Detroit Tigers

Original Published Date: October 27, 2015

Each year at the All Star break, I spend time formulating my initial lists of prospects for the write-ups.  I do no research and just start writing down names by organization.  Some organization like the Houston Astros, I’m able to go 15 deep from memory without breaking a sweat and then there are others in which I stare at the computer and nothing comes.  That’s what happened when I got to the Detroit Tigers.

I wrote down Derek Hill, Steven Moya, and Buck Farmer and then stopped and said…”Really”, are they honestly the best prospects in an organization.  I got six deep and was stumped.  Fortunately, the Tigers did make some deals at the deadline, which added Michael Fulmer and Daniel Norris to the fold.  From a pure list standpoint, Norris is over the limit and does not qualify but would have been an easy number one overall selection.  That puts Fulmer at the top.  He had a breakout season in 2015 with a solid mid-rotation ceiling and a chance to see the major leagues next year.

Derek Hill is a nice player with the chance to be a dynamic top-of-the-order table setter, but he lacks the strength to handle advanced pitching and has a long way to go.  Steven Moya has plus raw power but at 6-foot-6, he’ll strikeout a ton and that could limit his overall effectiveness in the major leagues.   Both of these players have talent as do others in the organization, but each player has significant flaws that limit their upside and therefore the overall upside of the organization.

New General Manager, Al Avila has his work cut out for him.  However, as the Phillies have proven, it can be done.  Wait a minute, did I just give Ruben J. Amaro a compliment???

1. Michael Fulmer (RHP)

2016 Age: 23 Ceiling: #2 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA 124.2 104 31 8 2.17 9.02 2.24 1.07

In need of impact bats, the New York Mets dangled some of their elite pitching to entice teams to make a trade.  The Tigers realizing that they no longer had a team that could compete for a title, worked a deal to send Yoenis Cespedes for Michael Fulmer.  The trade worked for the Mets as they made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and the Tigers got a pitcher who will have six to seven years of team control with a ceiling of a number three starter.  It was a win-win for both teams.

Fulmer had a true breakout in 2015.  In 15 starts prior to the trade, he posted a 1.88 ERA while striking out nearly a batter an inning and walking 2.41 per nine.  The performance continued after the trade with similar results.  He also gave up a very reasonable 7.2 hits per inning for the entire year.

The Tigers will likely start Fulmer in Triple-A to start the 2016 season and assuming health, should see the Tigers rotation at some point later in the year.

Scouting Report:  Fulmer has a solid power arsenal that starts with a fastball that has a lot of late life and sits 92 to 95 MPH and can touch 97 to 98 when he needs something extra.  Given his simple and clean delivery, it’s easy velocity, in other words, he looks like he’s playing catch but just throw with a plus and sometimes double-plus fastball.

His best secondary pitch is a nasty slider that sits 87 to 90 MPH and comes in so hard that it sometimes looks more like a sharp cutter.  I preferred the slider when it was thrown at the lower-end as it demonstrated some nasty two-plane break.  To complement the slider, he also showed a feel for a change-up and was able to keep arm-slide hitters honest with it.

Fulmer’s pitching mechanics are good with excellent extension.  He can over extend and loose balance on his landing but it doesn’t seem to affect his release point.  Overall, it’s a very good package with a chance to be a solid number three starter if not more.

Fantasy Impact:  Fulmer has been flying under-the-radar in fantasy circles primarily because he lost most of 2013 due to a knee injury and had nominal success last year.  However, after his 2015 breakout season and involvement in a major trade, that is ending.  The ceiling is a sub 3.50 ERA with 180 strikeouts per year.

2. Derek Hill (OF)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018
2015 A 210 33 0 16 25 .238 .305 79.0 8.5 .298

It was a challenging year for the Tigers 2015 first round draft pick, Derek Hill.  The Tigers challenged the 19-year-old outfielder to a full season assignment in the Midwest League and while his stat line was not overwhelming, he showed good contactability and a semblance of an approach to go along with plus defense.  He also hit the DL three times with leg injuries and as a speedster, that could prove to be a problem for his success going forward.

Scouting Report:  Hill has one pure carrying tool and that is his double-plus speed.  It shows up both in his play in the outfield but also on the base paths.  In 32 attempts, he was successful in stealing 25 bases.  He almost made good contact (80%) while demonstrating an understanding of the strike zone.

