Detroit Tigers

Original Published Date: Oct. 22, 2013

The Detroit Tigers have their window and are clearly going for it with a major league payroll of nearly $150 million dollars in 2013.  It has come at the cost of their minor league system as they’ve lost valuable draft picks due to free agent signings and have traded away promising talent such as Jacob Turner, Avisail Garcia, Rob Brantly, and Danry Vasquez.

Consequently, aside from Nick Castellanos, who contributed to Detroit in 2013, the system lacks impact talent.  2013 first round pick Jonathon Crawford has a nice arsenal but his mechanics need work and at 6-foot-1, he profiles as a back-of-the-rotation starter.  Steven Moya and Danny Fields have plus raw power but both have significant holes in their swing.  One of the more interesting talents is teenager right-hander Jake Thompson who has a nice arm and clean arm action that could profile as a mid-rotation starter.

While the current minor league system is not great, the Tigers have extracted significant value over the past several years and their major league squad is consequently better.  Omar Infante, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, and Jose Iglesias are playing major roles for the Tigers and are there because Detroit used their system wisely.  While it doesn’t make for exciting content consumption, it’s a smart strategy and the Tigers are a very good team because of it.

1. Nick Castellanos (OF)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 6
Ht:6-4 Weight: 210 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2013
2013 AAA 533 81 18 76 4 .276 .343 81.2 10.1 .307

The Detroit brass finally heard the cries of Tigers fans to “give Nick Castellanos a look” and he was promoted for a cup of coffee in September.  Even though his slash line of .276/.343/.450 in Triple-A was impressive, it’s even more impressive when you realize that Castellanos is still only 21-years-old, the second youngest positional player in the International league behind Xander Bogaerts.

In last year’s profile, we indicated that Castellanos was making solid contact but wasn’t using his lower body well enough to be considered a power threat.  That changed in 2013, as he belted 18 home runs in 533 at-bats in Triple-A and based on his swing mechanics, there is definitely future plus power in the bat.  To provide even more confidence that Castellanos will eventually develop plus power is the 37 doubles that he hit, which was tops in the International League.

Castellanos plus bat speed, approach, and physicality not only hint towards future plus power but also a plus hit-tool as well.  He doesn’t have a huge leveraged swing but more of a level line drive approach that based on his strength and bat speed, provide distance to his balls.  While he could have a couple of peak seasons of 30 home runs, a more reasonable projection is 25 home runs but with 35-40 doubles and a .500 slugging percentage.

Defensively, Castellanos is an average at best outfielder.  He does have the arm strength to play right field but lacks the speed to have plus range.  The foot speed is below average and therefore he’ll not be a major threat on the basepaths.

Fantasy Impact: Castellanos has the potential to be a middle of the order bat capable of 25 home run power with associated RBIs and with a .350 plus OBP, the chance for high RUN totals.  He will only be a four category player as he’ll provide few if any stolen bases.  A 2013 version of Matt Holiday could be his ceiling; or a 100/100/20/.295 player.

2. Devon Travis (2B)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht: 5-9 Weight: 185 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2014-15
2013 A-A+ 504 93 16 76 22 .351 .418 87.3 10.5 .374

Selected in 13th round of the 2012 draft, Devon Travis was not considered an elite talent even though he posted excellent numbers as a collegian at Florida State. However, during his first professional season, Travis posted an impressive .351/.418/.518 slash line across Low-A and High-A and was named the Tigers minor league player of the year.

Travis was one of the players that I really wanted to see in the Arizona Fall League and I liked what I saw. He’s not a tall player but is well built and looks like a ball player. He has a great approach at the plate, working each at-bat to put himself into favorable hitting counts. His swing is compact with a nice direct path to the ball and surprising pop. In fact, I saw him hit a home run that was no “cheapy” and the ball jumped off his bat.

He has average speed but clearly knows how to steal a base as his 84% success rate in stealing 22 bases in 2013 showed. Defensively, he is limited to second base but should profile as an above-average defender.

He’s won’t be a star, but Devon Travis will be a major leaguer. I expect him to start the 2014 season in Double-A and he could see some playing time in the big leagues later next year or in 2015.

Fantasy Impact: I moved Devon Travis up on my Detroit rankings after seeing him in the Arizona Fall League. He’s a better player than people thought when he was drafted. While he doesn’t have crazy upside, he does have the ability to post 15/15/.290 numbers as a classic number two hitter.

