|Original Published Date: October 27, 2014|
While nobody will confuse the Detroit Tigers minor league system with the Chicago Cubs or Houston Astros, they do have several prospects with major league upside. What they lack are true impact players that could be used in a trade to land one of the best pitchers in baseball…wait…what?
Ranked number one is Derek Hill, the Tigers 2014 first round pick. He’s a terrific athlete that has the defensive chops to stay in centerfield. While he might be three years away, Devon Travis, Steven Moya, Robbie Ray, Tyler Collins, and Hernan Perez are nearly ready and could be helping the Tigers or some other team in 2015. While I like Travis the most of the group, Steven Moya has the power upside that will turn heads. He’s going to strike out a lot and needs to learn to walk more than once a week, but the raw power is some of the best in the minor leagues.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling:1st Div
|Ht:6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2018|
The Tigers had their second consecutive first round pick (Pick 23) in the 2014 first year player draft and decided to go with athletic high-school center fielder Derek Hill. It was their first high school positional pick since taking Cameron Maybin with the tenth overall pick in 2007. There are similarities between the two in terms of size, an advanced approach (at least in high school), and of course, projectabiliy.
Hill has two carrying tools – a plus, plus run-tool and a plus defensive profile that should enable him to stay up the middle. He showed his speed in his first 47 games by stealing 11 of 12 bases. While some will view this as a modest total, Hill did struggle to find base hits in the early going. Most of that can be explained by a small sample size and a .268 BABIP that should correct down the road.
While Hill did not hit very well in 2014, he has excellent bat-to-ball skills that were surely learned from his father, former minor league outfielder and Los Angeles Dodgers scout, Orsino Hill. His swing is short and very direct to the ball and made for contact. In other words, there is little loft in the swing. He also showed very good plate discipline in the GCL by walking 16 times in 99 at-bats. Granted, some of the walks were generated from pitchers who couldn’t throw strikes.
Fantasy Impact: Hill’s speed will play at the highest level and assuming he gets full-time at-bats, could steal 30 plus bases annually. Despite his “advanced hit-tool” entering professional ball, Hill is still very raw and young. He’ll likely start the year in the Complex League before returning to short-season ball in June. There’s a lot to like here but he’s three to four years away.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling:Solid-Reg|
|Ht:5-9 Weight: 195||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2015|
Devon Travis has a chance to be a solid major league talent in the mold of St. Louis second baseman Kolten Wong. There aren’t a lot of plus tools, but instead, he has solid 50 to 55’s across the board (on the 20 to 80 scouting scale).
I had a chance to scout Travis in his first series back from an oblique injury in mid-May. As he did in the Arizona Fall League in 2013, Travis showed the ability to make hard contact to all fields, with three hits in 11 plate appearances. One of the hits was after a nine pitch at bat where he really battled before serving a 92 MPH fastball to right for a hard single.
Despite the injury setback, Travis managed nearly 400 at-bats in Double-A with a healthy slash line of .298/.358/.460. He made great contact at 85% while walking nearly 10 percent of the time. That should translate very well to the major leagues, including the ability to hit 8 to 12 home runs with some upside. He has average speed that has resulted in him stealing 41 bases across three years in the minor leagues. Even better, he has an 80% success rate.
Travis should start the 2015 season in Toledo of the International League with the opportunity to play in Detroit at some point later in the year. While he’ll need an injury from Ian Kinsler to make that happen, that’s not entirely out of the question. More likely, Travis will be packaged in a deal at some point over the next couple of years.
Fantasy Impact: Devon Travis does not have crazy upside, but given his hit tool, he could post a high batting average and on-base percentage in the .290/.350 range with 15 to 20 stolen bases and 8 to 10 home runs. That’s a perfect bat for the top of a lineup which should help his run totals. Again, that’s not a fantasy stud, but a very serviceable fantasy asset.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling:Solid-Reg|
|Ht:6-6 Weight: 230||Bats: Left Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
Standing 6-foot-6 and weighing 230 pounds, Steven Moya is long and lean with tremendous raw power as his primary carrying tool. I saw Moya launch two moon shots over the batters eye in batting practice in Bowie with his teammates hooting and hollering. It was an impressive feat indeed.
The raw power has finally translated into in-game power as Moya slugged .555 in 133 games in the Eastern League while hitting 35 fence clearing bombs. Because of his length, the swing is very long and consequently he is prone to high strikeout totals. In those same 133 games, he also struck out 161 times. Further complicating matters is his very aggressive approach that saw him walk only 23 times. It all begs the question will Moya be able to hit enough to get to his prodigious power?
