Top 15 Prospects: Detroit Tigers

Despite graduating a few gems over the years, the Detroit Tigers organization is not known for focusing resource on developing in-house talent. The organization drafts rather conservatively (outside the couple of rounds, at least) and mostly uses its prospects as trade bait. With that said, this year’s Top 15 list has three players on the top of the list that could develop into above-average contributors in Detroit… if they’re not traded first.

1. Jacob Turner, RHP
BORN: May 21, 1991
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 1st round (9th overall), Missouri HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 1st

Turner’s name came up a lot this past off-season as team’s understandably coveted the right-hander in trade talks with Detroit. Standing 6’5” he has an impressive pitcher’s frame and should be durable as a big league starter once he fills out a bit more and gets stronger. He commands his fastball well, which can touch 94-95, and works down in the zone with it. His curveball and changeup both have the chance to develop into plus pitches, giving Turner the ceiling of a No. 2 starter. The right-hander may very well open 2012 in Detroit’s big league rotation after pitching much of ’11 in double-A and receiving three late-season starts in the Majors. Often likened to current Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello because they were both fast-moving, high draft picks, they’re really not that similar.

2. Nick Castellanos, 3B
BORN: March 4, 1992
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 supplemental 1st round, Florida HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 2nd

Far and away Detroit’s best hitting prospect, Castellanos will likely eventually force Miguel Cabrera back to the designated hitter’s role (which is probably where he belongs anyway with Prince Fielder holding down first base). Castellanos, though, could be two to three years away from reaching the Majors after spending all of 2011 in low-A ball. Although young for the league, he hit .312 and posted a wRC+ of 129. His frame hints at future 20-25 home run potential but he knocked just seven balls over the fence in ’11. He showed good gap power with 36 doubles. If he can trim the strikeouts and improve his approach, he has the raw skills to hit for both power and average. In the dirt Castellanos shows good actions considering he’s fairly new to the position after playing shortstop in high school. He has solid arm strength and good range.

3. Drew Smyly, LHP
BORN: June 13, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 2nd round, University of Arkansas
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

The first of three solid southpaw prospects, Smyly was pushed aggressively through the system but, unlike a number of other prospects, was deserving of the move. He has both polish and an impressive four-pitch repertoire; he understands how to mix his pitches throw off hitters’ timings. Smyly doesn’t throw as hard as many of Detroit’s “typical pitching prospects” but he shows decent velocity in the 87-92 mph range and keeps the ball down in the zone. He has a solid pitcher’s frame but the southpaw has battled arm injuries in the past, leading to concerns about his ability to throw 180-200 innings on a consistent basis. He should open 2012 in double-A.

4. Casey Crosby, LHP
BORN: Sept, 17, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 4 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2007 5th round, Illinois HS
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

A personal favorite of mine since his signing, Crosby has battled back from Tommy John surgery after he injured his elbow shortly after signing and before even throwing a pro pitch. The southpaw is back in fine form now, although he lost some valuable development time. He had a decent year in 2011 while pitching in double-A – especially considering that he missed almost all of ’10 with more elbow issues. Detroit also rush him through A-ball and skipped him over high-A ball, which was an interesting decision given his missed time. Crosby has three promising pitches in a 90-95 mph fastball, curveball and changeup but he needs to improve his command of all three. His control has also suffered from his aggressive timetable and missed development. I’d hold him back in double-A to begin 2012 but Detroit will likely assign him to triple-A.

5. Andy Oliver, LHP
BORN: Dec. 3, 1987
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 2nd round, Oklahoma State University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: 3rd

There are a number of different opinions on Oliver’s overall potential. Some see him as an innings-eater starter while others see him as a high-leverage reliever. The issues stem from A) His lack of consistent control, and B) His one reliable pitch, which is a 90-95 mph fastball. Either way, he’s going to have to command his fastball better and find at least one reliable secondary pitch, from either his slider or changeup, to go along with his heater – which also needs fine-tuning. Because it’s hard to find a southpaw that can throw 95 mph, Oliver will continue to be given the benefit of the doubt and Detroit doesn’t exactly have a lot of depth in the upper minors. He’ll head back to triple-A for a third stint.

6. Rob Brantly, C
BORN: July 14, 1989
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2010 3rd round, UC Riverside
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Known more as an offensive-minded catcher coming out of college in 2010, Brantly struggled at high-A ball after a mid-season promotion. After hitting .303 in low-A, his average dropped to .219. Brantly has good gap power and could eventually reach double-digit home run totals. He doesn’t strike out a ton but he also doesn’t walk much and is too aggressive for his own good. He moves around well behind the plate and does a nice job of controlling the running game but he’s raw in the finer aspects of the position. Brantly should return to high-A ball in 2012.

