Never was this more apparent than when they traded three pitching prospects to the Yankees for slugger Gary Sheffield.
Aurora West High School Blackhawks
West Aurora graduate Preston Larrison is among the plethora of strong, young arms in the Detroit organization. Even after the aforementioned trade and the subsequent loss of another key reliever, the Tigers remain armed and dangerous.
Preston is currently on the 40-man roster and has earned an invitation to Major League camp this spring.
According to the Tigers’ Assistant General Manager Al Avila, Preston is among 25 or 26 pitchers competing for spots on the Tiger staff, with most already having been filled. He believes that Preston needs to work on his consistency and command of pitches.
“If he has his best slider and hard sinker working he can get major league hitters out,” Avila said.
Keeping his pitches down in the strike zone is essential.
Larrison focused on the big picture while pitching for the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League this past year. He realized that the league favored hitters.
“I don’t care about my numbers here,” Larrison said. “I am here to work on my slider, even in situations where I would ordinarily throw my sinker.”
Pitchers in the AFL typically get sporadic work and have difficulty developing a rhythm.
After leaving West Aurora, the tall, right-handed pitcher succeeded at Evansville University going 15-8 in 33 games, while striking out 176 batters in 186 innings. The Tigers selected him in the 2nd round (55th overall pick) in the 2001 draft.
To date, Larrison has pitched in 124 games in the minors, starting 103 times going 30-40 with an era of 3.77, despite missing much of 2005 with Tommy John surgery.
He began 2006 in Erie of the Eastern League, with a record of 4-10. He had a 3.92 earned run average and 15 of his 26 appearances came out of the bullpen.
He assessed his season in Erie saying that, “It was successful, each time out there — my goal was to keep my focus and keep the team in the game.”
While his move to the bullpen was difficult initially, he settled in rather well, as he was called up to AAA Toledo.
As the Tigers were vying for the AL Central title, the Mud Hens were in a pennant race of their own and the need for strong arms was equally important. Being part of a pennant race and being closer to the Tigers’ run seemed to reinvigorate Larrison. He seized the opportunity by pitching in significant games for the Hens.
After spending parts of three seasons in Erie he was excited about his Toledo experience saying, “It was awesome, I pitched real well in situations that they put me in, no blowout games.”
Going 1-0 with a 1.74 era in six games out of the bullpen, his stock in the organization rose mightily. This positive experience reinforced the idea that he would be better off pitching out of the bullpen.
Larrison and his teammates were able to keep tabs on the Tigers’ run as the games were always on in the clubhouse. Furthermore, Mud Hens teammates Brett Cleven and Jordan Tata had vested interests, as they played for Detroit and would share in the Tiger booty had they won the World Series. The 26 year-old Midwesterner loved Toledo, the ballpark and the fans.
While his sights are clearly on a spot on the Tiger roster, he believes that he holds his future in his hands. As a Rule 5 player, one of three things must happen after spring training. The Tigers must keep him on their 25-man roster, they must trade him to another major league team or release him.
That being said, he had other more mundane things on his mind this offseason, like attending a couple weddings, visiting a buddy in Florida, going to the Bears-Packers game, all while working out. Given his strong work ethic, he may be facing off against his favorite player, Roger Clemens, this year.