He has plenty of bat speed and is quick and short to the ball.  The swing is very contact-oriented,  but at 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, he has the body to continue to add muscle that should eventually translate into a handful of home runs per year.  I would think the absolute ceiling is 8 to 12 but given his youth and current swing pattern, it’s very difficult to predict at this juncture.

Fantasy Impact:  Hill has the potential to steal 30 plus bases annually with a .260 plus batting average.  While the power is still very much an open issue, the on-base skills and stolen bases will play very well for fantasy owners.  At worse, his plus defensive profile will make him a fourth outfielder, but if the bat continues to develop, he has a chance to be a regular contributor at the big league level.

3. JaCoby Jones (SS)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: Solid Reg
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016-17
2015 A+,AA 525 76 16 80 25 .257 .322 68.6 8.2 .336

Acquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates for Joakim Soria at the deadline, JaCoby Jones was a nice pull for the Tigers.  Despite having an impressive 2014 season where he hit .288 with 23 home runs, Jones was moving very slowly in the Pirates organization.  Part of it was due to the Pirates “slow and grow” development process, but Jones has never demonstrated a very good approach and that has led to a career 26.4% strikeout rate and             a 7.3% walk rate.  However the tools are alluring and the Tigers wanted him in their organization.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Jones looks the part.  He’s strong and athletic with plus bat speed, above-average foot speed, and the ability to stay up-the-middle.  He’s already demonstrated fine in-game power and base stealing ability that gets everyone excited.  The problem is his approach. He’s very aggressive at the plate and will expand the strike zone leading to his high strikeout totals.  His swing can also get lengthy, particularly early in counts.  That leads to swings and misses, poor hitting counts, and ultimately – strikeouts.

As the Pirates were doing, the Tigers will need to work on Jones’ approach.  If he can cut down on the strikeouts, he has a chance to be everyday starter.

Fantasy Impact:  20/20 players at shortstop do not grow on trees and that is the upside of JaCoby Jones.  However, he’s a long way from realizing that ceiling given his current hit-tool and approach.  He should be owned in all Dynasty Leagues with less than 150 minor league players but his stat line needs to be monitored closely.  It will get down to his strikeout-to-walk ratio.  If it improves, he could be an impact player on your fantasy team.  If it doesn’t, he’s a utility player.

4. Steven Moya (OF)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-7 Weight: 260 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2015 A+,AAA 540 56 23 82 5 .243 .283 67.6 4.9 .312

When we write capsules on players, our goal is to try and provide insightful scouting and statistical information to our readers.  With Steven Moya, it’s really hard to do.   He has pretty much been the same player since the Tigers signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2008 – a big kid with huge power potential and a questionable approach.  After seven years in the minor league and a handful of major league at-bats, that’s what he’s become.  In 2,508 minor league plate appearances, he has a 29.1% strikeout rate and a 4.6% walk rate but also posted an ISO of .222 with 73 home runs.

Scouting Report:  Moya has massive raw power that I’ve seen several times in batting practice and it is indeed impressive.  The swing is long and leveraged but when he catches one, it can travel a long way.  With his length, strikeouts are naturally going to be part of the equation.  The thing that has been disappointing is that his ultra-aggressive approach has remained across every level.  When you strikeout at a 25 to 30% clip and walk under 5% of the time, unless you have a crazy high BABIP, your on-base percentage will be sub .300 and substantially so.  Unless this changes, he’s likely going to be an extra bat at the big league level or Asia bound.

Fantasy Impact:  You never want to give up on 70-grade power at the major league level or on your fantasy team.  However, something is going to have to give with Moya for him to be successful at the next level.  I doubt he shortens his swing, so learning more plate patience is where I would start.  Can he do it?  He’s young enough and it’s a skill that can be taught, but I honestly don’t know.

5. Beau Burrows (RHP)

2016 Age: 19 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 R 28.0 18 5 0 3.54 10.61 1.61 1.04

The Tigers selected Texas prepster Beau Van Burrows with their first overall pick (pick number 22) in the 2015 first year player draft.  First, that’s a double-plus name…no doubt about it.

The Tigers limited Burrows to three innings per outing and he responded well.  In nine starts, he posted a 1.61 ERA striking out over a batter an inning and walking 3.54 per nine.  It’s important to note that in Rookie League ball, it’s quite normal to put strict limits on the amounts of pitches that are thrown in each outing.  In general, teams just want a high school player to get accustom to the rigors of professional ball and they don’t worry too much about working on a pitchers delivery or arsenal.  That usually begins in the Instructional League in September.

