Outfielder Steven Moya is hitting .266 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs in 75 games at Double A Erie. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
When your season ends on Labor Day weekend, which is how it goes in baseballís minor leagues, the halfway point arrives early ó as in June.
With the 2014 calendar more than half-completed for the Tigersí top four farm teams, students of big-league development can examine how performances and projections either matched, were exceeded, or fell short of forecasts.
Best first half by a starting pitcher: Josh Turley, LH, Single A Lakeland: Turley was a middling pitching prospect before he began throwing more regularly, and more resolutely, a knuckleball that has made him one of the most intriguing prospects in the Tigers chain. He is 7-0, with a 1.86 ERA, and a wee 0.97 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning). He has allowed only 60 hits in 821⁄3 innings, while striking out 68, and walking 20. He is 6-foot, 190 pounds, and was a 16th-round draft pick in 2012 out of Baylor.
Best start by a position player: Steven Moya, RF, Double A Erie: He has heavy work ahead, but a 22-year-old outfielder is also on the road to 30 home runs and to perhaps become the player a team has been waiting on since he was signed in 2008 at age 17. Moya is 6-foot-6, 235 pounds, bats left-handed and has power in proportion to his square-footage. He will need at least another year to learn strike-zone discipline that will determine if he makes it ó big ó at the next level.
Breakthrough reliever: Angel Nesbitt, RH, Double A Erie: Nesbitt was on the to-watch list even before he steamed through a two-month initiation at Single A Lakeland. Nesbitt, 23, had an 0.79 ERA in 24 games with the Tigers before he was shipped earlier this month to Erie. Where, apart from a nervous first outing, he has been a replica of his Lakeland efforts: No runs and one hit allowed in his last three appearances.
Top debut: Willy Adames, SS, West Michigan: Relative to age (18), and level, Adames is one to monitor, in part because his numbers (.273, .351 on-base percentage and .789 OPS in 69 games) are in step with expectations. Adames is 6-1, 180, bats right-handed, and was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old. He should be a top-five prospect in 2015.
Smoothest script: Corey Knebel, RH, reliever, Triple A Toledo: Only a year ago he was easing into a big-league uniform and some believed he might pitch in Detroit later that year, a la 2006 prodigy Andrew Miller. Knebel, though, stayed on the farm until, as expected, he reached Comerica Park in May for a six-game stint. Still working on fastball command and control, but his numbers since he returned to Toledo confirm he is not far from regular shifts in Detroit: eight games, 10 innings, .138 opposing batting average, 11 strikeouts, six walks.
Most lukewarm first half: Jonathon Crawford, RH starter, West Michigan: He was the Tigersí top pick in 2013 and, statistically, has been on target in his first full season of pro ball: 4-2, 2.60 ERA, 1.14 WHIP. It is his control that has been a bit beneath sea level: 25 walks in 691⁄3 innings.
Worst first half (position player): Jordan Lennerton, 1B, Toledo: It was anticipated ahead of 2014 that, if a guy named Miguel Cabrera got hurt, Lennerton might play in Detroit in 2015. But that wonít happen with a .191 batting average and .618 OPS. Lennerton, 28, simply hasnít found the swing that in 2013 made him a contender for at least fringe work in the big leagues.
Worst first half (pitcher): Melvin Mercedes, RH reliever, Toledo: Mercedes was supposed to contend for bullpen work at Comerica Park. But with these numbers, a 23-year-old reliever will be sticking at Fifth Third Field, if not at Erie, should habits not change: 4.14 ERA in 29 games, spanning 37 innings, with a stunningly low 15 strikeouts, and 11 walks.
Best team to monitor (second half): Single A Connecticut. The cream of this yearís draft crop just arrived, which bears monitoring, particularly in the cases of outfielders Michael Gerber and Ross Kivett, as well as infielder Joey Pankake. Players who were gestating in Lakeland at the Gulf Coast League and extended spring training have also been shipped to Connecticut, with these names worth chronicling: Domingo Leyba, Steven Fuentes, Franklin Navarro, and Johan Belisario.
Need to get (or keep) it going: The starting pitchers at Toledo, at least one of whom will be needed next year in Detroit. Robbie Ray is the best bet, and has had the steadiest times since he returned to the Mud Hens after a short stint with the Tigers: In his last 10 starts, he has a 2.84 ERA, which will drop as his strikeouts mount. Thatís if he can tame the curveball he acknowledges is a first priority. Also in need of big second halves: Drew VerHagen (3.86 ERA) and Kyle Lobstein (3.64). A certain team that plays at Comerica Park will need rotation help, for sure, in 2015.