3. Danny Fields (OF)

2014 Age: 23 Ceiling: Role 5
Ht: 6-2 Weight: 215 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2014
2013 AA 457 71 10 58 24 .284 .356 71.6 9.8 .374

Danny Fields has major league blood lines as he is the son of Cleveland Indians’ hitting coach, Bruce Fields.  Signed for overslot money in 2009, Fields is a good athlete with good bat speed but until this year, those tools had yet to translate into in-game production.  However, in 457 at-bats in Double-A, Fields posted a .435 slugging percentage, which was 75 points higher than any other year he has played in the minors.

Fields has nice bat speed and a good approach which translated into 45 walks.  The problem continues to be with his contact rate, which dropped to 72% in 2013.  He has good ball recognition but the swing is on the long-side which is contributing to his contact issues.  Ultimately, his contact rate might be 75% but with his speed and approach, he could post a .260/.330/.475 with 25 stolen bases.  That’s not a star, but that’s a Role 5 offensive ceiling at an up-the-middle position.

Fantasy Impact: Danny Fields is a top 200 prospect with speed being his major fantasy carrying tool.  If he develops 18-20 home run power, which I think is possible, he could become a Role 5 player at the highest level.  If the power does not develop, he’s an extra bat and not ownable in a mixed league.

4. Jonathon Crawford (RHP)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: #4 starter
Ht: 6-1 Weight: 205 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2015
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 SS 19 15 4 0 4.26 9.95 1.89 1.26

Best known for throwing a no-hitter in the 2012 Regionals for Florida, Jonathon Crawford brings a mature arm to the Tigers system that is void of high-end pitching prospects.

Selected in the first round of the 2013 draft, the Tigers paid the 21-year-old Florida native a $2 million signing bonus as the 21st player selected.  He has an arsenal that consists of a four-seam fastball that sits 90-93 MPH and can touch higher and a 81-84 MPH slider that should get swings and misses at the highest level and a change-up that is still emerging.  It’s an ok arsenal that falls short of being a plus arsenal primarily because of concerns with his pitching mechanics.

It’s hard to put a lot of plus grades on Crawford’s pitching mechanics.  Part of the reason I’m not high on his fastball is that he does not get very good extension given his poor momentum to the plate.  This coupled with his 6-foot-1 frame, leaves his fastball a little flat.   The arm action is also not very clean and with his stiff mechanics, it’s not a recipe for long-term health.   When you roll this all up, his control could become a problem as he’ll have trouble repeating his delivery.

While Crawford had a great deal of success in college, I’m not sure that success will translate over to professional baseball, particularly as he moves into the upper minors.  I think his ceiling is a number four starter but will likely be a bullpen arm at the highest level.

Fantasy Impact: Crawford has the pedigree from a large SEC school, but I think his contribution will be marginal for fantasy owners.

5. Jake Thompson (RHP)

2014 Age: 20 Ceiling: #3 starter
Ht: 6-4 Weight: 235 Bats: Right Throws: Right ETA: 2016
Year Class IP H ER HR BB/9 K/9 ERA WHIP
2013 Low-A 83.1 79 29 4 3.46 9.83 3.13 1.33

At 19-years-old, Jake Thompson was one of the youngest pitchers in the Midwest League and performed very well with a 3.13 WHIP, a 9.83 K/9 and 3.46 BB/9.

The arsenal consists of a fastball this sits 89-92 and scraps 94 with a slider that flashes plus.  As with many young pitchers, the slider was not always consistent but improved as the year progressed.  The change-up also improved and should be a serviceable pitch going forward.  It’s a solid arsenal that should improve over time as Thompson gains experience.  He has nice size at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, but at 19-years-old, there isn’t a lot of projection left so it’s doubtful his fastball will move up a grade.

Thompson uses his body well and gets nice plane on his pitches.  There is some natural sink with his fastball, although I would have expected his ground-ball-to-fly ball ratio to be better than he showed in 2013 (1.44 G/F).  He also gets good momentum on his release which helps his average fastball get more life.  The overall pitching mechanics are average with good balance and a clean arm action.

The size and arsenal point to a mid-rotation innings-eater ceiling.   He will need a more consistent slider and an improved change-up in order to meet that ceiling.

Fantasy Impact: There is something there with Thompson but at the moment, he should only be rostered on very deep Dynasty Leagues.

