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Published: Wednesday, 3/23/2005

Hen with a grand future

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

LAKELAND, Fla. - Curtis Granderson is the No. 1 prospect in Detroit's organization.

Some day, he will be the Tigers' starting center fielder.

Until then, Granderson is content to work on his development and sharpen his skills at the Triple-A level with the Mud Hens.

"The Tigers pretty much told me to go down to Toledo and get my work done," he said. "They want me to take advantage of my at-bats, which I wasn't getting here in spring training.

"I want to continue to take strides forward. I need to work on my consistency, offensively and defensively."

Granderson was named the Tigers' minor league player of the year last season. He batted .301 with 21 homers and 94 runs batted in and scored 89 runs for Double-A Erie. He was named to the league's post-season all-star team.

Granderson Granderson
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He got called up to Detroit in September, but Granderson batted only .240 in nine games in his first major league stint.

No need to worry, though.

"He's a player that we like a great deal," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We think he's going to be a fine major league player for many years. We feel he needs some more development, so he's going to Toledo, and he's going to play every day.

"He's definitely going to play a lot of center field. He also may play some of the corner positions, left field and right field. It just depends on how the picture all fits together down there.

"We're looking forward to him having a good year and we'll just see how he does and how we do. But I think he's going to be a guy who plays in Detroit and plays a long time."

A week ago, the Tigers released center fielder Alex Sanchez because of his shoddy defense, and optioned Granderson to Toledo, along with several others. Former Mud Hens Craig Monroe and Nook Logan are battling for the starting center-field job in Detroit.

Should they falter, it likely would open the way for Granderson, who was the Tigers' third-round draft pick in 2002 from Illinois-Chicago, where he finished second in the NCAA in hitting with a .483 average.

Granderson, 24, was limited to just six at-bats and a .167 average this spring with the Tigers. He had one homer and two RBIs and drew five walks.

"He looks like he's going to be an outstanding player," said Hall-of-Fame outfielder Al Kaline, who is a special assistant for the Tigers.

"He adjusts well every time he moves up the organization. He seems to get it and understand it. He's got all the tools.

"He's got to be a little more aggressive at the plate. He takes too many pitches, but he's a solid player. He works hard. He's got great habits in practice. He's going to be a star of the future for our ballclub."

Granderson, 6-1 and a slender 185 pounds, was one of only two Tigers players listed among Baseball America's top 100 prospects. The other was pitcher Kyle Sleeth, a No. 1 pick in 2003 expected to be back at Double-A Erie.

"Hopefully, I'll play well enough in Toledo that I'll get a chance to get called back up to Detroit," Granderson said. "I will not be disappointed if it's a September call-up, or if it's not until next year.

"You have guys in Triple-A who either have prior big-league experience, or who have been around the game for a long time. It's going to be a big learning experience for me to stay within myself and understand each pitch that I see."

As of now, four other top prospects are set to join Granderson in Toledo, including first baseman/catcher Chris Shelton, second baseman Ryan Raburn and pitchers Kenny Baugh and Mark Woodyard.

The Mud Hens, who will be stocked with more prospects this year than they have had in quite some time, finished last in the International League's four-team West Division a year ago, losing 28 of their final 34 games.

"I think the best clubs at the Triple-A level have a combination of prospects and veteran players, and Toledo will have that," Dombrowski said. "We think they are going to be a better ballclub. We like how that team is shaping up."

Contact Ron Musselman at:

mussel@theblade.com

or 419-724-6474.



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