot of finesse. And he's still only 20 years old (turns 21 on Tuesday), with a big body (6-3, 180).

"He threw the other night, three innings, maybe 27 pitches, just pounded the strike zone with a pretty little slider."

Other revelations — and, no doubt, less glittering numbers — will arrive as Connecticut's season wears on. But for now there's enough raw talent converging to at least make a former big leaguer and current Single A manager understand why some players disappeared early — and later — in 2015's big-league draft.