The Detroit News' Top 50 Tigers prospects
It's amusing, and probably revealing, that the Tigers' farm system tends to get so many thumbs-downs from critics such as Keith Law, ESPN.com's premier amateur scout, who last month ranked the Tigers' system 30th among the 30 big-league teams.
Other clubs often find the Tigers' minor-league chain an appealing place to shop for players rival scouts sometimes view more favorably than independent critics. That was the story in 2014 as front-office chief Dave Dombrowski traded four of his top 10 prospects for more seasoned talent.
The Tigers also send the occasional farmhand to Detroit, as they did a year ago with Nick Castellanos, and as they expect to repeat in 2015 with catcher James McCann.
And so prospects, and how they rank within an organization – even when big jumps and severe slides are routine in the roulette-wheel business of developing baseball talent – are at the very least an interesting exercise in evaluations.
In that spirit, The Detroit News' Top 50 Prospects list is presented, in descending order of perceived talent and potential. Note that some players who might appear on other top prospects charts (McCann, Hernan Perez, Ian Krol, etc.) are not part of The Detroit News roster, either because they are expected to make the big-league team in 2015 (McCann), are out of minor-league options (Perez), or have slipped past the prospect threshold (Krol).
1. Steven Moya, RF, 23, 6-6, 235, LH hitter: Not the most complete player in the Tigers' chain, but a good defender with a big arm who is potentially the most explosive hitter in Detroit's system. As soon as 2016, Moya could become a 30-homer fixture at Comerica Park. His challenges at judging balls and strikes and hitting elite pitching are why he needs a full year at Triple A Toledo. There are no guarantees – he will need to lay off bad pitches that too often entice him – but he has exceptional tools and enormous upside if his pitch-judgment improves.
2. Derek Hill, CF, 19, 6-2, 195, RH hitter: In many eyes he is the Tigers' top prospect. And in terms of pure athleticism, he surely qualifies. The question: Will he hit at a level that even remotely approaches his speed, defense, and otherwise elite package of skills? The Tigers and some scouts believe so. He had a typically tepid start for a teen only weeks after he was the Tigers' first pick in 2014: .208 batting average, .591 OPS in 47 games at the Rookie League and at Single A Connecticut. He does have a sense for pitch-recognition. Hill will soon rank as Detroit's uncontested top prospect if the script projected by Tigers scouts is to any degree followed in 2014.
3. Kevin Ziomek, LH starter, 22, 6-3, 200: Great chance for a quality left-hander to move closer to Comerica Park in 2014. Ziomek was a second-round pick in 2013 from Vanderbilt and sailed through 2014 at Single A West Michigan: 10-6, with a 2.27 ERA, in 23 games. In 123 innings pitched, he allowed 89 hits, with 153 strikeouts, and 53 walks. Will need to keep it going at Single A Lakeland ahead of a possible move to Erie at some point in 2014. From there, Detroit could be his next stop.
4. Joe Jimenez, RH reliever, 20, 6-3, 220: The Tigers stole him as a post-draft sign out of Puerto Rico in 2013. Has a chance to be brilliant. His work in 23 games last season at Connecticut: 26.2 innings, 22 hits, 41 strikeouts, six walks, 1.05 WHIP. Conceivable that he could move all the way to Double A in 2015.
5. Dixon Machado, SS, 22, 6-1, 170, RH hitter: Glitzy defender who broke open with the bat last season in 90 games at Erie: .305 batting average, .391 on-base percentage, .442 slugging, .832 OPS. Machado, who covers enormous ground and has a plus arm, had 40 walks and 36 strikeouts in 292 at-bats. Another of the Tigers' system-sustaining talents from Venezuela.
6. Anthony Ravenelle, RH reliever, 22, 6-3, 185: Don't be fooled by his short time in the bushes. Ravenelle, a fourth-round pick last June from Vanderbilt's NCAA championship team, has one of the liveliest arms and best collections of pitches on the Tigers farm. Should move rapidly. In four innings (long season with Vanderbilt) in the Tigers' minors last summer: zero hits, zero walks, six strikeouts.
7. Buck Farmer, RH starter, 24, 6-4, 225: Had a taste of Detroit last season and looked like the certified prospect he remains. A fifth round pick in 2013 from Georgia Tech, the fast-moving Farmer pitched for three Tigers farm teams in 2014. The numbers: 12-6 record in 22 games, 3.07 ERA, 123 innings, 112 hits, 129 strikeouts, 32 walks. Could be moved temporarily to the bullpen. But for now will stick as a starter.
8. Grayson Greiner, C, 22, 6-6, 215, RH hitter: The Tigers have been doing well in stocking up on kid catchers, and look as if they found another in their 2014 third-round pick from the University of South Carolina. Greiner is big for his position, but has nimble defensive skills and can swing the bat. In 26 games at West Michigan, he batted .322, with an .839 OPS. Likely to begin 2015 at Lakeland.