6. Steven Moya (OF)

2014 Age: 22 Ceiling: Role 4-5
Ht:6-6 Weight: 230 Bats: Left Throws: Right ETA: 2015
2013 Hi-A 365 52 12 55 6 .255 .296 71.0 4.9 .327

Steven Moya is a very large man at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds.  With that physicality, his long arms lead to a long swing but the those same long arms can also generate a lot of torque to make a ball go a long way.

It’s the classic problem with players of this size.  Will Steven Moya be able to hit enough to get to his plus power?  His 2013 stat line provides concern as he posted a 71% contact rate and a 4% walk rate.  This led to a .255 batting average and a .296 OBP in the Florida State League (FSL).  He did hit 12 home runs, which isn’t a huge number, but the FSL is a pitchers league with many of the stadiums doubling as Spring Training facilties for the Major League clubs.

At this step in Moya’s development, I think his ceiling is a Role 5 player but there is significant risk in him meeting this projection.  2014 could be a pivotal year for Moya as he should start the season in Double-A against more advanced pitching.

Fantasy Impact: Moya is only ownable in deeper Dynasty Leagues but is a player that should be monitored.  He does have plus raw power and since power is at a premium, any change in his approach or contact rate could trigger a buy signal.

7. James McCann (C)

Drafted in the second round of the deep 2011 draft, James McCann (no relationship to Brian) brings nice defensive chops to the equation but still needs to prove that he can hit enough to earn full-time at-bats at the highest level.  The good news is that he showed promising offensive signs in 2013 as he produced a slash line of .277/.328/.404 in 441 at-bats.  Yes, a .404 slugging percentage is not terribly impressive, but that’s a 100 point improvement over his previous two years in the minors.  He was rewarded with a trip to the Futures Game.  He should start 2014 in Triple-A and could get a cup of coffee in September, but unless he shows a better hit tool with power, he’ll likely profile as a backup.

8. Eugenio Suarez (SS)
Eugenio Suarez took a step up in 2013 with an impressive showing in Double-A.  While not blessed with size or elite bat speed, Suarez hit nine home runs for Erie showing his usual good contact (78%) and approach.  Suarez has average speed and his ability in the lower-levels to run on catchers and pitchers with poor pickoff moves faded as he stole nine bases while getting caught 11 times in Double-A.  He’s a good shortstop, showing nice lateral movement and an average arm.  He profiles as a utility player at the highest level.

9. Jordan John (LHP)
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 draft, Jordan John is a command and control lefty with an average at best arsenal that plays up because of his excellent command. His fastball sits 87-89 MPH and can touch 91 MPH with nice downward plane that gets a ton of ground balls (4.97 G/F ratio).  His curveball and slider are both average pitches but his change-up is fairly flat and consequently righties hit .271 against him as opposed to lefties, who only managed .218.  John profiles as a number 4-5 starter or a lefty arm out of the bullpen.

10. Jose Alvarez (LHP)
An after thought in prospects circles, Jose Alvarez made his major league debut in 2013.  He’s primarily a command and control FB/CH lefty with an occasional slider.  His fastball sits 88-91 MPH with his change-up sitting in the upper 70’s.  The quality of the change-up is mostly responsible for his 8.02 K/9 in Toledo as it has nice deception and fade.   At 5-foot-11, Alvarez lacks downward plane and will be susceptible to the long ball as his seven home runs in 36.2 innings showed.  That said, he could find a role in Detroit as a number five starter or a bullpen arm.

2014 Emerging Prospect:

Montreal Robertson (RHP)
Montreal Robertson is athletic, has nice size at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, can run his fastball up to the mid-90’s and can hold that velocity deep into games.  Yet at 23-years-old, he had a 5.91 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP in Low-A with 40 walks and 40 strikeouts.  The primary problem is that he can not throw his secondary pitches for strikes and batters are waiting on his fastball.  Even with mid-90’s velocity and heavy sink, he can’t get by with one pitch.  The change-up shows the most promise and if he can get that to work, he could have a roll as a bullpen arm.  Never count out a guy who is athletic and can throw in the mid-90’s.

7 comments on “Detroit Tigers

  1. […] he’s unlikely to reach that type of level in the Majors. Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 (click here for his full Tigers’ Top 10 list), who also ranked Suarez 8th among Tigers’ prospects, […]

  2. Where does the newly acquired Ray from the Nationals rank in the system

  3. where would robbie ray place here?

  4. Thanks Rich. Really enjoy the website and the Podcast is second to none. Very informative. I tell all my fantasy baseball buddies to check it out. Keep up the great work.

    Jeff in the D

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: