The Tigers organization isn’t known for developing a ton of in-house talent but uses prospects well to build its big league club via the trade route. With that said, the organization features some interesting prospects with improved depth in the upper levels of the system, and even has some that are almost ready to contribute at the big league level. The Tigers also picked up some interesting players in the 2012 amateur draft.
Castellanos has been the Tigers’ best hitting prospect since being selected in the supplemental first round of the 2010 draft. Originally a third baseman, he was moved to right field in 2012 in an effort to find a spot for him on the big league club with veteran Miguel Cabrera currently manning the hot corner.
He still has a chance to play regularly at either position, depending on what the future holds for him. A talent evaluator said Castellanos has embraced the move. “Nick’s taken to it quite well… He’s working very hard at it. He’s a good athlete… it’s just going to take some time.”
Castellanos has consistently hit for average but he has yet to tap into his power, which projects to be at least average. The contact said the prospect is a good hitter who knows the strike zone. “He barrels the ball as well as anybody… He has a good body to add power.”
After hitting .264 in 79 double-A games (after a promotion from high-A), he then hit .242 in 24 Arizona Fall League games which increases the likelihood that Castellanos could return to the level to begin 2013. Despite potentially returning to double-A, he could reach the majors this coming season. I’m told he’ll open the year playing right field while taking grounders at third base.
Detroit has made noise about installing Rondon as the big league club’s closer in 2013. On the surface he’s an intriguing option with fastball velocity that can easily hit triple-digits. Unfortunately his secondary offering – a slider – is still developing and his control is a work-in-progress, which is probably kind to say after he posted a walk rate of 7.65 BB/9 just one year ago.
Rondon stands 6’3” and weighs more than 270 pounds; he will never be athletic, which could cause him to never fully show better than average control but he does use his height well to get a good downward plane on his pitches.
Rondon pitched at three levels in 2012 and began the year in high-A ball. He has fewer than 30 innings of work above A-ball and would probably benefit from a full year in triple-A, which would not be such a bad thing for the 22-year-old hurler. It bears noting, though, that Rondon was worked hard in the Venezuela Winter League, appearing in 17 games and saving eight games. He struck out 19 batters while walking six in 16 innings.
Lacking a first round draft pick in 2012, Thompson was the organization’s first selection with the 91st overall slot. The right-hander has a big, strong frame and has room to grow as a pitcher after also playing first base for his high school club. Thompson has a promising repertoire with an 87-92 mph fastball than can touch 94-95 mph. He also features an inconsistent slider and a developing changeup.
A scout familiar with Thompson said, “The thing that stood out the most for me about Jake is that every time I saw him he had command and mound presence. The bigger the game, the better he pitched. He’ll beat you more with location and life than he will with velocity, but the velocity has the potential to be good… As with many dominant high school kids he never really needed to go to a third pitch, so getting comfortable with using his changeup is a key for him and I think he was able to start doing that last summer.”
Another talent evaluator I spoke with said Thompson’s big need is to improve his fastball command but he showed a lot of promise during the fall instructional league, including good bite to his breaking ball and a feel for his changeup. “He’s really an exciting kid… He just needs to learn how to prepare himself for the full grind of a professional season.”
Thompson could open 2013 in A-ball but could need 500 to 600 innings of minor league experience. He has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter.
Garcia, 21, saw his prospect value skyrocket in 2012 as he jumped from high-A ball to the majors — including the MLB playoffs. The young outfielder hit .300 in 2012 but he still has work to do with his overall game. He’s too aggressive for his own good and walked just 18 times in 122 games.
Garcia has the potential to develop at least average power for a corner outfielder but his hit tool may top out at a 45-50 grade. His speed is also average but he’s a good base runner and could nab 15-20 bases in a full season. In the field, the Venezuela native should be a slightly-above-average right-fielder with a strong arm and solid range.
With veteran Torii Hunter under contract for 2013, Garcia will likely open the year in triple-A, although he could beat out Andy Dirks and Quintin Berry for the starting left field job. Although he has a lot to learn, Garcia looked very impressive and handled the pressure very well in the MLB playoffs in 2012.
Schotts was a pop-up draft prospect this past year and ended up being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft and signed away from a commitment to Oklahoma State University. Originally a shortstop, he was moved to center field as a pro. He has plus speed, which gives him plus range in the field but his arm is fringe average.
A scout I spoke to about Schotts sees him developing into a solid defender. “The one thing you walked out of the park knowing about him with certainty every time you saw him is that he had natural athletic ability. The instincts and body control were really good and the speed was even better. He’s also a hard worker and had a very good attitude about the position change so I was confident that it would work.”
At the plate, Schotts doesn’t have a ton of power and needs to gear his approach to hitting to all fields and utilizing his speed with balls in the gap. “He certainly has the tools to be a top of the order guy,” the scout commented. “He’s really an aggressive disruptor on he bases so I’d like to see him cut down his strikeouts and walk a bit more often to maximize that. That will come with time.”