Scouting Report:  At a listed 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Burrows is strong and compact with a sturdy base.  The arsenal is solid with a big fastball that sits 93 to 96 MPH but can touch higher in shorter burst.   He throws a hard curve and a change-up to complement the fastball and both show promise of being future quality pitches.  Despite walking nearly four per nine, Burrows has good pitching mechanics and has all the ingredients to have plus control.

With his arsenal and ability to throw strikes, it’s easy to get excited about him.  The only negative that several people mentioned to me was his height.  They all questioned his listed 6-foot-2 measurement and one source told me “No way he’s taller than 6 feet”.  The confusion could be significant, as a lack of height will make it harder for Burrows to get plane on his pitches and that could make him more susceptible to being homer-prone .   More data will likely surface over the next year including me seeing him pitch live.

Fantasy Impact:  Burrows has a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter with a chance to strikeout seven to eight per nine with better than league average ratios.  He’s three to four years away so he should only be owned in deep Dynasty Leagues that roster 300 or more minor league players.

6. Luis Cessa (RHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 190 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 AA,AAA 139.1 163 70 7 2.33 7.69 4.52 1.43

Luis Cessa was traded along with Michael Fulmer for Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline and while he is definitely the “other” player, he’s a legitimate prospect in his own right.   Cessa was impressive during his time at Double-A, posting a 2.56 ERA over 13 starts while striking out 7.10 batters per nine while only walking 1.98 batters per nine.  He also started five games in Las Vegas with an equally impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio but the thin air and hard surface caused everything hit to find a hole resulting in an ugly 8.51 ERA.  Things got slightly better once he moved to the International League.

Scouting Report:  Cessa has a good three pitch mix that starts with a fastball that sits 92 to 93 MPH and can touch higher when he needs to get a little something extra on the pitch.  He doesn’t have a true out-pitch but his change-up shows the most promise with a chance to be a plus offering.  However, all of his pitches play up because of his ability to pound the strike zone.  If he continues to improve his command, he has the chance to be a solid number four starter or possible more.

Fantasy Impact:  Despite Cessa only have a ceiling of a number four starter, he should be considered in all Dynasty Leagues with 300 or less players.  He should also be considered for draft and hold leagues for 2016 given how close he is to the majors.  Pitchers who throw strikes find a way to the majors and while Cessa doesn’t have the stuff to be an elite pitcher, he’s got enough present stuff to be an intriguing prospect.

7. Kevin Ziomek (LHP)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: #5 starter
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200 Bats: Right Throws: Left ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2015 A+ 154.2 142 59 3 1.98 8.32 3.43 1.14

Taken in the second round of the 2013 first year player draft, Kevin Ziomek had a very nice year pitching in the Florida State League (FSL).  While you can argue that at 23-years-old that he was old for the league, having a 4 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio is impressive in any league.  In 27 starts, he struck out 143 and walked only 34.  He was somewhat hittable giving up 142 hits which inflated his ERA more than his base statistics would suggest.

Scouting Report:  Ziomek doesn’t have a power arsenal with his fastball sitting 86 to 91 MPH.  He does throw strikes and that allows the pitch to play up.  His best secondary pitch is his slider and it became more consistent this year.  He does show a feel for a change-up but it’s clearly his third pitch.

Based on his college experience at Vanderbilt, what Ziomek does best is pitch.  He adds and subtracts on all his pitches and why my gun had such a range on his fastball.  It causes batters to get off balance very quickly.  Will it play as he moves up to the upper minors and ultimately the major leagues?  I think it will and I’m surprised that the Tigers haven’t moved him faster.  The profile is a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Fantasy Impact:  Dynasty League owners will get excited about Ziomek’s high strikeout rate in the minors.  What you need to remember is that polished college pitchers can make young hitters look very foolish.  While I think Ziomek is a major league pitcher and could have some success, I’m not sure how relevant he will be on a fantasy team and therefore I would ignore him in most formats.

8. Dixon Machado (SS)

2016 Age: 24 Ceiling: Utility Player
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 170 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2015 AAA 509 61 4 48 15 .261 .313 83.3 6.3 .305

Dixon Machado built off his positive season in 2014 at Double-A to grab a cup of coffee in the major leagues this past season.  Offensively he didn’t do much, but he did play great defense and showed the Tigers that at worst he could be utility infielder at the highest level.