7. James McCann, C
BORN: June 13, 1990
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 2nd round, University of Arkansas
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

McCann has a reputation as a strong defensive catcher but serious questions remain about his ability to develop into an average hitting catcher. He has “slider bat speed” but, when he makes good contact, he shows gap power. There is hope that he can improve his abilities at the plate but, if not, he should still be a valuable second-string catcher. He and Rob Brantly, a left-handed hitting catcher, could make a solid combo if they both continue to develop. Behind the dish, the catcher shows good leadership, a strong arm and solid receiving skills. After tasting low-A ball at the end of ’11, McCann should head back there to begin the new season.

8. Brenny Paulino, RHP
BORN: Feb. 21, 1993
EXPERIENCE: 2 seasons
ACQUIRED: 2009 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

The Tigers organization always manages to find low-profile Latin prospects and develop them into something intriguing. Such is the case with Paulino, who was signed for a low six-figure amount in 2009. He is still quite raw and you have to dream a little on him given that he stands 6’4” but weights just 170 lbs. In other words, there may be more velocity to come from this right-hander who already sits 91-95 mph with his heater. He also features two below average secondary pitches: a curveball and a changeup. Paulino also needs to learn to leverage his height to his advantage to get more of a downward plane on his pitches. He oddly received two late-season starts in high-A ball (after spending the remainder of the year in Rookie ball) and was bombed. He should open 2012 in low-A ball or back in extended spring training.

9. Aaron Westlake, 1B/OF
BORN: Dec. 22, 1988
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2011 3rd round, Vanderbilt University
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: NA

The Toronto Blue Jays made a run at Westlake when they selected him in the 22nd round after a down year as a junior in 2010 but he returned to Vanderbilt for his senior year and significantly improved his stock. He became more aggressive at the plate but still has work to do in that area. Westlake has left-handed power to all fields and the ball jumps off his bat. Defensively, he’s spent time bouncing around the field a bit (including playing catcher) but will play first base in pro ball. He could develop into at least an average defender, thanks to soft hands and good actions. He’ll likely begin the 2012 season in high-A ball and could reach double-A in short order.

10. Danry Vasquez, OF
BORN: Jan. 8, 1994
EXPERIENCE: 1 season
ACQUIRED: 2010 international free agent
2010-11 TOP 10 RANKING: Off

Vasquez was signed out Venezuela for $1.2 million in 2010 and was considered a toolsy but (very) raw athlete. Just 17 years old during the ’11 season, he showed significant improvements as the year progressed. He hit a hollow .272 and needs to get stronger, as well as learn to pull the ball with authority – even if it’s just gap power. He also needs to improve his approach at the plate and see more pitches ; his 3.1% walk rate will not cut it at higher levels. Vasquez has the physique to develop into a left-handed power hitter and he showed the ability to hit southpaws. Defensively, he’s still raw but could develop into an average right fielder in time. He should return to short-season ball in 2012 after a stint in extended spring training.

The Next Five

11. Alex Burgos, LHP: Burgos has posted excellent numbers so far in his career. He’s also been difficult to hit and allowed just 63 hits in 94.2 innings at low-A in 2011. His BABIP-allowed, though, was an unsustainably-low .242. He’s also done a nice job of keeping the ball in the park and has displayed average control. The former fifth round draft pick is especially tough on left-handed hitters and held them to a .152 battin average. Burgos doesn’t have a reliable off-speed pitch but he has two solid breaking balls in a curveball and cutter. His fastball sits in the 87-89 mph range.

12. Kyle Ryan, LHP: Young left-hander Ryan has an enviable pitcher’s frame and solid projection. He showed his durability by pitching 137 innings in low-A in 2011, up from 54.0 in his debut. He has above-average control for his age (1.97 BB/9) but his strikeout rate was below-average at 6.50 K/9). With more experience and improved command, Ryan should see his strikeout rate increase. His repertoire includes a fastball, slider, and changeup.

13. Brandon Loy, SS: A plus defender at shortstop, questions remain on Loy’s bat. His ceiling currently sits at big league utility player. He does possess “small ball” skills at the plate, which helps him compensate for his below average offensive skills in terms of contact, power and consistency. If he can find a way to hit .240 to .250 with decent on-base skills than he might spend a few seasons as a starter on a second-division club. Detroit rushes too many of its college hitters so I hope they start him in low-A ball.

14. Bruce Rondon, RHP: Rondon has a power fastball but he rarely knows where it’s going. He can reach triple-digits on the radar gun and sits in the mid-90s and he’s working to develop a slider. Rondon has a bad habit of losing his arm slot and struggles with his delivery. He’s put on too much weight and needs to rededicate himself to getting in shape, which should help him loosen up on the mound and regain some motion. He’ll move up to high-A ball but could potentially end the year in double-A if he can show even average control.

