|Original Published Date: November 1, 2016|
The Tigers minor league organization usually ranks towards the bottom of all systems, but every year, they get production out of their prospects in the form of help in the big leagues or as trade bait. Michael Fulmer is a great example; although he did rank in our Top 100, he wasn’t considered a top prospect by many but yet will likely win the American League Rookie of the Year. Also, in 2015, the Tigers were able to put together a package to acquire David Price for the stretch run. I didn’t think they had enough to make the trade, but the Rays valued Willie Adames highly and landed Price.
On the surface, once again, their system looks light. However, when you drill down into the players, they have some strength at the top, before falling off rather quickly. Matt Manning, their first round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, is a big kid with a top-of-the-rotation ceiling. However, he’s 18-years-old and three, maybe four years away from helping the big league club. Their top positional bat is Christin Stewart, an outfielder who led the Florida State League with an impressive 24 home runs. A little further away is Derek Hill, the Tigers 2014 first round draft pick. His scouting report is still impressive but it has yet to translate into in-game production.
Finally, the Tigers have struggled for years to find a long-term answer to their closer needs and Joe Jimenez could finally be that answer. His fastball can hit the upper nineties and he’s just about ready. I know we said that about Bruce Rondon a few year back, but Jimenez’s control is a full-grade higher and therefore, he has a better chance for success.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2020, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 20 SP
Selecting twelve in the first round of a draft where the depth is high school pitching, the right move is to go where the strength is and to not go contrarian. That’s exactly what the Tigers did when they selected Matt Manning in the 2016 MLB Draft.
Manning comes from an athletic family where his father Rich, played in the NBA and his brother is currently playing college basketball. Matt decided to play baseball instead and so far, it’s paying off; as in a $3.5 million dollar signing bonus.
The Tigers have to be thrilled with his start to professional ball as he dominated the GCL in his debut. In 10 starts, he posted a 3.99 ERA with 46 strikeouts and only seven walks. Ignore the ERA and focus on the strikeouts and walks; that’s shoving it!
Scouting Report: At 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds, Manning has a ton of physical projection. He throws in the mid 90’s but assuming he continues to fill out, the velocity could improve a full grade. His secondary pitches are raw but he shows the ability to spin a curve ball. He can’t yet throw it for consistent strikes and it lacks depth but the feedback I received was it could be a plus future offering.
What everyone raves about with Manning is his athleticism. From the delivery to his ability to bounce of the mound to field his position is encouraging. That’s not to mean his delivery is currently good; instead he has the ability to repeat his delivery with great momentum to the plate. Once he gains experience and grows into his body, it could come together in the form of a top-of-the-rotation talent.
Fantasy Impact: Manning is the type of young pitcher I love to roster in a Dynasty League. He’s athletic, has size, throws hard with a solid upbringing. It’s the ingredients of a Fantasy Ace. The problem is he’s three to four years away from the big leagues and a lot can go wrong; or I guess right, depending on your perspective. If you have the patience, you should roster him early in your rookie drafts next year.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Solid #3 Outfielder
The Florida State League (FSL) is a pitchers league. Why? First, since many of the parks in the league double as spring training facilities, they are larger than the typical minor league park. Secondly, it’s hot and humid and excessive moisture in the air causes friction on the ball; in laymen’s speak…it knocks the ball down.
Therefore, hitting 24 home runs in the FSL is difficult, but that’s what Christin Stewart did in 104 games. It came with plenty of strikeouts (23.8% strikeout rate) but he also posted a 16.7% walk rate. In August, the Tigers promoted him to Double-A where the he struggled in 24 games. Granted, it was a small sample size but the strikeout rate jumped to 27%, although he kept working counts and taking his walks.
Scouting Report: Stewart is an offensive prospect, likely playing left field once he makes it to the majors. In fact, the Tigers have already made that call as he played most of his games manning the #7 spot on the defensive chart. His carrying tool is his double-plus power, followed closely by his ability to work a count. The approach is not passive as he’ll swing when the pitch is a strike, he just doesn’t swing at balls. It’s impressive.
He has been working hard on cutting down his strikeouts but because he allows balls to travel deep into the zone before electing to swing, he’s just prone to strikeouts. However, if it comes with 30 home runs and .340 OBP, he has a chance to be an all-star. In fact, if you discount his brief time in Double-A, he’s never posted a K% rate over 24%. That’s not Altuvian, but if he replicates that at the highest level, that should translate into a .250 batting average.
Fantasy Impact: We wrote time after time last year that power was at a premium. However, that didn’t prove true in 2016 as home runs soared. That said, nobody would turn away a 30 home run bat who should produce a very high on-base percentage. Stewart has been underrated since entering the league and I believe that’s about to change.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017, Fantasy Ceiling: Elite Closer
Before the arrival of Francisco Rodriguez, the back of the bullpen has been a problem for the Tigers for a while. Who can forget Jose Valverde in the 2012 playoffs. While K-Rod has been very good, he’s 35-years-old and will be a free agent next season, so he might not be back. Fortunately, the long-term solution might be sitting in Triple-A in Joe Jimenez.