The easy answer is to say no. However, he did bat .276 and based on a 69% contact rate, you would expect his BABIP to have been at least .360. It wasn’t and in fact was a reasonable .327. Moya may strikeout a lot and never walk, but he hits the ball very hard and has average speed and that should help him keep his BABIP elevated. Therefore, you can argue a .230 to .250 batting average is possible.
Fantasy Impact: Moya has huge raw power that is translating to in-game power. However, it comes with an extremely aggressive approach and significant swing and miss that will always put pressure on his batting average and on-base percentage. If you can tolerate the risk, there is Mark Trumbo/C.J. Cron upside with a bit of speed and a better defensive profile.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #4 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 195||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2014|
Robbie Ray was the return in the trade that sent Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals prior to the 2014 season. It was a head scratcher when the trade went down and became even more so when the Tigers had to promote Ray into duty and he posted a 7.09 ERA in 26.2 innings. At the same time, Fister was posting a sub 3.00 ERA, becoming an important piece to the Nationals winning the division.
Was this a mistake by Dombrowski? Possibly, but Ray is still very young and has the athleticism to eventually grow into a back-of-the-rotation starter.
Ray has an average fastball, despite the 92.32 MPH velocity he registered in the big leagues. The offering can become flat and therefore hittable as was demonstrated by his .355 batting average against in those same 26.2 innings. Despite being a fly ball pitcher, he has not been very homer-prone in his career, but the margin of error is very thin.
His two primary pitches are better than he showed in Detroit with the change-up being ahead of his curve. However, they still need work, particularly around commanding both pitches.
Fantasy Impact: Ray just turned 23-years-old in October and by no means am I writing him off as a viable fantasy asset. However, if you are holding Ray expecting him to help your fantasy team in 2015, you need to reset your expectations. Long-term, he profiles as a 6/7 pitcher on a fantasy team and more appropriate for streaming than a hold-and-play strategy.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #3 starter|
|Ht: 6-2 Weight: 205||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2016-17|
Selected with the 20th overall pick in the 2013 first year player draft, Jonathon Crawford had a nice year in his first taste of full season ball. In 123.0 innings, he struck out 6.13 batters per nine while walking just under four. He kept the ball down which resulted in a 2.19 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio.
Crawford’s arsenal consists of a four-seam fastball that sits 90-93 MPH and can touch higher. He also throws an 81-84 MPH slider that should get swings and misses at the highest level as well as a change-up that is still emerging. It’s an average arsenal that falls short of being plus, primarily due to challenges with his pitching mechanics.
Crawford loses life on his fastball due to poor extension and momentum to the plate. This coupled with his 6-foot-1 frame, leaves his fastball flat. The arm action is also not very clean and with his stiff mechanics, it’s not a recipe for long-term health.
Fantasy Impact: I’m not sold on Crawford as a fantasy option at this time. While he had success in Low-A, he should have, given his college pedigree. If the Tigers can continue to work with him on his mechanics, resulting in better control, there is definitely upside. Until then, it’s a pass for me.
|2015 Age: 23||Ceiling: #3 starter
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 200||Bats: Right Throws: Left||ETA: 2016-17|
Selected in the second round of the 2013 first year player draft, Kevin Ziomek brought an impressive SEC pedigree that saw him win 11 games in his junior year while striking out nearly a batter an inning.
Many will characterize Ziomek as a command and control lefty and while there is some truth to that profile, he can also push his fastball to 92-93 MPH when he needs a little extra juice. His change-up has improved a full grade and that led to his impressive 11.12 strikeout-per-nine ratio. What was a little surprising was that he walked 53 in 123.0 innings. Part of the problem was his inability to consistently throw his slider for strikes.
Ziomek’s delivery is very polished with plus balance and momentum to the plate. He also throws across his body which adds deception to his delivery, particularly against left-handed batters. While there are injury risks associated with a cross-fire delivery, in Ziomek’s case, it’s not pronounced enough to cause major concerns at this time.
Fantasy Impact: With a fastball that sits 89-91 MPH, Ziomek will need to have plus command to be relevant on a Fantasy team. While the strikeout rate in Low-A was quite impressive, I’m holding out judgment until I see him pitch against more advanced competition. That should come in 2015 when he’ll likely see both High and Double-A.
|2015 Age: 22||Ceiling: #5 starter
|Ht: 6-3 Weight: 215||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2017|
The Tigers selected Spencer Turnbull in the second round of the 2014 first year player draft out of the University of Alabama. At the time of the pick, it felt like a reach as Turnbull was sporting a fine 2.22 ERA in his junior year but was also posting a modest 6.04 strikeout-per-nine while walking 5.24 per nine.
