Tuesday, January 11, 2011

TEAM #25 – Detroit Tigers

Turner is an easy choice as the Tigers #1

Seven of the Tigers’ top twelve prospects were signed since June of 2009. That gives you an idea of how bare the cupboard had been prior to then. While the Tigers are inching their way up (TEAM #28 – Detroit Tigers), having 2010’s #2 prospect, Casey Crosby, miss virtually the entire season due to injury hasn’t allowed any major improvements over last year. While the top of the Tigers’ list is relatively league average to slightly below through the ‘B’ grades, it thins out considerably in the area where we typically hope to find growth/development for next year—meaning the Tigers likely remain two years away from seeing tremendous improvement from their bottom third placement over the last few years. But there are some positive signs. Start with the very aggressive signing of Venezuelan slugger Danry Vazquez that hopefully signals a resurgence in Latin American player development. For years, the Tigers have worked Venezuela as hard as anyone, but their international yield from 2008 and 2009 was virtually non-existent. The Vazquez signing should be a signal that the Tigers intend to remain a major force in the region. Perhaps the Tigers' biggest offseason move was adding Eddie Bane to their scouting staff. Bane had tremendous success with the Angels--prior to his surprising dismissal. Another important signal that things may be looking upward is that in the 2010 list more than 20% of their top thirty prospects were relief pitchers. In this year’s list that number has dropped to under 15% and only one of the top twelve. That said, with Oliver, Schlereth and Weinhardt all appearing to be ready to contribute in 2011, the Tigers should have one of the deeper pitching staffs in the American League.

Once you get past Turner and Castellanos, the Tigers don’t have much in the way of potential stars on this list, but there is an intriguing mix of players in the Brennan Boesch, ‘low-ceiling’, mold (especially pitchers) that should contribute at the next level and players like Francisco Martinez/Avisail Garcia who have the potential to take significant leaps forward with minor improvements to the game. It should provide optimism that at least the arrow is pointing in the right direction.

Best Pick from 2010 – These two categories are difficult because our list didn’t vary much from industry consensus for the Tigers. We did have Brennan Boesch rated higher than most at #15—although he probably should have been higher still, so we will go with our selection of Avisail Garcia at #12—who is likely to be in everyone’s Tiger Top 10 this year.

Worst Pick from 2010 – Not that we were alone but, not having Francisco Martinez in our Tiger Top 50 was a big miss. Rarely does a player come from that far off of our radar and jump into the following year’s Top 5.

Grade A

1) Jacob Turner, RHP (2010 Performance Scores– Dominance 52; Control 70; HRrate 52; Stamina 67)

For us, Turner was unquestionably the top prep right-hander available in the 2009 draft, so the fact that he was only the third one chosen on draft day should have the Tigers feeling pretty good that he was still available when their pick came up at #9. That said, because of our lofty expectations, his 8.0 K/9 IP through two stops in full-season leagues—as a 19yo—almost felt like a disappointment. It shouldn’t, as Turner earned the #2 Performance Score with his 10 starts in the Midwest League (MWL) and the #3 Performance Score in 13 Florida State League (FSL) starts and remains one of the top pitching prospects in the Minors. With a powerful 6’5”, 210 lb frame; a heavy, mid-90s fastball; a potentially plus curve; and advanced repertoire control; Turner possesses all the ingredients to be a significant top of the rotation force for years. While power, prep right-handers are not the safest of bets, Turner appears to be a special one. The Tigers are likely to return Turner to the FSL for a few starts before moving him up to AA—possibly before he turns 20yo. As the Tigers have demonstrated with Rick Porcello, they are not afraid to be aggressive with young pitchers. We don’t expect to see him in Detroit before mid-2012, but we will be surprised if it is much after that.

Grade A-

2) Nick Castellanos, 3B

We had Castellanos as a mid-first round selection this past June, so getting him in the sandwich round is a bit of a steal for the Tigers—if you can call $3.45 million (the 5th highest 2010 draft bonus) a steal. Castellanos possesses plus power, solid contact skills and average speed. Defensively, he was a shortstop in high school who should have little problems moving to third—although he will likely never be more than an average defender. If there is a weakness, it is that his swing can get a bit long, creating the possibilty that he will be vulnerable to better pitching as he progresses. Castellanos is headed for the MWL in 2011. His ceiling is that of an above average offensive everyday third baseman—although it is likely to be a few years before he realizes it.