A talent evaluator I spoke with about Schotts said the outfield prospect learned a lot during fall instructional league, including bunting and polishing his running game. “He learned a lot in instructs… If you dream a little bit on this guy he’s a top-of-the-order guy who always keeps you on the edge of your seat.”
After a strong debut, Schotts should move up to the Midwest League (A ball) as a teenager. He needs to polish both his defensive and offensive games and could need a fair bit of polish before succeeding in the upper levels of baseball.
Crosby is a big, strong left-handed pitcher that projects to develop into a No. 3 or 4 innings-eating starter. He spent the full season in triple-A before receiving his first taste of the majors. The big need for Crosby is to improve his control after walking 65 batters in 125.2 innings of work and then another 11 hitters in 12.1 big league frames.
The southpaw’s repertoire includes an 89-94 mph fastball that adds a few ticks at times. He also has a potentially-plus curveball and fringy changeup. A talent evaluator I spoke with was impressed with how he’s bounced back from missing almost two full seasons (2008, ’10) due to injuries. “For Casey it’s a matter of commanding his fastball and working on his secondary stuff; it’s just a case of getting experience.”
Crosby, 24, was referred to as “one of the best competitors you’ll ever find” and there was a suggestion that he could develop into a solid closer if his repertoire does not fully round out. He’ll likely return for a second sting at triple-A in 2013 but could be one of the first injury replacements called upon.
Collins, 22, is a difficult profile although he looks like a future average, or better, hitter. The left-handed hitter has a line-drive swing and isn’t afraid to use the whole field. He has gap power but could step into 10-12 home runs if given regular playing time.
The big question with Collins is his defense. He’s a smart base runner but has just average speed, which prevents him from profiling as a center fielder. His lack of power makes him a question mark as an everyday corner outfielder but he profiles best in left field. A talent evaluator I spoke with agreed the corner was the best spot for him but thinks he can play daily. “I would say he has a chance to be an everyday outfielder. He has some power… and he runs pretty good,” the contact said. “He really worked hard on his defense and made a lot of improvements.”
Collins will move up to double-A in 2013 after hitting .290 at Lakeland last season. A scout familiar with Collins said, “He’ll get another test this year. He’s got a good approach and blends contact and aggression well but the thing that always stood out the most to me about Tyler as a hitter was his confidence. There is no doubt in that kid’s mind that he can hit anyone and I think that’s something that all good hitters have.”
The Texas native could see the majors by the end of the year but there is no rush as he doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after 2014. He also has Quintin Berry, Andy Dirks – both left-handed hitters – and Avisail Garcia ahead of him.
Soon to 19, Vasquez began 2012 in A-ball but hit just .162 in 29 games before being sent back down to short-season ball. The outfielder responded well to hit .311 in 72 games but with below-average power for a 6’3” hitter.
The left-handed hitter struggles mightily against southpaws (.197 vs .345 batting average splits) and needs to improve his pitch recognition but he makes decent contact. With an improved approach, he could develop at least average power. A contact I spoke with said Vasquez just needs to learn himself and what it takes to prepare day in and day out, as well as how to compete at a professional level.
“He’s such a young kid and a raw, potential star. Professional baseball is a whole different world – especially for a Latin young man,” he said. “He’s an exciting guy to watch… and you get excited about what he could become.” Vasquez will get another shot at full-season A-ball in 2013 but will likely spend the entire year at that level. He’s probably at least four years from reaching the majors.
Kobernus has been an under-the-radar prospect for a few years now as a speedy second baseman who can hit a little bit and has a chance to be an everyday player. The 24-year-old infielder has 75-80 speed with good base running instincts and that allowed him to 95 bases over the past two seasons while being caught 19 times. He also does a solid job of making contact and hitting for average, but he doesn’t walk nearly enough to take full advantage of his greatest asset.
When I asked a contact about Kobernus, he described the prospect as a “table-setter” who sprays line drives with gap strength. He also provides steady defense at second base. Although he’s played the keystone almost exclusively in his career there has been some talk of expanding his defensive repertoire to include other positions – in an effort to perhaps prepare him for a future utility role – but a cracked rib derailed the experiment during the fall instructional league.
Kobernus was surprisingly left unprotected by the Washington Nationals for the Rule 5 draft and was nabbed by the Tigers (via a pre-arranged draft-and-trade deal with Boston Red Sox). He has a good shot at breaking camp as one of Detroit’s utility players. With a little more patience at the plate, the prospect could turn into an average big league second baseman with a floor projection of back-up infielder.
Suarez has the makings of an above-average utility player or above-average defensive second baseman. With smooth actions, a solid arm and plus instincts in the field, a lack of range is the only thing keeping him from projecting as a future big league shortstop. A talent evaluator I spoke with feels the Venezuela native could stick at shortstop. “I’ve seen him make very good strides from one year to the next… He has very good instincts.”
At the plate, the infielder shows the ability to use the whole field but gets away from the game plan at time and strikes out too much for someone with below-average power. The contact stated, “So far, he’s shown that he can swing the bat… He’s at least an average hitter.” Suarez stole 21 bases in 2012 but was caught nine times and his speed is average-at-best.
