The Tigers used their 2009 first-round draft pick Jacob Turner to acquire Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)
Good or not-so-good? Should the Tigers scouting and drafting staff be celebrated, or sacked, as one scans Detroitís farm system and shrugs shoulders at the so-so cast populating six minor league camps?
I give the bosses an overall grade of B-minus, which, in baseball, where betting on prospects is like betting on which direction a bird will fly, is pretty good.
And hereís why.
The Tigers are being slapped again for having one of the sparser crops of big league prospects heading into 2014. Which, on surface inspection, is true.
But where the outside assessments miss a bigger picture, which tends always to come into focus during Julyís trade deadline, is that the Tigers are almost certain to deal another prospect or two for some significant help toward their 2014 pennant push.
In other words, players who arenít all that shimmering today by next summer will look like gold to general managers whose scouts are career-serious about their personnel reports. The Tigers likely will be staring at a surplus of prospects they can afford to barter, beginning with a middle-infield excess that is steadily becoming the systemís strength.
Not a bad projection when you consider the Tigers did not have a first-round draft pick in 2010, 2011, or 2012, all because guys named Jose Valverde, Victor Martinez, and Prince Fielder were signed and first-round blue chips were forfeited.
Plug those traded prospects into the farm systemís upper tiers, or factor in first-rounders that would have come Detroitís way minus the free-agent signings, and the bush leagues would gain a higher ranking.
You can argue that if the Tigers were doing a better job of drafting they would not need to sign big-name free agents. Perhaps true. Except, no team serious about a World Series makes its push solely with home-grown talent. You need supplements.
You also need a core. You need, particularly, to make good on those first-round picks when during a particular June draft you do have one in your pocket. At the very least, talent promising enough to craft another big trade has to be fed into the system.
Thatís where the Tigers and David Chadd, their amateur scouting general, earn the most credit ó drafting first-rounders that, more than most teams have been able to say, have panned out. They made bad bet in 2008 with Ryan Perry, although initially it didnít look that way. They picked Justin Verlander in 2004 (a year before Chadd arrived), Rick Porcello in 2007. In 2005 and í06 they went with Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, two first-round prodigies the Marlins later scouted and appreciated sufficiently to offer Miguel Cabrera in exchange (four other Tigers farmhands were also demanded).
The Tigers a few years later dealt Jacob Turner (2009 first-rounder) as the big prize in their haul of Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. They made Nick Castellanos their top pick in 2010, and James McCann in 2011, which is the same draft in which they snagged Drew Smyly. Final grades havenít been conferred, but Castellanos is one of baseballís heavy prospects (check the national lists) and McCann could by next year be an everyday big-league catcher, which is significant when catching is baseballís most difficult position to fill.
That careers werenít as lofty as expected for Miller, Maybin, and others makes little difference. What matters is that teams whose bird-dogs were scanning the bush leagues for attractive talent liked Miller, Maybin, Jacob Turner, Chance Ruffin, Francisco Martinez, Giovanni Soto, Cole Nelson, Rob Brantly, Brian Flynn, Luke French, Mauricio Robles, Guillermo Moscoso and Matt Joyce (who already had big league service), not to mention the three prospect pitchers who were dealt for Gary Sheffield in 2006.
You canít make those deals if you donít have talent that passes scrutiny from scouts whose skills have won a place on a general managerís payroll. GMs understand baseballís eternal dice roll is betting on young talent. Misses are frequent.
Itís what shakes out during an overall span of time ó in terms of pumping blood into a teamís roster and providing trade chips ó that determine a farm systemís health and a scouting directorís worth.
Chadd was running the Red Sox draft before the Tigers brought him to Detroit. He picked Dustin Pedroia and Jon Lester, among others. He has since patched what for decades was the biggest hole in the Tigersí competitive fabric: their inability to draft and develop.
At the start of the 2013 season, Chadd had the second-most draft picks playing in the big leagues this side of Jeff Luhnow, who was the Cardinalsí draft captain before moving to Houston as GM.
And so the hand-wringing about Detroitís farm system is, in this view, an easy potshot to take, but not an indictment that in fairness can be nailed to Comerica Parkís executive doors.
There are sharp people who gaze at the Tigers farm system in January and see precious little. There will be scouts and GMs in July who see players they want on their roster. Meanwhile, Corey Kneble will be about ready for full-time bullpen work in Detroit, with Jonathon Crawford and others moving closer to big league paydays.
If you want to see bad farm systems, look elsewhere. Examine the slew of non-contenders who understand the reality of percentages in grooming big leaguers. Most would settle for Detroitís picks the past 10 years.