Grade B+

3) Andrew Oliver, LHP (2010– Dominance 60; Control 44; HRrate 47; Stamina 72)

With his disputes with the NCAA a thing of the past, Oliver had a chance to focus purely on baseball in 2010. The results were a #14 Performance Score in the ESL for the 23yo. Oliver held his low- to mid-90s velocity deep into games, and had a chance to work on his underdeveloped secondary offerings. While not an eye-opening display, it certainly was enough to convince the Tigers that he belongs in the rotation instead of the bullpen, and that is where he will likely be in AAA in 2011. While a solid mid-rotation starter is his upside, we still have concerns as to how effective he will be in the rotation and don’t rule out an eventual bull pen role. Oliver still needs work on the secondary offerings, so we don’t expect to see him in Detroit until later this summer.

4) Francisco Martinez, 3B (2010– Power 39; Discipline 55; First Base Rate 56; Speed 64)

Every year there are a handful of players that totally catch you off guard. Martinez was one of those for us this year, as, despite a Top 10 Performance Score in the VSL in 2008, few players have succeeded from his 40th ranked score in the GCL and that placed him outside of our ‘C’ grade range in 2009. Shame on us. Playing the entire season as a 19yo, Martinez moved from the GCL where he posted a .576 OPS to the FSL where he flirted with a .700 OPS for much of the year. The result was the circuit’s #8 Performance Score. Don’t mistake us, Martinez still doesn’t possess the power that you would like to find in a third baseman, but he has solid plate discipline, above average contact skills and above average speed. Defensively he has the requisite tools, but is fundamentally extremely raw. In an organization that weakens considerably at this point, Martinez is a high-ceiling type that could eventually be an above average offensive third baseman. While the Tigers may be tempted to move Martinez to Erie to open up the 2011 season, we hope they show a bit more patience as Martinez needs at least one-half season to catch his breath.

Grade B

5) Casey Crosby, LHP

Crosby was our #2 ranked prospect on last year’s Tiger’s list, but made just three starts in 2010, as he battled elbow pain most of the season. It becomes a bigger concern when considering he has thrown just 121 innings since being drafted in 2007. We could spend some space describing what Crosby looks like when things are right, but we did that in last year’s edition and quite frankly we no longer know what ‘right’ is going to look like with Crosby. His upside is too significant to dismiss, but 2011 will be a critical year for the now 23yo.

6) Daniel Fields, OF (2010– Power 53; Discipline 25; First Base Rate 61; Speed 40)

The Tigers drafted Fields in the 6th round of the 2009 draft and then proceeded to sign him to mid-first round money. As has been their want recently with high draft choices, the Tigers made his 2010 assignment a challenging one, sending the 19yo to the FSL where he finished with the circuit’s #17 Performance Score. A gifted athlete, Fields has plus power with average speed and contact skills. Defensively, Fields is a converted shortstop who showed promise in center field at Lakeland. On the downside, Fields lacks patience at the plate, fanning 28% of the time—a number that will have to come down as he develops. Although he had over 400 PAs in the FSL in 2010, Fields should return there to begin the 2011 season. Like Francisco Martinez above, there is a significant ceiling with Fields; but much work remains if he is to reach it.

7) Avisail Garcia, RF (2010– Power 31; Discipline 53; First Base Rate 53; Speed 78)

Garcia is one of the organization’s few true potential five-tool prospects. We became interested in Garcia after his 2008 debut in the Venezuelan Summer League where he earned the circuit’s #3 Performance Score . A solid 2009 performance in the MWL earned him the #12 place on last year’s Tiger’s prospect list. A return trip to the MWL in 2010 resulted in a Top 20 Performance Score. Still, Garcia has yet to tap into his enormous potential. With plus speed, Garcia uses an attacking style at the plate where he puts punishing strokes on the ball. While his power has yet to show itself, given his stroke and his 6’4”, 225lb, frame there is little reason to doubt that it won’t come in time. While Garcia lacks the patience to take many walks, the 19yo’s strikeout rate in 2010 was only 22%--an amazing number if you witness his swings. Garcia may possess the highest ceiling of any position player in the system. But, it isn’t all positive, as his overaggressive approach frequently results in fundamental mistakes. In time, providing things go right, he could develop into a massive offensive right fielder. The Tigers will send him to the FSL in 2011 and it wouldn’t surprise us if he takes a substantial leap forward. However, as a baseball player, Garcia remains extremely raw.