15. Avisail Garcia, OF: I always temper my enthusiasm for players like Garcia. First the positives: He’s been young for every league he’s played at and he’s loaded with tools, including speed and plus defense. And now the negatives: He is overly aggressive at the plate and lacks a plan. He hacks at everything, which led to a 3.5% walk rate in high-A ball. As a player whose best offensive tool is his speed, he needs to embrace the importance of getting on base.

SLEEPER ALERT: Tyler Collins, OF: Collins had a bit of an inconsistent amateur career after high school and bounced around a couple schools, which may have hurt his draft value a bit. Found in the sixth round, he had an impressive pro debut in short-season ball by hitting .313 with surprising pop, although it’s likely to grade out as gap power as he advances up the ladder. He does a nice job of making contact and limiting the strikeouts. Collins, a left-handed hitter, needs some work against southpaws and might end up as a fourth outfielder.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

31 Responses to “Top 15 Prospects: Detroit Tigers”

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  1. Eric says:

    Thanks for all the work you’ve put into this series Marc, I’ve enjoyed it.

    Here’s hoping Daniel Fields bounces back and works his way back on this list next year.

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  2. Mike says:

    Really wish Crosby would throw more strikes, because he could be a mid-rotation guy if he could. Tough to project him to do that at this point, though. I’ve all but given up on Oliver from that standpoint.

    Paulino and Vasquez are really important moving forward, considering they lack a first round pick for the third straight year after the Prince signing and took almost no one in the 2011 draft with any upside.

    Curious to see how McCann and Loy hit this year in the minors. Knowing the Tigers, I wouldn’t be surprised if both of them started out in Lakeland, even though it’s hard to envision them hitting at that level right now.

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  3. The Nicker says:

    Just like last year with Casey Crosby I’m surprised Daniel Fields took a complete nosedive off this list with one bad year. I think almost every GM would take Fields over the guys from Vasquez down.

    Also, maybe it’s a preference I have for more projectable, lower ceiling guys, but I thought Jay Voss might get a shout out somewhere in the bottom 5. I’d say he’s a pretty solid bet to eat a few innings for the Tigers over the next few years, which has a lot more value than someone like Garcia, whom no one seems to think can make it anymore but has 1% chance of being a star.

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  4. “[Crosby’s] control has also suffered from his aggressive timetable and missed development.”

    I have seen writers on this site make comments like this frequently…that some specific failure in development (usually a pitcher’s lack of control) is caused by moving a guy too aggressively through the minors.

    Are there any studies or stats to back up this claim? It feels more like one of those untested truisms that old-school baseball people spout with no substantiation.

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    • Vegemitch says:

      I agree with this skepticism. I would believe the supposition is that facing “superior” opponents would alter the player’s approach before learning to master “like” competition.

      I’m not sure this really applies to minor league advancement more than advancement to the MLB level. MiLB is about development and process whereas the MLB level is about results. This may have affected Porcello for instance, as he is able to generate ground balls at a good enough rate to stick at the MLB level but never did develop his pitches well enough at the MiLB levels to put hitters away. At the lower levels you can take your lumps and show progress. With the big club a player should already be developed and needs to do his best to garner results.

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      • It just seems like a convenient explanation. Player A skipped a level and Player A lacks control. Correlation must equal causation, so clearly Player A’s lack of control is due (at leas tin part) to skipping a level. Yet there are plenty of players who skip levels and don’t suffer control problems and plenty of players who don’t skip levels and have control problems.

        If there is a study that shows that skipping levels is consistently correlated with control problems, I would be willing to read and possibly change my mind.

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      • sportz says:

        Thats funny..Porcello hasn’t put hitters away to the tine of 39 majorleague wins before 23. He had a 61% QS rate in 2011. What this says is, he need to refine his secondary pitches and when he isn’t on, he gets bombed.

        Crosby issues are mechanical and consistency with those mechanics, not emotional or or belief in himself. He’s tall and tall lefthanders often take time to gaim mechanical consistency.

        He’s older and needed to be pushed so they could sort out 40 man concerns going forward.

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    • Nick says:

      Yeah, it’s one of the lazier bits that they attach to pretty much every Tigers prospect, even though the Tigers consistently have a poorly rated farm system and still managed to squeeze out decent talent. Even more curiously is what they said about “always rushing college hitters.” College hitters is what the Tigers farm system as done better than any other type. The whole point of having college hitters is to move them quickly.

      I saw tons of people complain about rushing Avila through the system, he’s doing pretty darn well. They also have been slow in graduating guys like Brennan Boesch and Scott Sizemore and they developed into capable regulars. They’re tailoring their process to specific players, but hearing most observers, you’d think they just chuck guys around no matter what.