Scouting Report:  Machado is a glove-first player with enough athleticism to play all over the dirt and the arm to be a plus defender at shortstop.  Offensively, he has developed into a good hitter with a short, compact swing and line drive power.  He can get aggressive at the plate and good breaking pitches can get him to chase.  His body type is one that will not allow him to put on a lot of weight so there will never be much over-the-fence power.  He’s an average runner with a chance to steal 12 to 15 stolen bases annually.

If you add it all up, he’s a similar player to Jose Iglesias with similar speed, a touch more power and a grade lower on the hit-tool; although Iglesias stats were inflated with a favorable .337 BABIP.  Defensively, they are closer than you think, although Iglesias is the flashier of the two.  If Iglesias fails or gets hurt, Machado should get his chance.

Fantasy Impact:  Machado will be a better real-life player than fantasy player.  If he gets consistent playing time, he could be a decent injury fill-in at shortstop as he’ll likely not hurt you at the position.  The ceiling is a .270 hitter with 12 to 15 stolen bases and a handful of home runs.

9. Christin Stewart (OF)

2016 Age: 22 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-0 Weight: 205 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2017
2015 R,A,A+ 256 41 10 44 5 .285 .372 73.4 8.6 .342

The Tigers received a supplemental first round pick in the 2015 first year player draft as compensation for losing Max Scherzer.  They used that pick on University of Tennessee outfielder Christin Stewart.  Stewart had a standout three year college career, posting a .962 OPS with 23 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 150 games.  In his first exposure to professional ball, his game translated quite well as he slugged .508 in 51 games across three levels.

Scouting Report:  At 6-foot and 205 pounds, Stewart has the size and strength to project above-average future power.  While he’s demonstrated an ability to steal bases in college and his first taste of professional ball, he’s a below average runner and stolen bases do not project to be part of his overall game.   His swing can get lengthy if he tries and muscle up, but if he stays within himself, he should be able to make enough contact to project an average hit tool.  He can get anxious and overly aggressive at the plate and the Tigers will need to work on this aspect of his game.

Fantasy Impact:  If Stewart continues to get stronger, he could hit for 20 plus home runs at the highest level.  His approach does need work and that could ultimately limit his upside.  The ceiling is a second division outfielder with a realistic ceiling of a fifth outfielder and first baseman.

10. Zac Shepherd (3B)

2016 Age: 20 Ceiling: 2nd Div
Ht: 6-3 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2018-19
2015 A 383 43 5 41 4 .245 .327 69.5 10.6 .332

Without looking, name an impact major leaguer born in Australia?  Yeah, I couldn’t either.  Grant Balfour…maybe?  Liam Hendriks??  We can go back a few years and list former Milwaukee Brewer, David Nisson who hit 105 home runs in an eight year major league career.  The point is that baseball is not a hotbed in Australia but major league teams continue to scout there looking for athletes that could become something.

The Tigers signed Australian Zac Shepherd in 2012 for a signing bonus of $325,000 in hopes that he could become the first(???) impact player in the major leagues.  He held his own in his first professional season in the Midwest League where he posted a .245/.327/.339 slash line as a 19-year-old.  He slugged five home runs while stealing four bases.

Scouting Report:  Shepherd is a good athlete that played shortstop in Australia but the Tigers moved him to the hot-corner in 2015.  His swing is compact and short to the ball, but his pitch recognition skills still need refinement which contributed to a poor 26% strikeout rate.   He does have an approach when he goes to the dish, so it’s probably more about repetition with Shepherd than a fundamental problem with his hit tool.  He does have good bat speed and enough strength to eventually hit 8 to 12 home runs at the highest level.

Fantasy Impact:  Shepherd is a nice story and someone to keep an eye on, but for now, he should be ignored in all but the deepest of Dynasty Leagues.

2016 Emerging Prospect

Michael Gerber (3B)

Senior signs in the 15th round are generally taken to help a team fill out their minor league roster, however with Michael Gerber the Tigers might have gotten a little more…possibly, a lot more.  While he was old for the league, he still played extremely well in the Midwest League, posting an .823 OPS in 135 games.  He also showed good pop by hitting 13 home runs and some speed by stealing of 16 of 20 bases.  The Tigers will likely move him through two levels in 2016 and if he continues to hit, he could become a legitimate prospect very quickly.


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