9. Angel Nesbitt, RH reliever, 24, 6-1, 240: Looks as if he'll get a taste of Detroit in 2015. Nesbitt, another of the Venezuela cast, pitched in 48 games in 2014 at Lakeland and Erie, combined: 3-0, 1.49 ERA, 66.2 innings, 43 hits, 72 strikeouts, 23 walks. He had a .183 opposing batting average and a 0.99 WHIP. No surprise if he's called to Comerica Park relatively soon.
10. Edgar De La Rosa, RH starter, 24, 6-8, 235: Has the power to progress as he moves to Erie in 2015. In 26 games at Lakeland in 2014, he had a 3.30 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. Opposing batters hit .230 against De La Rosa who, in 139 innings, allowed 116 hits. He had 91 strikeouts and 53 walks, a ratio that needs to improve in 2015.
11. Javier Betancourt, 2B, 19, 6-0, 180, RH hitter: Yet another of Venezuela's vast baseball resources, Betancourt turned 19 last May and had, relative to age, a decent season at West Michigan: .269 in 134 games, with a .651 OPS. He'll still be a teenager when he starts 2015, presumably, at Lakeland.
12. Anthony Pereira, SS/IF, 18, 6-0, 170: At the same stage in 2015 that two hotshot teenage prospects, Willy Adames and Domingo Leyba, were a year ago before they became heavy Tigers trade chips in 2014 deals. Pereira has a fast bat and can play anywhere in the infield, although shortstop looks, for now, as if it will be his regular post. No surprise, Pereira is from Venezuela. One to watch in 2015.
13. Austin Kubitza, RH starter, 23, 6-5, 225: Very good year at West Michigan, but will need to show he can do it at the higher rungs. A typical Rice University product who didn't suffer from under-use, he was a fourth-round grab in 2014. In 23 games for the Whitecaps, Kubitza was 10-2, with a 2.34 ERA, and 1.08 WHIP. Opposing hitters batted .202. In 131 innings, he had 140 strikeouts and walked 43.
14. Shane Zeile, C, 21, 6-1, 195, RH hitter: Good all-around skills for a fifth-round pick (UCLA) in last June's draft. Played in only 21 games at Connecticut. Expected to move steadily, in company with another of last year's early-round college catcher grabs, Greiner.
15. Zac Shepherd, 3B, 19, 6-3, 185, RH hitter: Shepherd is from Sydney, Australia, and was plucked by the Tigers in 2012. Size might eventually make him an outfielder, and Shepherd has the bat to do carry him there. Played in 51 games with the Gulf Coast League Tigers in 2014: .301 batting average, .870 OPS.
16. Joey Pankake, 3B/IF, 22, 6-2, 185, RH hitter: Another of the Tigers' grabs from the University of South Carolina (seventh round, 2014), Pankake played in 64 games at Connecticut where he batted .292, with a .745 OPS. Can also play the outfield. Versatility and a developing bat will be his best friends as he moves through the chain.
17. Tyler Collins RF, 24, 5-11, 215, LH hitter: Probably will make the Tigers' 25-man roster leaving Florida, and mostly because he has enough of a left-handed stick to help a lineup and bench flush with right-handed hitters. In 121 games at Toledo in 2014: .263, .335 on-base percentage, .423 slugging, .758 OPS. He hit 18 home runs.
18. Drew VerHagen, RH starter, 24, 6-6, 230: Hard to forecast what the Tigers might have in VerHagen, although he was good enough to make a fill-in start for the Tigers in 2014. A fourth-round pick from Vanderbilt in 2012, his size suggests a bit more of a power arsenal might be expected. Season ended in late summer because of a stress fracture in his lower back. Had a 3.67 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 19 games at Toledo.
19. Julio Martinez, OF, 17, 6-2, 195, RH hitter: The Tigers spent $600,000 last summer on a Dominican Republic hitter they believe can develop into an upper-tier slugger.
20. Daniel Fields, CF, 24, 6-2, 215, LH hitter: Fields in 2015 needs primarily to stay healthy, which hasn't been the easiest task of late. And then he needs to hit a lot heavier than he did in 2014: .219, with a .616. OPS.
21. Zac Reininger, RH reliever, 22, 6-3, 170: An eighth-round pick in 2013 (Hill Junior College, in Texas) had a nice summer at West Michigan. But that was low Single A: 1.04 WHIP and .203 opposing batting average in 56.2 innings. Not all scouts believe he'll be a big-league factor, but his 2014 season and his fastball were good enough reasons to keep watch.
22. Joe Mantiply, LH reliever, 23, 6-4, 215: Not overpowering, and good numbers from 2014 were helped by West Michigan's less-challenging culture, but Mantiply in 2014 made it to Erie and to the Arizona Fall League and has a decent chance when bullpens historically find room for left-handers of his flavor.
23. Harold Castro, 2B, 21, 6-0, 165, LH hitter: Had some issues with his disposition that lowered his once-high stock, then resurrected later in 2014 at Lakeland, where he hit .299 in 57 games.
24. Kyle Ryan, LH starter, 23, 6-5, 210: Had splendid numbers at Toledo after he broke through at Erie and later made a cameo start for the Tigers. A former 12th-round pick who isn't a dazzler, but not a guy to dismiss.