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  5. Jason says:

    Strictly offensively, does Castellanos have the ceiling of Ryan Zimmerman and the floor of someone like Casey Blake?

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  6. Chris says:

    If the Tigers don’t exactly have a lot of starting pitching depth in the upper minors, who does???

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  7. KKSC says:

    I would think Turner has the ceiling of a No.1, no? He seems to have an ace’s repertoire. Heavy, mid-90’s, command-able fastball, with a chance for plus curve and change. Assuming those two do develop into plus pitches, I certainly think he could be a legitimate ace.

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  8. ToddM says:

    As a Tiger fan, I hear a lot about Castellanos. I’m worried that, because he’s the best the organization has, he’s getting seriously overhyped. Everyone I know that follows the minors is already talking about Nick C. taking over in 2014 — the reality is that there’s probably no better than a 50% chance of him making it as a regular, with another 25% as some kind of fringe player and another 25% of injury/lack of development.

    Hoping for the best, of course, but this system is so barren of hitting talent it’s scary. Some of it is intentional — the Tigers are willing to trade hitting prospects for MLB players and suffer the financial consequences. Some of it is philospohy — almost all of the Tigers high picks, when they have them, are pitchers. I’m worried that a lot of it is poor scouting, although you have to give the recent system credit for Avila and Boesch, and, to a lesser extent, Dirks, Wells, and Sizemore.

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    • beconstructive says:

      They’ve gotten use/value in the past from guys who were never highly regarded….Wells, Dirks, Joyce, Boesch, French, Furbush, Kelly. So I’m not worried that it looks barren right now, they don’t have a track record of being awesome but the last 5 years or so they do have a record of developing complimentary pieces. It’s just going to take a little bit more time than usual, IMO, as all the guys outside of the top 5 are at lower levels currently.

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      • Colin says:

        Agree, the system repeatedly looks barren but does a pretty good job of squeezing out players with some major league value. They certainly produce back end starters and corner OF’s well as of late.

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    • Nick says:

      So what if he’s being “overhyped”? I highly doubt Castellanos’ future will be in any way affected by how much hype he gets. It’s not like the Tigers are going to trade away Miggy or Fielder to clear a spot for him.

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      • ToddM says:

        Pressure is real. It gets to people sometimes.

        Perhaps you are correct, though. Maybe it’s not really organizational hype (management, Nick himself) that’s an issue, just fan expectations. Everyone seems to think this guy is a sure thing. No one is a sure thing.

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  9. Rusty Shackleford says:

    As a tigers fan, this organization’s lack of farm system depth is very troublesome. Dombrowski seems to throw himself blindly at tall, hard throwing pitchers without regard for the other necessities like secondary pitches and deception.

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  10. DamusFucious says:

    I don’t blame Bruce Fields for being upset. His son Daniel should be at least listed as a sleeper Marc. I liked your list – expect the omission of “still very young”, but enormously talented Daniel Fields.

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  11. Marc Hulet says:

    The problem I have with Fields is that, yes he’s young, but he made few adjustments this year… His second half of the season was worse than his first… although he did control the strike zone better later in the year. He posted a wRC+ of 76.. meaning he created 25% fewer runs than the league average. He was a below-average A-ball hitter… that does not bode well for his future.

    Sure he can turn things around. He has the raw talent to do it… but it’s a steep climb.

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  12. KoKo says:

    I have Crosby Smyly and Paulino on my dynasty team.

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  13. Joe says:

    I can promise you that Bruce Fields isn’t on here making comments like that.

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  14. LeeR says:

    So it is late June. Fun to read these ratings with the benefit of what we know now. Without getting too excited by Lynn Henning’s predictions…

    Castellanos’ ceiling seems to be much higher and his floor is looking pretty tolerable, too.

    Avi Garcia has folks excited. He’s now walking (just) too infrequently…

    Smyly looks like he could have a career if they give him a SS with more range than a totem pole.

    Turner is progressing and looked much better in his spot start. Fields is progressing. Crosby showed something more than nothing, but needs seasoning.

    Pre-injury, Farm Product Dirks looked like he’d figured it out and could even have an MLB career with 2000 and maybe more plate appearances.

    – Lee

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  15. Jim in Dewitt says:

    I get frustrated when bloggers, sportswriters and media people continue to state that Miguel Cabrera should be a DH. He worked very hard over the winter, lost weight and became an average to goo third baseman that gets better every day. For a guy that hasn’t played the position in three years he is performing very well defensively. Have you WATCHED him play the hot corner this season? Miguel has a canon for and arm and gets to many balls he couldn’t have last season. Don’t just go by the book – sometimes players improve…and Cabrera has

    IF the phenom that is Nick C displaces anyone defensively it should be the Prince of Fielder – Boy, I did not see him play much in the NL but have been stunned by how bad he is at first.

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