Jimenez was signed out of the Dominican in 2012 and has been used exclusively in the pen. Over his career in the minor leagues, he has struck out over 13 per nine annually while walking less than three. He’s also saved 51 games and posted a 1.64 ERA. Oh yeah, he also routinely hits the upper nineties.
Scouting Report: Jimenez was built to be a closer. He’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds with a thick lower half. He’s primarily a two pitch pitcher with a double-plus fastball that sits 95 to 97 MPH and a tight hard slider that he sits in the upper 80’s. Both pitches are swing and miss offerings and Jimenez is able to throw each for strikes.
The delivery is aggressive with a lot of effort and while that is a problem for a starter, for one inning bullpen arms, it should work ok. The delivery also has a lot of deception, which simply adds to his effectiveness.
Fantasy Impact: Jimenez is the closer of the future for the Tigers and could be as early as next year. Yes, we said the same thing about Bruce Rondon a couple of years ago, but Jimenez stuff is a tick better and his control is a full two grades better.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2019, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 SP
The Tigers reached for Beau Burrows in the 2015 MLB Draft and signed him to a $2.1 million dollar signing bonus. After limiting his innings last season, they stretched him in full season ball where he pitched well. In 20 starts, he posted a 3.15 ERA but only struck out 5.7 per nine.
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. 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 the long ball. That was not the case in 2016 as he only gave up two home runs in 20 starts.
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 away so he should only be owned in deep Dynasty Leagues that roster 250 or more minor league players.
Highest Level: Triple-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 OF with extreme risk
The Tigers acquired JaCoby Jones at the 2015 trading deadline in a deal for Joakim Soria. At the time, I thought it was a good pull for the Tigers. After a second drug suspension and a down year, perhaps I was overly bullish on the 6-foot-2 outfielder. Regardless, Jones is a big leaguer as the Tigers promoted him on August 30th after yet another injury to Cameron Maybin.
Scouting Report: Jones looks like he just came out of central casting for a ballplayer. He’s tall, lean and athletic. However, he struggles to make consistent contact and that is limiting his upside. In 292 at-bats in Triple-A, he posted a 67% contact rate. His stat line could have been worse but his .341 BABIP propped up his .243 batting average.
He has plenty of bat speed and is a plus runner, so if he can improve his approach at the plate, he’s an everyday regular offensive player. You can argue he did that in his 20 games at Double-A earlier in the year where he batted .312, but that was fueled by a .392 BABIP. He still struck out 25% of the time.
Defensively, the Tigers have moved him off shortstop and are splitting his time between the outfield and third base. He has a plus arm but poor footwork at third, so the outfield, possibly right field might be his best defensive position.
Fantasy Impact: When you see Jones, it’s easy to get excited. He just looks the part. The upside is a 15 to 20 home run/stolen base performer. However, unless he improves his hit tool, he’s likely a fourth outfielder or utility player. Therefore, he’s a hold for me in a Dynasty League.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 Outfielder with extreme risk
Derek Hill was having a nice season until August 8th when he made a throw from the outfield and blew out his elbow. The injury required TJ Surgery and he’ll be laid up for at least the first half of next season, if not more. It was a brutal blow, made worse by Hill’s inability to stay healthy since the Tigers drafted him the first round of the 2014 Draft. As a raw but talented kid, his inability to stay healthy is stunting his development.
The lack of development is showing the most in Hill’s hit tool. Forget his .661 OPS for the moment, the big problem is his 26% strikeout rate and an equally concerning 6% walk rate. For a guy who has 30-grade power and who’s game is based on speed, he needs to be a contact hitter with a high on-base percentage. At the moment, he’s neither.
Scouting Report: Hill’s carrying tool is 70-grade speed that he shows on both sides of the ball. First, he’s an excellent outfielder, running great routes and enough arm to play anywhere in the outfield. However, he’s a true center fielder and the Tigers continue to play him there.
He currently has 30-grade power but also has enough size to hit a handful of home runs annually. In other words, he won’t be Ben Revere in the outfield. His development opportunity is in his hit-tool. He struggles to make consistent contact and he needs to tone-down his aggressive approach. If he can, the upside is a dynamic leadoff hitter with 40+ stolen base potential. If not, he’s a fifth outfielder, a late inning defensive replacement.
Fantasy Impact: If you’ve seen Hill play, you get it. The kid is just a great athlete with amazing energy. The good news with his injury is that it doesn’t affect his meal ticket, his legs. It’s just very unfortunate and does give Dynasty League owners pause as the risky profile gets delayed another year. If you are rostering 300 or more minor leaguers, I would hold on. If not, it’s time to fish somewhere else.
Highest Level: Rookie, ETA: 2018-19, Fantasy Ceiling: Top 50 starter or MR
Kyle Funkhouser was drafted in the first round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers (Pick 35) but did not sign. He went back to school in hopes of improving his draft stock but a 4.5 BB/9 rate in his senior league dropped him further in the 2016 Draft where the Tigers picked him in the fourth round, paying him a $750,000 signing bonus.
