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Tigers prospects can show their stuff in AFL Stars Game

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Scottsdale, Ariz. – Told that the Arizona Fall League’s Stars Game will be nationally televised Saturday on MLB Network (8 p.m.), Tigers right-hander Adam Ravenelle shrugged.

“No pressure, right?” he said.

Certainly not as much as pitching the final inning of the 2014 College World Series championship game. But, Ravenelle hasn’t been back on the national stage, or anywhere close to it, since getting the save and enjoying that massive Vanderbilt dog pile.

“This is an awesome opportunity,” he said. “I will definitely take it.”

The Tigers’ fourth round pick in 2014, the hard-throwing Ravenelle has only pitched 42⅓ innings in professional baseball thus far. A finger injury and a serious viral condition limited him to 21 games last season.

“Just a couple of fluke injuries,” he said. “It’s frustrating but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s just one of those things you accept. You are going to be injured, you are going to get sick some times. You just have to move on.”

Ravenelle and outfielder Mike Gerber will represent the Tigers in the Fall Stars Game. Players are selected to the game based on draft status and prospect ranking, more so than their fall league production.

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While Ravenelle fits that bill, Gerber does not. A 15th round pick, he replaced JaCoby Jones, the Tigers No. 10-rated prospect, who has been suspended for 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy.

But if you polled the coaches, Gerber would be a unanimous choice to play in the Stars Game.

“He’s impressive, man,” said Matt Quatraro, the Indians assistant hitting coach who manages the Scottsdale team that Gerber and Ravenelle are playing on this fall. “His swing, nice left-handed swing, he hangs in against left-handers, he uses the whole field.

“He’s the kind of guy that’s never going to be on anyone’s top prospect list because he was drafted out of college as a senior, but he’s just a baseball player. He hasn’t shown a deficiency.”

Gerber, who helped Low-A West Michigan win the Midwest League title last year, is hitting .298 in 12 games this fall, with a .532 slugging percentage and a .914 OPS.

“I love him,” Tigers roving hitting coach Bruce Fields said. “He listens. He tries to apply the information he gets. He works hard and shows up every day ready to play. It’s too soon to say (how he projects). I don’t know how far away he is. But right now, it looks like he’s on a pretty good track. He might move quick.”

The Arizona Fall League typically features organizations’ top High-A and Double-A players. Gerber, 23, earned the call by hitting .292 at West Michigan last season with 31 doubles, 10 triples and 13 home runs.

“Getting a chance to come here was a huge honor,” Gerber said. “Playing with these guys, some of these guys will be in the big leagues in a year or two, some have already been there. So getting acclimated to that level of competition, seeing that level of pitching — it’s been fun to see how I can compete here.”

He’s more than held his own.

“We haven’t seen any red flags with him yet, and you’d think the red flags would show up here,” Fields said. “He seems to be on par with this kind of competition.”

In the old parlance, Gerber would be called a dirtbag, a gamer, a grinder.

“He’s the guy who will get you the big knock when you need it or the really good at-bat when you need to have it,” Fields said. “That’s what he does. He can hit anywhere in the lineup, hit right-handed and left-handed pitching, he’s solid in the field, good on the bases.

“I root for all of our guys, but a guy like him you really root for. You hope for the best and expect the best from him.”

With Ravenelle, the Tigers are mostly rooting for some sustained good health.

“We like his stuff,” Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd said. “He’s shown excellent velocity and a good slider. He just needs to pitch.”

Ravenelle’s fastball will hit 97 mph, but he throws steady at 93 to 95. He’s 6-foot-3 and long-limbed and has an effective downhill delivery. His slider is firm, too, with sinking action.

“I think they see me in a reliever role, late in games, maybe a set-up guy,” Ravenelle said. “I’m really working on my slider command and trying to get my slider over on the first pitch. In late innings that’s huge, especially against these guys who just hunt fastballs.”

After giving up four runs in his first five innings this fall, Ravenelle has thrown two straight scoreless innings, allowing one hit with three strikeouts. He showcased his slider Thursday against Peoria.

Protecting a two-run lead, he put runners on first and third with nobody out. Then he struck out Braves’ outfielder Connor Lien, waving at a slider and did the same to Padres infielder Fernando Perez. He ended the inning by getting Orioles infielder Adrian Marin to fly out to left.

“With the injuries I haven’t really been able to move (through the Tigers’ system) as fast as I would like to,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know what they have planned for me this year. Whatever it is, I’ll show up and try to get the job done.”

Adam Ravenelle celebrates the save that clinched the College World Series championship for Vanderbilt over Virginia in June 2014.