8) Chance Ruffin, RHP -

We had Ruffin tabbed as a second round pick this past June, but the Tigers took a ‘Chance’ picking him in the sandwich round (okay…you weren’t expecting good comedy for this price…were you?) After two seasons, where he performed reasonably well in the Longhorn rotation, Ruffin became their closer this season and made a significant leap forward. Coming out of the pen, his fringe-average fastball became a solid offering; but it his slider that is his swing and miss pitch. With developable pitches in both his curve and change, we wouldn’t be giving up on Ruffin as a starter. We have expressed many times the downgrade that is experienced converting to a purely bullpen arm while in the Minors. Unfortunately, the current plan is to keep Ruffin in the bullpen. While we could envision Ruffin as a potentially solid #3/#4 starter, we don’t expect much more than a setup- type reliever if the Tigers continue with the current plan. His AZFL appearance this fall was solid, so we expect Ruffin to debut in 2011 in the ESL. He could be in Detroit before the season’s end.

9) Daniel Schlereth, LHP (2010– Dominance 74; Control 21; HRrate 78; Stamina 28)

Schlereth continues to possess a devastating fastball/curve combination and continues to lack the command of it that would make it possible to realize success with it. While there exists little doubt that he will get an opportunity, there is considerable doubt as to whether he reaches his ceiling as a lights out closer, or is relegated to an 8th inning setup role. A BB/9IP ratio of nearly 6.0 doesn’t make it appear that the closer role will be his anytime soon. Schlereth will have every opportunity and expectation to be a part of the Tiger bullpen when they break camp this spring.

10) Drew Smyly, LHP

We had Smyly as an early third round pick prior to Detroit’s making him their second round pick this past June—where they paid him first round money. There is little to love and very little to hate with him. While his fastball is a fringe-average offering, he commands well a four pitch repertoire. With advanced pitchability, the 21yo could move through the system rapidly. However, if he does, the Tigers are unlikely to get more than a solid #3/#4 starter. With a similar upside as Ruffin, the difference between them lies in Ruffin’s plus-plus slider. Look for Smyly to open the 2011 season in the FSL.

11) Josue Carreno, RHP (2010– Dominance 49; Control 30; HRrate 36; Stamina 68)

Carreno came into the 2010 season on the heels of #2 and #4 Performance Scores in consecutive VSL seasons. He topped that by posting the #3 score in the New York-Penn League in his stateside debut. Only 19yo, Carreno has a low 90s fastball to go with a solid curve and developing change. His 6’1”, 170lb, frame still possesses some projection. The downside is that Carreno struggles with command at times, and has a tendency to leave the ball up in the zone more than we would like. This appears to be a control issue, however, as he does induce a significant number of ground outs. Carreno’s ceiling is that of a solid mid-rotation starter. He will take his game to full-season ball in 2011 where we would expect him to garner more attention than he has thus far.

Grade B-

12) Danry Vazquez, RF -

One of the more advanced hitters to come out of Latin America this summer, Vazquez possesses a powerful 6’2, 170lb, build that should project to plus power. With solid speed and a good arm, the Tigers hope that Vazquez will be able to play RF. He already possesses solid contact skills that allow him to hit with authority to all fields. While still possessing a relatively aggressive plate approach, he shows better plate discipline than the typical Latin American 16yo. While most of the Tiger’s signings out of Venezuela have played at least one summer in the VSL, it will be interesting to see if Vazquez debuts in the GCL. A huge upside here, but tremendously far off.

Other Potential Top 300 Prospects – None

Feel free to post any questions and or comments. We will try to answer them in our weekly Mailbag segment.

You can find an explanation of our grades here Diamond Futures Annual Prospect Rankings Series and an explanation of our 2009 Performance Scores here Do-It-Yourself - Understanding Performance Evaluation and here This Week's Mailbag - Prospect Rankings Questions. The Performance scores represent the player’s performance relative to the leagues that they played in during the 2009 season.


  1. Thanks for the list. As an avid Tiger fan I rarely get to see any prospects except those at low A WM. Good to see some position prospects on the list.
    Any hope that one of the SS guys has any impact omn the big league club?

  2. We aren't the biggest Cale Iorg fans, as there is little hope that the bat ever plays well enough...but he i sthe one you will here most about.

    That said, we are expecting a big step forward out of Hernan Perez this season, as he just needs to be a bit more patient at the plate.