While Funkhouser’s draft situation was disappointing, he didn’t fret and got off to a fast start in professional ball. In 13 starts in the New York Penn League, he posted a 2.65 ERA but more importantly walked only eight batters in 37.1 innings. Granted, he did it in the NY Penn League and not in a league that would be more appropriate to his former pedigree. However, it still has to be encouraging to the Tigers.
Scouting Report: Funkhouser has good stuff with a fastball that sits 92 to 94 MPH and can touch higher with a plus curve ball that can miss bats. He also shows a feel for a change-up but it’s clearly his third pitch. His biggest struggle has been holding his velocity deep into starts. One contributing factor for this problem is poor mechanics but in reviewing them, nothing jumps out as being a major issue. The Tigers had him on a pitch count and limited each outing to a maximum of three innings. Therefore, his diminished velocity did not surface. Therefore, in my mind, it’s still an open issue.
If Funkhouser can return to his 2015 form, he has a chance to be a solid mid-rotation starter. That is clearly what the Tigers are hoping. If not, his stuff is good enough for him to at least pitch in relief at the highest level
Fantasy Impact: If it’s late in a rookie draft, I would take a gamble on Funkhouser. At 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, he has good size, the stuff is solid and the pedigree is top-notch. If it doesn’t work out, you drop him.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire OF
I had not thought about Mike Gerber until I saw him last year in the Arizona Fall League. He went 2 for 4 with a stolen base and consequently, made my database. In 2016, he played well across High and Double-A slashing .261/.349/.431 with 14 home runs while chipping in six stolen bases. He showed a good approach, walking 12% of the time but he also posted a poor 22.3% strikeout rate.
At 24-years-old, he’s old for a prospect but should see playing time in the major leagues next season. He likely profiles as an extra bat but if he can cut down on his strikeout rate, could get regular playing time.
Scouting Report: There’s a lot to like about Gerber. He has average, if not slightly above in-game power, and understands the strike zone. His contactability is currently holding him back from being regarded as a top prospect. When you see him bat, he swings hard, which is what is likely leading to the strikeouts. He has enough strength and leverage to hit home runs and lightening up on the swing should make him a better hitter and still enable him to get to his power
Fantasy Impact: Gerber should only be owned in leagues the roster 500 or more prospects but he is somebody to watch. If he improves his contact rate, the ceiling is 20 or more home runs annually with a handful of stolen bases.
Highest Level: Low-A, ETA: 2020-21, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire OF
Jose Azocar is the most intriguing prospect in the Tigers organization. He challenges Derek Hill as the most athletic player in the system but his raw approach that saw him post a 4.6 strikeout-to-walk ratio puts him in the “dream” category as oppose to the “rock solid prospect” category.
Scouting Report: Azocar carrying tool is his double-plus speed. It shows up primarily in the field today where he can run down balls that others have no chance. On the base paths, he’s still learning how to steal bases and only stole 14 of 19 bases last season. Assuming he figures out how to read pitchers and hone his craft, he has 30 plus stolen base potential.
He has good bat speed but his swing is geared more towards doubles than over-the-fence power. What’s holding him back is his hit-tool. His approach is very aggressive, swinging at everything close to the plate and that’s leading to a high strikeout rate (22.6%). The Tigers are working with him on his approach but it has yet to translate. If it does, he could develop into a dynamic leadoff hitter. If not, he’s likely a fifth outfielder or perhaps never makes it out of Double-A.
Fantasy Impact: Azocar is not yet rosterable in most Dynasty Leagues. Owners need to monitor two stats: walk rate and stolen bases; a 2 handle in his stolen bases and a walk rate approaching 10%. I’m guessing that once the walk rate improves, the strikeout rate will follow.
Highest Level: Double-A, ETA: 2017-18, Fantasy Ceiling: Waiver Wire SP
Drafted in the second round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Tyler Alexander posted excellent results last season. In 25 games across High and Double-A, he pitched to a 3.23 ERA, striking out nearly seven per nine and only 20 in 136.1 innings. His 5-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio was indeed impressive.
Scouting Report: While the stat line says Anderson’s has top-of-the-rotation potential, his stuff does not. His fastball sits 87 to 89 MPH but it plays up because he has very good command of the pitch. He throws both a slider and curve but both are current average at best pitches. His curve has the best chance to be solid offering as it has nice depth and spin. When I saw him, his change-up was weak with right-handed batters not fooled at all.
Fantasy Impact: Despite the great results, I will not be rostering Alexander in my Dynasty Leagues. The stuff is marginal and I believe he’ll struggle at the next level.
2017 Emerging Prospect
Juan Ramirez is an athletic outfielder in the Tigers Dominican affiliate who at 17-years-old is showing an impressive control of the strike zone. In 57 games last season, he walked 33 times while only striking out 21 times in 223 at-bats. He has plus speed, stealing seven bases but was also thrown out five times. The Tigers will move Ramirez to the US to begin the 2017 season.