25. Endrys Briceno, RH starter: 23, 6-5, 171: Lost most of 2014 to Tommy John surgery and is expected back at some point in 2015. Could be a serious comeback story because of his arm and power potential.
26. Kyle Lobstein, LH starter, 25, 6-3, 200: Never has been much for lightning, but gets the job done, which is why he ended up as a Tigers rotation replacement in 2014. Could be his role again in 2015.
27. Wynton Bernard, CF, 24, 6-2, 200, RH hitter: Tigers signed him as a minor-league free agent and he had a huge 2014 – even if it was at West Michigan, where he was all but a senior citizen.
28. Jose Azocar, CF, 18, 5-11, 165, RH batter: Not afraid to take a walk, which was evident in the Venezuelan Summer League, where he had a .373 on-base percentage as part of an .801 OPS. Azocar batted .340 in 65 games.
29. Artie Lewicki, RH starter, 22, 6-3, 195: Eighth-round pick out of Virginia last June and a polished pitcher who could someday be of back-end rotation help.
30. Steven Fuentes, 3B, 20, 5-11, 180, switch-hitter: Do we need to say he's from Venezuela? Seems as if half the Tigers' big-league candidates grew up there. Fuentes has been on the has-a-great-chance list since the Tigers signed him in 2011. Played in 55 games at Connecticut in 2014, at age 19, and had an .831 OPS.
31. Johan Belisario, RH reliever, 21, 5-11, 165: Not a big guy, but has a power repertoire. Belisario was 5-0 in 19 games at Connecticut in 2014, with an 0.79 ERA, and an 0.85 WHIP. The breakdown: 34 innings, 21 hits, 34 strikeouts, eight walks. And, yes, he was signed out of Venezuela.
32. Chad Green, LH starter, 23, 6-3, 210: Green was snagged in the 11th-round in 2013 (Louisville) and did the job last season at West Michigan. Not a front-liner. And not a guy to take lightly.
33. Anthony Castro, RH starter, 19, 6-0, 174: Venezuelan showed some throttle at GCL in 2014, but must throw strikes.
34. Calvin Drummond, RH reliever, 25, 6-3, 200: Tigers got him in the sixth round in 2013 (University of San Diego), and he has the arm. Simply needs a more intimate relationship with the strike zone.
35. Mike Gerber, RF, 22, 6-2, 175, LH hitter: One of those guys farm-system hawks should follow. Tigers snatched him in the 15th round in 2014 (Creighton).
36. Jeff Thompson, RH starter, 23, 6-6, 245: Third-round pick (Louisville) in 2013 had shoulder issues in 2014 and pitched in only three games.
37. Will LaMarche, RH reliever, 23, 6-3, 220: Needs to move to a higher level rapidly, but a ninth-round draft choice in 2013 (LSU) has shown life at West Michigan and Connecticut.
38. Dominic Ficociello, 1B, 22, 6-4, 205, switch-hitter: Tigers drafted him in high school and again in college (12th round, 2013, Arkansas). Old question: Will he hit enough?
39. Hector Hernandez, RF, 18, 6-0, 165, LH hitter: Venezuelan teen who will be playing in the United States in 2015. And that means, by July, he could be trade material the way Detroit's Venezuelan imports often develop.
40. Whit Mayberry, RH starter, 24, 6-0, 190: Old for his level, but a 21st-round pick (Virginia) last June pitched well at Lakeland.
41. Josh Laxer, RH reliever, 21, 6-0, 190: Had a strong summer at Connecticut after Tigers found him in the ninth round (Mississippi) last June.
42. Kivett, Ross, CF, 23, 6-1, 195, RH hitter: Played at Kansas State (sixth round, 2014) and looked good in a Connecticut tune-up. But older players arriving from good college programs often find the New York-Penn League to be more than hospitable.
43. Sandy Baez, RH starter, 21, 6-2, 180: Was signed out of the Dominican Republic, and 2014's good numbers (GCL) need to transfer to higher rungs.
44. Franklin Navarro, C, 20, 5-10, 181, switch-hitter: Youth is on his side. Worth watching in 2015.
45. Connor Harrell, CF, 23, 6-3, 215, RH hitter: Tigers like their Vandy products, and Harrell (seventh round, 2013) is another. Played well well at Lakeland in 131 games in 2014: .270, .344 on-base percentage, .766 OPS.
46. Elys Escobar, C, 18, 6-0, 190, RH hitter: A year from now, another young Venezuelan could be ranked significantly higher.
47. Jose Salas, SS, 17, 6-0, 160, RH hitter: One of last summer's significant international investments, Salas was signed out of the Dominican Republic.
48. Paul Voelker, RH reliever, 22, 5-10, 185: Grabbed in the 10th-round last June (Dallas Baptist) and had a nice debut at Connecticut (31 strikeouts in 25 innings).
49. Josh Turley, LH starter, 24, 6-0, 185: Rode his knuckleball all the way to Erie last summer. Didn't fare as well there as he had at Lakeland.
50. Eduardo Jimenez, RH starter, 19, 6-0, 183: Tommy John halted this Venezuelan teen's 2014 season. Pay attention in 2015.
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