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Tigers have some star power

By Ned Griffen

Publication: The Day

Published June 16. 2013 4:00AM
Tim Cook/The Day
Ben Verlander, the brother of Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander, checks out his new summer home from the concourse at Dodd Stadium on Saturday. The younger Verlander is an outfielder who was drafted in the 14th round out of Old Dominion.

Norwich - The Connecticut Tigers begin their 2013 season with a first-round pick (pitcher Jonathon Crawford), one of the top-rated prospects in Detroit's system (outfielder Austin Schotts), and a Verlander (outfielder Ben).

It's a promising roster for third-year manager Andrew Graham to take into New York-Penn League play.

"Compared to last year, we've got some higher-round picks," Graham said. "We've got some talent here."

Connecticut will show off its collective talent when it plays host to the Lowell Spinners in Monday's season-opener at 7:05 p.m. at Dodd Stadium.

The Tigers were 35-40 last season and finished third in the Stedler Division of the short-season Class A league.

"We've got a lot of pitching," Graham said. "Detroit went really strong (drafting) college arms, pitching arms, which is great.

"They've turned in a lot of innings (in college), so it's going to be a lot of guys coming in as starters (pitching) shorter spans. Three innings, four innings max. We've got a lot of bullpen arms to account for that."

Crawford, a 21-year old right-hander from Florida, was the 20th overall pick in this month's draft. He had a 3-6 record and 3.84 ERA in 15 starts during his junior season with the Gators, but opponents batted only .244 against him and he struck out 69.

"I see myself as a power pitcher," Crawford said. "(I have a) good fastball and a power slider. Those are my main two pitches right now. I'm looking to develop my third, which is my changeup."

Ben Verlander, who played collegiately at Old Dominion, was a 14th-round pick and gives Detroit two Verlanders - yes, Ben's older brother is Justin, Detroit's ace pitcher.

"I thought it was really cool," Ben Verlander said about being drafted by Detroit. "The organization has been great to my family for years now and myself. I always feel welcome when I'm in Detroit. The fact it was them that called my name made it just more special."

Ben Verlander, 21, has taken a different route to baseball than Justin. Ben played part-time his first two seasons at ODU as a pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter. He decided to stop pitching after his sophomore season and worked on his swing with Lloyd McClendon, Detroit's hitting coach.

The change, and work, paid off - Verlander batted .367 with 46 runs and 37 RBI during 53 games his junior season. He was Old Dominion's MVP and was named a third team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.

"When I changed over to become a hitter, I think it relieved a lot of the pressure," Verlander said. "There was a lot of pressure on the pitcher's mound to throw a 100 miles-per-hour. That's a gift that (Justin) was given that not many people have. He's a freak on the mound.

"I think that what helped me, switching over to hitting, is that there is no pressure on being Verlander's brother because I hit, he pitches."

Schotts, 19, was Detroit's third round pick last year. He batted .249 in 59 games with the West Michigan Whitecaps (Class A) this season.

"He was a little overmatched in Western Michigan, not defensively, just offensively," Graham said. "He's just got a couple of things to work on with his swing. ... It's the same thing that happened with Danry Vasquez last year. He got overwhelmed and overmatched a little bit in Western Michigan and came here and was in the top five hitters in the league.

"Same kind of kid, same kind of animal. They want to play every day and get better."

n.griffen@theday.com

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