Suarez, 21, will move up to high-A ball in 2013 but could taste double-A by the end of the year. He offers a fairly well-rounded game but needs to trim the swing-and-misses to become a No. 2 hole hitter rather than a bottom-third guy.
The path to a major league job got a little bit easier for McCann when the Tigers dealt Rob Brantly to the Miami Marlins in the Anibal Sanchez deal — although he’s not going to unseat Alex Avila for the starting role. The backstop prospect is a very good defender and a contact I spoke with referred to him as “a tremendous catcher.” I was told McCann calls a great game, throws well and works well with pitchers. He’s also made strides on his receiving skills.
At the plate, though, McCann projects to develop into a fringe-average hitter for a catcher. The contact stated that it’s a learning process for McCann, who was drafted out of the University of Arkansas in 2011. He had a respectable 2012 in high-A ball but then hit just .200 in 64 games after a promotion to double-A and .195 in 14 Arizona Fall League games. “He’s wired that his main focus is taking care of the pitching staff,” the talent evaluator said. “Every night he has to have a game plan for whatever pitcher is on the mound…. The elements are there for him to be a good hitter.”
McCann, 22, should return to double-A to open 2013 but has a better shot of sticking in the majors than fellow prospects Brian Holaday and Ramon Cabrera, both of whom will open the year in triple-A. The California native has a chance to have a lengthy career as a glove-first, second-string catcher.
The Tigers organization loves its hard-throwing relievers and Mercedes is yet another big, strong pitcher working his way through the system. The right-hander shows mid-to-high-90s velocity that results in some swings and misses but he needs to improve his secondary stuff to truly rack up the Ks. He also gets a ton of ground-ball outs. When asked about Mercedes, a contact stated, “When he comes out of the ‘pen he definitely gets your attention… He made a good jump [in 2012]. He has high velocity and his secondary pitch was good… He showed he has some confidence in himself. It was nice to see; he’s still young.”
Mercedes, 22, should spend a good portion of the season in high-A ball but he could see double-A before the year is out. He’ll likely enter the majors as a middle reliever but has the ceiling of an eighth-inning guy or closer, if he can sharpen his slider. After taking five years to negotiate the low minors, the right-hander was added to the 40-man roster this past November.
The Tigers organization features two interesting middle infield prospects in Perez and Harold Castro. Perez gets the higher ranking because he’s a little closer to realizing his potential while also showing more competency at shortstop, even though his offensive ceiling is a little lower than Castro’s.
When asked about the two, a talent evaluator I spoke with preferred the more advanced prospect. “He has a chance to be a good big league player,” he said. “He’s a smart players with good instincts… He was one of the leaders on the Lakeland team.” If Perez doesn’t stick as an everyday player, the contact said he has a chance to be an above-average utility player who can give the regular infielder the day off without the manager worrying about a significant drop off in production.”
He does a solid job of making contact but he’s overly aggressive, which tempers his overall ceiling. Perez also lacks upper-body strength and won’t hit for much power. He stole 27 bases in 31 attempts and is fairly instinctive with slightly-above-average speed. In the field, Perez shows good hands and feet, as well as a strong arm. He has experience at both shortstop and second, and could easily man third base. The infielder received a brief taste of the majors in 2012 even though he spent the entire year in high-A. He should open 2013 in double-A but could be one of the first infielders recalled in the event of a short-term injury.
The left-handed hitting Moya looks like a beast at the plate, standing 6’7” 220 lbs with long arms and legs. He’s ultra athletic for his size but also quite raw. The oufielder has made some significant strides in his game, having repeated A-ball and seeing his wRC+ almost double from 66 in 2011 to 120 in 2012. As expected based on his size, Moya has raw power to spare but he’s still learning to repeat his swing mechanics and consistently tap into his strength.
The 21-year-old prospect has also struggled with injuries throughout his three-year career and has yet to appear in more than 86 games. The lack of playing time has hurt the Puerto Rico native with his pitch recognition, leading to high strikeout rates (23% in ’12) and he’s been too aggressive for his own good (career high 4.3% walk rate this past season). Moya will move up to high-A ball in 2013 and look to continue his development. If everything clicks, he has the potential to develop into a three- or four-tool prospect with an all-star ceiling.
In two pro seasons, Castro has done nothing but hit. He’s managed a batting average above .300 in both the Venezuela Summer League and the rookie Gulf Coast League.
“He really swings the bat well,” a contact said. Castro, a left-handed batter, doesn’t have a ton of pop in his bat but he has a chance to get some doubles thanks to good bat speed. He also uses the whole field. The Venezuela native doesn’t walk much but he barrels the ball well and doesn’t strike out much. He also has above-average speed and 15 bases in 18 attempts in 2012.
Castro ranks lower than Perez because he’s not as advanced in his development and he doesn’t have the defensive chops. He’s played a few games at shortstop but is more of a second baseman and he’s still smoothing out the wrinkles at the keystone. Castro, 19, will move up to full-season ball for the first time in his career and will look to get stronger and prove his durability. He probably won’t surface in the majors for at least another three years.