What the Tigers did like was Turnbull’s size at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds and his ability to run his fastball up-to 95 MPH. To complement the four-seam offering, Turnbull also throws a two-seamer that runs into arm side batters. His secondary pitches consist primarily of a curve ball that flashes above-average, a hard slider/cutter, and a change-up that is still developing.
While the arsenal shows promise, Turnbull’s delivery needs a lot of work. There is effort in the delivery that is causing him to lose his release point. This is a key driver in his poor control. He does pitch tall and this should allow him to achieve plane on his pitches and keep the ball down in the zone.
Fantasy Impact: While I like the physicality of the profile, I think Dynasty League owners need to sit on the sidelines with Turnbull for now.
|2015 Age: 19||Ceiling:1st Div
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 160||Bats: Both Throws: Right||ETA: 2014|
In recent years, the Tigers have been successful in mining the Dominican Republic for up-the-middle talent. In 2012, they signed both Willy Adames and Domingo Leyba. Adames is the more famous of the two as he was traded in a package to the Rays for David Price and is getting the kind of hype that would make the Yankees proud. While Leyba doesn’t have the same athleticism and upside as Adames, he’s a legitimate prospect in his own right. After the trade, he is getting full-time at-bats at shortstop in Low-A and making the most of his opportunity.
While Leyba doesn’t have any plus tools, he has shown the ability to make consistent contact with very good plate awareness. This was best seen in the DSL in 2013 when he walked more than he struck out, but in 260 at-bats in the New York Penn and Midwest League he has managed a 30K/14BB strikeout-to-walk rate. As he gains strength, Leyba could hit double digit home runs and his speed could also produce 12 to 15 stolen bases.
Fantasy Impact: Fantasy owners are always looking for those under-the-radar prospects that could one day impact their fantasy team. Leyba is one of those players. He can really hit and could post a .280 to .300 batting average with developing power. He doesn’t have much speed, so stolen bases will not be part of the package.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling:Utility|
|Ht:6-1 Weight: 185||Bats: Right Throws: Right||ETA: 2012|
When Jose Iglesias went down with a shin problem in the spring, there was speculation that Hernan Perez would be the logical internal replacement candidate. However, that job went to Eugenio Suarez and Perez was left in the minor leagues to continue to hone his craft.
Perez is a good defender and can play both shortstop and second base. He’s also become a very good hitter, making excellent contact with a good understanding of the strike zone. He swing is short and compact and built for contact. Consequently, he projects to have little if no power at the highest level. He is an above average runner and has stolen at least 20 bases in each of his last four seasons.
He was back in the majors for a cup-of-coffee in September and got limited playing time He’s big league ready and has a floor of a utility player with the ceiling of a second division middle infielder, capable of a .280 to .300 batting average with 20 plus stolen bases.
Fantasy Impact: Perez could have some value in an AL-only League or a deep mixed league with his 20 plus stolen base potential. The question will be playing time as the profile is likely a utility player.
|2015 Age: 24||Ceiling: 2nd Div
|Ht: 5-11 Weight: 215||Bats: Left Throws: Left||ETA: 2014|
After posting an .879 OPS in 59 Spring Training games, Tyler Collins started the 2014 season on the big league roster. It was short-lived as Collins was optioned back to Triple-A after 14 at-bats. He did return in September but got limited at-bats.
Collins has above-average power, hitting 21 home runs in Erie in 2013 and another 18 in Triple-A in 2014. His swing can get long and he’s prone to strikeouts (116 strikeouts in 468 at-bats in Triple-A). He also has good plate awareness, showing good patience with a 9.3% walk rate. While he’s an average runner at best, he also managed to steal 12 of 16 bases. There’s something there with Tyler Collins and the Tigers need to give him some reps at the big league level in 2015 to find out if his upside is a solid regular or an extra bat.
Fantasy Impact: Collins could have value in an AL-only or deeper mix league with the ability to hit 20 plus home runs. It’s doubtful that he’ll get enough at-bats in Detroit to warrant owning and therefore owners need to hope he gets traded over the next year or two.
2015 Emerging Prospect
Manuel Joseph represents yet another up the middle talent that the Tigers have signed out of the Dominican Republic. Unlike Leyba and Adames, Joseph has yet to come to the states and is still participating in the Dominican Summer League. One of the leaders in every offense category including posting a league high 1.049 OPS and a .592 slugging percentage, he also managed to hit .379. Clearly there is nothing left to prove and Joseph needs to get his Visa issues cleared up, so he can see how his game will translate to the more advanced competition in the US.